Fall is by far my favorite season for spending time outside! Unfortunately, it’s also when many of us have less time to enjoy nature due to the demands of a new school year. The good news is that incorporating outdoor exploration into language learning can be an engaging way to enhance vocabulary acquisition. The following ideas provide students with memorable experiences for practicing the target language while enjoying the outdoors.
- Engage the Senses
Being outside connects us to all our senses. Students can touch, see, smell, and even taste different things. Multisensory experiences help students associate a vocabulary word with its meaning and commit it to memory. Consider creating a sensory scavenger hunt for students on a nature walk.
- Make Learning Active
You have probably heard of the Total Physical Response (TPR) method of language acquisition, or you may even use it in the classroom. This same idea applies to outdoor activities involving physical movement and interaction. While taking a walk outside, you can have students mimic the movements of nature and learn the terms for what the animals and things they see are doing, such as flying, swaying, hopping, etc.
- Take Brain Breaks
Boost your students’ motivation by offering outdoor activities as a “break” from learning—at least in the traditional sense. Students see going outside as a reward and a novelty, which can make learning more enjoyable and memorable. You can even do an activity similar to what you would be doing inside the classroom, such as conversation pairs, but doing it outside in the fresh air can give students a fresh perspective and new ideas of things to talk about.
- Use Real-World Applications
When students see a connection between what they’re learning and how they’ll use it in the real world, they tend to put in more effort. Use outside exploration as a way for students to practice giving commands and/or directions to their classmates in the target language. You could even make this a competition!
- Journal in Nature
Encourage students to write in a vocabulary journal during their outdoor exploration. They can jot down new words and how they were used or draw a picture of a nature scene and label the items in their drawing. The practice of vocabulary journaling helps reinforce new words and can be a creative way to study them at a later date.
- Circumlocution Challenge
Circumlocution games are an engaging way for students to practice this essential communication skill. Take students outside for a nature walk and have them describe to their partner something they see—without saying the word for the thing. For example, they could describe an apple as, “something red in a tree that we can eat.”
By Kelli Drummer-Avendano
Also read: Learning Languages: How to Inspire Students