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Outdoor Teaching Strategies to Maximize Learning

Janelle Cox

As every teacher knows, keeping your students engaged can help to maximize what they’re learning. The problem is finding new and creative ways to keep your students interested and connected to what you’re teaching. Surprisingly, a new study found that if you take your students outdoors to learn, then when they come back indoors, they will actually be more focused and pay better attention. By simply changing the location of where you regularly teach to something more “Green,” you can help to gain students’ focus once indoors. Children have always benefited from being in nature -- experts even suggest it can have a restorative effect on people. Children who are happier and calmer, are also children who will learn better. With these kinds of benefits, it’s a no-brainer to take your teaching strategies outdoors whenever you can. Here are a few outdoor teaching strategies that can help to maximize your students’ learning.

Outdoor Teaching Strategies

If you’ve ever taken your teaching outdoors, then you know that it requires a lot of forethought and patience. You must set up behavior ground rules, teach students how to stay on task when outdoors, and indicate any boundaries. Here are a few more ideas to help you maximize students’ learning when they’re outdoors, as well as when they come back indoors.

Choose a Short Excursion

When planning your outdoor activity, think of a place where students would be the least distracted or a place where the students wouldn’t be distracting to the other children inside. Don’t choose to go right outside of your classroom window where you know others will be able to hear and see you. Also, make sure that you choose a short activity that can help students to expel some of their energy, and that can help to prepare them for further instruction when they get inside. An engaging activity like a short nature walk where students use their observation skills will not only help to expel their energy but, it will also keep their attention and not be distracting to them as well as others. Students can use a clipboard to find items in nature, then go indoors and extend their learning by researching more about what they’ve found.

Assign Students to Work in Groups

Partnering or putting children into small groups is another effective teaching strategy to maximize outdoor learning. Students usually work well in groups when they’re outdoors. It’s also a great way to keep students accountable, as well as know they are safe with another peer. Try and give each partner or student in a group a specific duty or job when they are outside learning, this will help them focus on their task. Then, once indoors, they can share what they’ve learned outside.

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Develop Students’ Observation Skills

The great thing about taking learning outdoors is that nature has a way that can really help to develop students’ observation skills. Think about all of the things that students can observe when they are outside! From animals and plants to people and things, there is much more to see when you are outdoors. Students can use their senses, and engage in hands-on exploration activities all while developing their observation skills. A great teaching strategy to try is to give students an outdoor scavenger hunt. Their job is to use all of their senses to observe nature and check off everything that is on their list: For example, smell a flower, touch a frog, find a leaf, etc. This is a great activity to be done with a partner.

Connect Outdoor Learning to Indoor Learning

Once students have completed their short excursion outdoors, it’s now time for reflection. Have students reflect on their task as well as what they saw outside. They can do this by either writing in their journals, doing a think-pair-share with a peer, or having a classroom discussion. Reflection will help to consolidate what they’ve learned outside.

Next, it’s time for more learning. As the study mentioned earlier, once students are indoors after an outdoor lesson, they’ll be more focused. You can take this time to take your lesson a step further. For example, if students were observing nature, they can now take this time (while they’re calm and focused) to research more about what they found during their observations. Students can break away into groups and study animals or plant facts, etc.

In order to ensure that all of these outdoor teaching strategies are effective, you have to be flexible. Use teachable moments when you see them, and understand that the weather will not always be on your side. Model respect for all living things when outdoors and remember to always connect what students learned outside of the classroom to what you are teaching them inside.

Do you have any outdoor teaching strategies that can help to maximize students learning? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.