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Teaching outside: what to consider (and five activities to try)

Teaching outside: what to consider (and five activities to try)

Hands up who’s had a class (or a week!) full of students suffering from cabin fever. We thought so. Being inside every class, all class, all year gets old – for teachers as well as students. Teaching outside mixes things up, covers coursework, keeps students on their toes, and opens horizons. Here we’ve got a mini guide to teaching outside: why to consider it, how to prepare, and where to go.

Why teach outside at all?

We all know the brain likes variety. Of course, some students  enjoy the structure of knowing how class unfolds – but so many others will relish the chance to do things differently. Going outdoors keeps classtime fresh and gives students something to look forward to in the academic calendar. Outdoor activities also help students participate actively in their own learning and live an element of local culture, which can lead to a deeper understanding about themselves and others. Plus, what better way to really understand a given topic (think food, sports, the environment, local government, vocabulary for public transport) than going out and seeing those worlds in action?

In a nutshell, teaching outdoors can:

  • Develop active citizens

  • Improve academic achievement

  • Increase higher order learning

  • Make learning more engaging

  • Nurture creativity

  • Encourage informal learning

  • Stimulate, inspire, and improve motivation

  • Provide challenge, and

  • Improve attitudes towards learning

Essential pre-planning

While it all sounds great, don’t just board the next bus that stops outside your academy! Teaching outdoors, especially when minors are involved, requires some planning.

Before selecting your activity, ask yourself:

  • Is your idea really an educational experience – or is it just fun?

  • How will you support your students’ learning?

  • What do you want your students to learn?

  • What sort of location will provide these conditions?

You also need to do a risk assessment to ensure your excursion ticks each box. Be sure to consider:

  • Food and toilet facilities

  • Weather and contingency plans

  • Cost and students’ willingness to pay

  • Any special needs

  • Whether minors will be attending, and

  • Your school’s policy on excursions

Five outdoor class ideas

1. Outdoor class at school
Before venturing too far, why not take advantage of your school’s facilities? Patios, gardens, and outdoor seating areas can make a refreshing change from the classroom. Train yourself not to be scared by the cold – all seasons can be enjoyed outdoors with a bit of preparation! Picnics, nature walks, and interviews with students and teachers as they congregate between classes are all ideas to consider.

2. Visit a municipal meeting

This suits study units relating to law and government and gives students a real-life look into how local government functions. A lot of local government meetings (such as council or committee meetings) are open to the public. Plus, this activity is free!

**3. Help a local charity or cause

Prepare your students by researching local charities as a class and identifying causes that appeal to them, perhaps voting together to decide. There are countless ways to volunteer with charities, plus other causes – such as Earth Day – to contribute to.

4. Visit a museum
Tailor your visit to the unit your class is studying. Depending on your city there are likely several options: think contemporary art, war, natural history, maritime, textiles, or agricultural museums. Be sure to make prior arrangements with the center and take advantage of any discounts or museum guides they may offer for large groups.

5. Go out for lunch
Eating is the original way to socialize and create solid ties within groups – and is a perfect outing when studying dining or food. You may choose to introduce students to local dishes or go eat at a restaurant serving your students’ national cuisines. Before booking, be sure to confirm the restaurant, cuisine, and price with your class.

Well-selected outdoor teaching activities break up routine, grow student confidence, and connect nicely with  coursework. These are just a few of the countless options available – ask your head of studies for more ideas. Good luck!

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