Here Are 10 Reasons You Should Say “Yes!” When Your ESL Students Beg to Go Outside This Spring
Do you really want to be stuck in your classroom when the first signs of spring are calling from the other side of the window?
I’ll use every excuse in the book to get my students and myself outside.
What keeps me from feeling guilty is that going outside doesn’t have to be a waste of time when it comes to language learning.
In fact, being in the new surroundings opens up really unique, memorable ways to teach English in the great outdoors.
Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy the freshness of spring and develop my students’ language skills at the same time.
10 Door-busting ESL Activities to Spring You out of the Classroom
1. Spring Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt
Every new season is a good reason to teach some new vocabulary, and spring is no exception. Give your students a list of some spring vocabulary and then get them outside to experience it.
Have students look for items on their list as they walk your school grounds or explore a local park. Encourage students to be creative in identifying the items on their list. For example, they might take a picture of a classmate with wild hair to illustrate the word “breezy.”
When possible, have students bring items on the list back to you and create a spring vocabulary collection for your class.
When you’re done exploring, bring around ten of your items back into the classroom and play a game of “What’s Missing?” Put at least five items on a tray and let your students study it for a minute. Then cover the tray and remove one item. Uncover the tray and see who can tell you what’s missing.
The more items you put on the tray, the tougher the game will be. You can also move or change an item instead of removing it.
2. Take an “I Spy” Walk
I Spy is a great game to have on hand for your ESL classroom, but this amped up version takes advantage of the fresh outdoors.
Take your students outside for a short walk. As they walk, encourage them to notice different signs of spring around them. They do not need to talk about these signs, just observe as many as they can.
When you return to your classroom, have each student choose one sign of spring they noted outside and write three clues about it without naming the object. For example, they might say the following:
It was in a tree. It was partially red. It was making noise.
Collect the papers and number them, and then arrange them along the walls of your room.
Have students go around reading the clues their classmates wrote. For each numbered paper, students should make a guess as to what sign of spring the writer was describing. For the above example, they might guess a robin.
Once everyone has read all of the clues and made their guesses, come back together as a class. Have each person read their clues and then tell the class what item they were describing.
3. Free Writing Time
On some days, nothing is more inspiring to me than the beautiful outdoors. I actually have my desk situated so I can look out the window as I write.
Give your students the same kind of inspiration by taking them outside for some free writing time.
Invite your students to cop a squat under a tree or on a rock (you might want to bring some cardboard with you to keep bottoms dry and mud free) and write.
You might ask student to describe what they see or write a letter to a friend or family member describing the changing season. Or you might give them a nature-themed writing prompt.
Whatever they write, it will be imbibed with the freshness of spring and the beauty of nature that surrounds them. Likely, it will also be one of your most memorable class periods of the entire year.
4. Read in the Fresh Air
Sometimes all you need to make class special is get out of your classroom. Luckily, books are some of the most portable classroom materials there are.
Take your class outside and read to them from a favorite read-aloud book. Or let them make their own selections from your classroom library.
Then sit outside and let the sun shine on your faces as you melt into the world between the pages of your book.
5. Learn About the World
Spring is a time of new growth and discovery. You can take your students outside to explore and use that exploration as a starting point for research in class.
Try downloading the app Leafsnap and then identifying the leaves you find outside. All you have to do is take a picture of the leaf and the app will tell you what kind of plant it comes from.
If you prefer to go old-school, bring out a nature guidebook and have students try to identify plants and animals on their own.
When you return to class, have students do a little research on one of the plants or animals they discovered outside. Then let each person share what they learned with the class either in a discussion or a short presentation.
6. Play Outdoor Games
There are plenty of games that give your students practice with vocabulary while they move their bodies. Some of the classics are Simon Says, Mother May I and Red Light Green Light.
You might also want to play a game of vocabulary tag. Designate a category such as animals, movies or colors. Then play as you would regular tag, but when you’re about to be tagged, you can go down on one knee and shout an item that falls into the category.
For example, if I were about to be tagged, I would fall to one knee and shout “Elephant!” if we were playing animal tag. I would then be safe and the person who was “it” would have to try and tag another player instead.
You might also play Fire in the Forest, which gives students a chance to practice animal names and body parts. Players stand on one end of the playing area with one person in the middle of the field. The players on the end each choose an animal to be.
The player in the middle then announces who will have to run to the other side by saying something like, “If you have fur, run.” Those players whose animals have fur must run to the other side of the playing field while the person in the middle tries to catch them.
If a player gets caught, he stands where he was tagged and becomes a “tree on fire.” He can then try to catch other players as they run across the field of play turning them into trees on fire. When only one person is left standing, that person gets to start in the middle for the next round.
7. Grammar Kickball
If you want to practice the grammar you’re learning in class, try playing kickball.
Before you go outside, brainstorm a list of questions using a target grammatical structure you’re studying. Then go outside and set up a game of kickball.
On a player’s turn, the pitcher “pitches” one of the grammar questions to the kicker. If the kicker answers correctly, then the pitcher pitches the ball and play continues as normal. If the kicker answers the question incorrectly, they are automatically out. You may want to allow players to consult with their team before giving an answer.
Play according to the normal rules of kickball and review grammar while you play.
8. Map It
Another way to get your students outside is to take them for a short walk or hike or let students choose their own route with a partner.
After the walk, come back to class and have each person work with a partner to map the route you took on your walk. They should also include on the map any landmarks or interesting sights they saw along the way.
If you like, display your maps on an empty bulletin board in class.
9. Treasure Map
If you want to practice reading comprehension while you’re getting some fresh air, try sending your students on a treasure hunt.
Make four or five sets of directions to different locations on your school grounds. Then give one set of directions to each student and ask them to follow your instructions to the treasure.
Have each person tell you what they found at the end of their treasure hunt, or plant some small prizes for them to find when they correctly complete your directions. If they found the right place, you’ll know they understood what they read.
10. Natural Similes
Are you as strong as the wind? Is the future as bright as the sun? Is your mind as squishy as a muddy field?
Even if your answers are no, I’ll bet you have some vivid pictures in your mind. That’s the power of simile–comparing one item with another item to create a mind picture. And nature is rife with items ready to be put in a simile.
Take your class outside and observe some of the natural elements. You’ll want students to note the different items they see, as well as an adjective to describe each one. Let students take notes.
Then come back inside and review what similes are and how to write them.
Once your students are comfortable with the concept of similes, have them write some of their own using the natural elements they observed as part of the comparison. Let students share their best ideas with the class. If you like, have students use one of their original similes in a descriptive paragraph.
Sometimes the best lessons are the ones you do outside. Get out from under your roof this spring with some fun and fabulous language activities that take you and your class outdoors to enjoy all that spring has to offer.