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Inspiring Literacy: a trip on the Emirates Air-Line

Date Posted: 12/01/2015

Former primary school teacher Trish Boylan told us about the time she took her class of Year 1 students on a school trip on the Emirates Air-Line cable cars.

Whilst teaching year 1 in an inner-London primary school last year, I was fortunate enough to take my class on a fantastic trip across the Thames.

It was a river visit with a difference however, as we didn’t cross the river by boat, tunnel or bridge; instead we journeyed across the river from way above, travelling in cable cars on The Emirates Air-Line.

We decided to take this trip as part of a school-wide ‘River Project’ we were exploring that term. The children had been learning about the History of the river in their lessons, in particular, its importance to the city for trade, travel and industry.

The trip itself tied in nicely with our history lessons and provided a lovely opportunity for each child to produce a personal recount of their trip in Literacy.

“There were more nervous teachers than children”

Before the trip we explained how the cable cars had been used to transport people to the Olympics a couple of years previously and detailed the many things we would spot from up high, (including the Olympic park).

We also explained in detail what the experience would involve; the height and possible wobbliness if windy; it is safe to say there were many more nervous teachers than children.

With staff and children fully briefed, we arrived at Royal Victoria DLR station on the day itself around mid-morning, having travelled to the docks on the DLR – a journey made fairly easy because of the spacious, modern trains on those particular lines.

Having made the journey before (to produce our risk assessments,) the staff knew to expect a short walk across two roads at some traffic lights and that once around the corner the cable cars would quickly loom into view. As such, the children had been forewarned and were ready and waiting to be the first to spot them.

We had purchased our tickets beforehand and just needed to present them to the waiting officers; the children were set busy spotting different things along the docks and on the water.

We were lucky to have a beautiful, sunny day for our visit and the children were mesmerised by what they called the ‘sparkly’ water and particularly taken with the cranes that lowered cargo onto the big boats.

Once we had passed through the gates we made our way up the stairs, the children standing in their pairs, eyes glued to the windows, looking out for different landmarks.

On the floor at the top of the stairs the cable cars moved around in a horseshoe, coming in from the river very slowly, picking up their next passengers and departing again to repeat the journey.

At this point the staff and parent-volunteers were responsible for herding their designated group into a car. The teachers, knowing our children well, were prepared to have to coax a few nervous souls into the cars but as it turned out no coaxing was required and the children enjoyed climbing on board and taking their seats.

Inspiring even the most ‘reluctant’ of writers

One particular boy in my group was a little nervous as we set off, he was worried we might “fall down,” but as his teacher I was able to reassure him and distract him soon enough. The boy in question, normally a ‘reluctant writer’ even wrote about feeling nervous in his recount back at school; a pretty inspiring result.

Once settled into the cable cars the children were asked to produce the clipboards they’d all stashed in their schoolbags (along with their packed lunches for later.) On each clipboard was a sheet featuring the different landmarks the children might spot on their journey.

They were very eager to find the different places, buildings and monuments and they were full of conversation and chatter. They saw; the Olympic Park, the Gherkin, the Shard, City Airport, a cruise liner, a number of factories, small rowing boats, cargo ships, containers, wakeboarders, the O2 and so much more.

A flying adventure

It was a truly fantastic experience for the children; they saw so much for the first time that day and began to develop an understanding of the importance of the world famous river they lived so near to.

When we had travelled across the river and back we disembarked and had packed lunches on the big green space near the attraction.

This was a great way to round off the day as the children were able to catch a few last glimpses of the hive of activity on the water; whilst the staff were able to collect everyone and everything ready for the journey back to school.

Back at school the children wrote about their flying adventure, drew pictures and had some fantastic conversations about their day.

This particular trip, which included so much to see and experience, (and relatively little to-ing and fro-ing) left the children with some fantastic memories and the staff with a great deal of opportunity for class discussion, language development and a context around which to continue the children’s learning.

Londoner Trish now works for an education charity promoting the importance of speech, language and communication skills within child development.

The Emirates Air-Line: the Facts
  • The Emirates Air-Line departs from Royal Victoria and Emirates Greenwich Peninsula.
  • You can find out more about The Emirates Air-Line here, including opening times and accessibility information.
  • School trips are encouraged and children pay £1 for a return journey with accompanying adults travelling for free. Read more here:
School Travel Organiser's Guide