10 outdoor lessons for teaching literacy

English summers can be an unpredictable beast, so when the sun is shining, you can’t beat a bit of outdoor learning. Here are some ideas for outdoor lessons!

1. Stick Man – mark making

In an outdoor space, ask children to create letters on various surfaces using materials they can find. If you have a field or green space, you may be able to find twigs, leaves and grass, but if you’re restricted to a playground, you may want to provide additional material.

If children want a challenge, they could try creating upright letters as well! For children who would like a little more support, you could use a whiteboard or a piece of cardboard with letters written on them.

2. Word Hunt – poetry or story writing

If you’re currently doing a unit on poetry or descriptive writing, why not print out a variety of nouns, adjectives and adverbs related to your unit? As children walk around, they can look at the different ideas and use them as prompts for their writing.

For example, if you’re looking at war poetry, you could use a working wall to gather descriptive words and phrases, then print them out and put them around your outdoor space.

3. The Fallen Suitcase

My last school was beneath a flight path. One day, we went outside and discovered a suitcase which we decided must have fallen off a plane. The children stood back while we rang the “police” to ask what we should do. We were asked to open it and write down a list of what was in it. Upon opening it, there appeared to be a very odd collection of items: some photos, tiny jars of magical-looking substances, a snorkel and mask, balaclava etc.

We had a group discussion about what the owner may have been like and what he or she may have been doing. The children then got into small groups, took a few items away and wrote descriptions of what they were and what they could have been used for.

The children chose whether they wanted to write a story about how the suitcase came to land in our school field, a police profile of the owner, or a diary entry from the owner!

4. Share stories and poems outside

An often-overlooked part of creative writing is sharing the work afterwards. We usually write for an audience, but when we take away that part of the process, we often take away the pride that children feel in their work.

Why not ask children to look back through a recently written piece of work and find the paragraph or verse of which they are most proud? Then, take their literacy books outside and create a stage – perhaps as simple as sitting in a semicircle and asking the narrator to come to the front – and share their amazing work with your class.

5. Story stones

Get all of the children to bring in a stone that would fit comfortably in the palm of their hand. Ask your pupils to paint a character, symbol, image or word on their stone – why not make it a homework task to keep it anonymous and maintain the intrigue? Then, take the stones outside and scatter them around.

Children can then go on a hunt for the stones and find the ones which spark their imagination to write a story or poem about!

6. Instruction writing

In our Outdoor Explorers club (consisting of pupils who were less engaged in class), we made A-frame shelters using bamboo sticks and tarpaulin, and then built a fire to make hot chocolate! When we then had an outdoor learning day, these children became our experts.

The Explorers – who were usually reluctant writers – helped the other children, helping them to write and use technical language, and having the confidence to do so.

7. Grammar Bootcamp!

At Grammar Bootcamp sessions, after having completed a lesson on the task at hand, pupils would be split into teams and then line up. The person at the front would be asked a question on the unit, and if they answered it correctly, they could attempt to score a goal. The team with the most goals at the end of the round won!

8. Spelling steps

Using chalk on the playground, write all the letters of the alphabet. Give the children a word to spell and ask them to jump from letter to letter to spell out words.

9. Alphabet Chase

Print off some A5 (or larger) letters on card and attach a letter to each child. Split the children into two teams: Alphabet and Chase. Give the Chase team a word which they MUST keep secret from the Alphabet team. The Chase team must then catch the children of the Alphabet team in the right order to spell out their word. Keep things competitive by introducing a time limit and a point scoring system!

10. Scavenger hunts

To revise grammar, print some instructions on card or paper and hide them outside. For example, for a simile using the word “grass”, you could write a single clause sentence that uses the sky as the subject. Or, write a word which rhymes with “stone” – the children have their own sheets to record their answers, either independently or in teams. Give points depending on creativity.

Happy Doodling! 

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