I don’t know about where you teach, but here in the northeastern U.S. it has been a COLD winter.
Finally the grass is growing and flowers are starting to bloom. The only problem with the spring bloom is being stuck inside a classroom. When the fresh air and sunshine beckon, I’m glad to take my ESL students outside because I know we can still be productive when we are free of walls. Yes, it is possible to learn language while having fun outside. If you want to try and get some language work done with your ESL class, here are some simple activities you can do in the great outdoors without feeling guilty.
Have Fun in the Sun and Teach English
Free Reading Time
If you give your students time during class to read or if you will be giving a reading assignment any time soon, why not take your books outside? Students will love finding a cozy nook where they can listen to the birds, take in the sunshine or shade, and still devour the words on the page. Don’t feel like your students can only read independently, though. Group reading activities like jigsaws are also great things to take outside when you are feeling classroom crazy.
If you don’t have a reading period in your schedule for the day, why not take your students outside to write? Your language learners will find so much inspiration outside that they won’t have any trouble filling the page. Have them write a letter to a friend or family member talking about the change in seasons. Give them a nature themed writing prompt. (E.g. If you had a wild animal as a pet, which animal would it be?) Have them write a story from the point of view of a wild creature like a squirrel, worm, or insect. Just have students write about what they see and perhaps compare and contrast writing outdoors to writing at a desk in a classroom.
Scavenger hunts are lots of fun, and I often use them in my ESL classes. You can easily do an outdoor scavenger hunt that emphasizes new vocabulary for your students. One option is to give them a list of items you want them to find: stick, stone, leaf, grass, etc. For a greater challenge, do an alphabet scavenger hunt. Challenge your students to find items that begin with every letter of the alphabet. You can set out one page with one each of the 26 letters written on it. Set students free, and have them put their found objects on the appropriate page. Though you may have trouble getting something for every letter, this will be a great activity for introducing new vocabulary, and a hands on way to do it to boot.
You can play lots of listening games outside that will challenge and entertain your students. Put your students in pairs, blindfold one, and have each person direct his partner to a specific area of your school grounds. Play Simon Says or Mother May I. Describe an object to your students (leaf, rock, blade of grass, etc.), and once they figure out what it is they can run and get it. The first one to find the object you are describing wins the round. You can even bring a book outside and have students sit on the grass and just listen to what you read. Depending on the weather (wind, for example), students may find in a challenge to hear, so make sure the weather is cooperative if you plan on having your students listen carefully while outside.
Inspired By Nature
You can use a little outdoor time to inspire your students to research. It’s easy with this simple, and free, ap. Try downloading Leafsnap for your students. This ap allows you to take a picture of a leaf and then tells you what type of plant it came from. Have students gather as many different types of leaves as they can, and then return to your classroom or library to find out more information on each of the plants. Use that information for group presentations or individual research reports. If you don’t feel like collecting leaves, send students outside with book in hand. Bring a nature guide or nature articles outside, and let students read and be inspired, looking for items mentioned in the guide. Or look for birds depicted in a birding book for your region. When you return to the classroom, have students share about their experiences and you get a speaking activity in your school day, too.
Sometimes even the most attentive students need to burn off some energy, and you can do that outside while still focusing on language learning. Bring a jump rope out and let students jump to popular chants. It’s a good chance for you to talk about rhythm, syllables, and rhyme. If you like, share some of the rhymes with your students before you go outside, and then let them practice chanting in rhythm and using good pronunciation as they skip.
Talk Amongst Yourselves
Just about any discussion activity can be done outside under the open sky. Give students discussion questions or have them bring their group activities outside. Your students will find lots of space to get away from their classmates, and will have just as much to talk about when they are outside as when they are inside. If you are looking for a specific topic to bring outdoors, why not talk about being environmentally conscious? Challenge your students to find evidence of your school acting in earth friendly ways. At the same time, have them list any ways they think your school could be more environmentally conscious, and use those ideas to write letters of recommendation to the school board.
Just because you leave the confines of your classroom doesn’t mean you have to leave language learning behind. These are just some of the activities you can do with your ESL students while soaking up the sun and fresh air. If you try these activities, you may even get more than you bargained for. In addition to getting some time outside in the dawning spring and summer, you may find that your students are more focused and attentive when you return to class. Some of my most memorable classes from my student days were those spend outside. Make your class one to remember for your students as well.
Do you ever take your ESL students outside?
What do you like to do with them if you do?