Printed train or bus timetables are often available as free leaflets or can be downloaded and printed from the internet. This simple resource can be used in a number of ways.
- Drills to practise pronunciation of times
Ask: When does the first train leave Pomáz for Budapest? How long will I have to wait for the next train if I miss the 5.20? etc.
- Interpreting abbreviations
Timetables often have short codes for specific meanings. Ask students first to guess what these mean, then look them up, then invent five funny new codes for things that might happen on journeys e.g. DDCT (Delay while Driver has Cup of Tea).
- Pair discussion – planning a journey
Hand out a bus / train timetable to each pair. Prepare a set of different planning tasks on cards e.g. You want to spend a day shopping in Berlin and then meet your friend whose plane lands at the airport at 7.20. Plan the journeys. Set one task to each pair. When pairs have finished they meet up with another pair and describe their plan; the listeners try to raise problems or difficulties.
- Tense practice
When students have planned a journey they can use present progressive for future to describe what they intend to do e.g. "We’re arriving at 2.37 and then we’re going straight to the theatre."
- Phone call role plays
Pairs – one student is the customer, one is an information assistant. Only the assistant has a copy of the timetable. Set students some problem role plays e.g. enquiring about when trains go to Delhi, booking a ticket for tomorrow, enquiring about cancellations because of a strike etc.
- Word brainstorming
Ask students to study a train timetable and think of every noun that could be used in connection with talking about the journeys (e.g. train, platform, ticket, station etc). Repeat this for verbs that go with the nouns (e.g. catch, miss, arrive, change, board, buy etc). When students have a good list they can use this to prepare a story, for example…
- Creative writing - A terrible journey
Tell students they went on a terrible train journey yesterday. There were no major accidents or disasters but everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Ask pairs of students to study the timetable and brainstorm all the things that could happen (missing a train, trains delayed, getting on the wrong train etc). When pairs have discussed a number of ideas, they write a short narrative about this journey (using past tenses). The times and places in the story should be accurate according to the timetable.
- Internet research
If your students have access to the internet, set a task such as: Plan a journey from here to Los Angeles stopping at five interesting tourist places on the way. Students will need to research plane and train timetables as well as finding out some interesting locations to visit. You could make the task more challenging by restricting them to a maximum of two plane flights.
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Imaginative materials: teaching English using timetables