Using Google Earth Street View to teach directions

Blagoja Dimoski, Tokai University


Quick guide

  • Key words: Motivating, real-world, culture or lifestyle, vocabulary building, offline
  • Learner English level: All
  • Learner maturity: All
  • Preparation time: 1 hour
  • Activity time: 90 minutes
  • Materials: Google Earth, laptop computer, projector, student copies of map, blank sheets of paper, speakers (optional)

Current technology allows educators to go beyond two-dimensional (often fictional) maps in textbooks to teach directions. Although such maps may be useful for initial practice using the target language, they are somewhat limited in terms of vocabulary building, exposing students to aspects of different cultures and lifestyles, and in general, lack motivational value. This activity uses Google Earth Street View to expose learners to a wider range of vocabulary through a myriad of real-world locations and serves as a more authentic platform for communication, allowing students to see how other countries look and how people live, all in a way that is far more meaningful, motivating, and enriching than traditional approaches.

Step 1: Download Google Earth and choose a location, making sure it is available in Street View mode by dragging the Street View icon over the location.
Step 2: Decide on a specific route (e.g., starting or finishing points, streets, turns), and places of interest (e.g., landmarks, shops, restaurants) along the route.
Step 3: While in Street View mode, add a Placemark from the toolbar at each place of interest and number them in numerical order. To increase student engagement and focus their attention on additional aspects of the location, use the Placemark function to insert questions on various topics (e.g., What season do you think it is?  What is the speed limit?) along the way. Teachers can expand on the topics later in class to highlight interesting aspects of the country, culture, and lifestyle.
Step 4: Create a Street View tour (see Appendix A) of the location by selecting the Record a Tour option from the toolbar and clicking on record. To include narration, click on the microphone icon. During the recording, click on the place marks (from step 3) in the sidebar one at a time to clearly identify each place as it comes into view. Pause briefly each time to provide a short description. When finished, remember to save the tour.
Step 5: Create an outline map (see Appendix B) of the tour location. Include place marks (from the tour) with space for students to write what the places are, and make copies.

Step 1: Hand out student copies of the map.
Step 2: Play the tour (projected onto a screen or a whiteboard). As they watch, students write the names of places on their maps and answer the questions (from preparation step 3). Click on pause if you need to stabilize or focus the image or wish to navigate manually. Note: The tour can be viewed offline simply by playing it once online before class, and then (without closing it) bringing it to class.
Step 3: Elicit student answers (from previous step). As students give their answers, navigate through the tour manually for visual confirmation.
Step 4: Students write the places of interest from the tour on blank sheets of paper and place them on desks around the room to create a scaled-down mockup of the tour location.
Step 5: Students role play asking for or giving directions in pairs from various locations by moving around the room in realtime based on the directions they receive from their partners, who follow closely behind them.

Instruct students how to create their own Google Earth tours. Students then choose a real-world location and create a short tour, in which they provide a description of the location and directions between places within the location (see Appendix C). Depending on class size, this could be done individually, in pairs, or in small groups then either presented to the class or submitted to the teacher.

Google Earth is user friendly and limited only by one’s imagination. Experiment with it to discover its full capabilities and how best to apply them to your individual teaching context.

The appendices for this article are available at <>.