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Moving Literacy Centres Outdoors!

A few weeks ago, I asked if people were interested in seeing a blog post about outdoor literacy centres for primary students and the results were 100% on the yes side. So, it feels like a lot of teachers are starting to think of ways to move some of their teaching outdoors. While there is a lot of outdoor learning time built into the kindergarten program, it essentially disappears in the curriculum once students hit Grade 1. There are proven benefits to learning outside, such as increased attention, improved behaviour, increased academic performance and higher engagement. Beyond that, the regulations surrounding COVID in schools means that students are going to be spending a lot of time at their desks in the classroom.

Getting students outside means that there is more room to be physically distant and more ability to use hands on manipulatives that students can collect themselves. Plus you can add in some active literacy games to increase the amount of physical activity students are getting. If you'd like some ideas on active outdoor literacy, check out my blog post on Outdoor Sight Words Fun.


Another benefit to moving some of your literacy teaching outside is that students can make a connection between what they're learning in the school and their surrounding environment. Talk about authentic learning opportunities!


Here are a few ideas for moving your literacy centres and programming outdoors:


Lecture à soi

This one is probably the easiest one to modify for the outdoors. I don't know about you, but I rarely choose to read for pleasure sitting at my desk at home. Our students are the same! Some of my favourite memories from elementary school are when our teacher would bring us outside to read as a class. Since I'm planning to have a few books in my students individual bins, my plan is currently to have students bring their bin with them outside. That way they can just find a spot under a tree or in the shade and curl up with a good book. Apparently, reading in natural light is better for your eyes and decreases your chances of near sightedness in the future. Bonus!


Écriture

Again, this centre is relatively easy to move outside. I'm planning to keep students' writing book and journals in their bins, so again they'll already have that with them. I also have a class set of clipboards, so I'll have one in each bin as well. The big benefit to writing outside is that students can write about what they see or use the environment to inspire a story. In première année, my students often need word walls or prompts to help them with their writing. I've put together an Outdoor Literacy Word Wall resource that has words about all the things students may find or see outside: animals on the yard, parts of the playground, and elements of nature you might see in the school yard.


One way to continue using your word wall words is to make them magnetic! I bought some little magnetic dots from Amazon and just popped them on the back of my word wall cards. I've tried the magnetic tape and hot gluing magnet dots as well, but I find neither work as well on laminated cards. I went on a little excursion around my school yard and there were so much more metal than I expected! The structure, portable walls, and some of the school's walls were all magnetic. You could also just use some heavy duty magnet clips and bring your word wall pocket chart out. This way students can still access classroom resources even when they're outside of the classroom setting.


Études de mots

This centre is normally one in which I use A LOT of hands on materials - stamps, magnetic letters, wooden letters, beading, etc. Since a lot of that stuff is going to be a no go in the classroom, moving outside has some serious benefits. If students are collecting their own materials from outside, they are not sharing amongst each other. I'm going to have a quarantine area where students can put anything they found and used at the end of the centre. That way students aren't grabbing sticks or rocks that another student just used. Luckily, it's easy enough to find more ;)


As I mentioned above, I have already done a blog post on Outdoor Sight Words Fun and shared a bunch of outdoor word work ideas there. Some other ideas include building words with rocks and sticks or drawing them in the sand/dirt. You could even have students use fallen leaves to build words later in the fall season.

Technology

If you have iPads in your classroom, you could download free drawing apps on the iPad and students could draw what they see and then add labels or write sentences underneath. Another option is to have students work together in physically distant pairs with one student holding the tablet. In classic Grade 1 style, it would need to be made clear that the other partner would get a turn to hold the iPad next time :p


Students could take pictures of things they find around the yard, looking to complete the alphabet based on initial sound (i.e. A - arbre, B - banc, C - cage à poule, D - déchets, E - échelle, F - fleur). If you don't have have iPads, you could also do this activity with paper and pencil. You could also have students try to find and take pictures of rhyming words (e.g., soleil, abeille). A big benefit to iPads is that they're relatively easy to sanitize between groups or at the end of the day if you're just doing one centre per day.


Collaborative Games

Many of the tips and tricks I shared in my post on Literacy Centres in COVID Times are totally applicable outside, as well as inside. So instead of focusing on these same tips, I'm going to share two games that I think would be perfect for outside. The first game has one student write a sentence in chalk, but leave out the 'mot d'action' (i.e., le verbe). Student 1 then moves away at a distance and the second student adds a verb to complete the sentence. Each student has their own piece of chalk and the sentences could be realistic or 'les phrases folles'.


The second game is one to work on la communication orale and is a classic - I Spy! Outdoors is a great place to play this game because there's so much to see. It's also great for building oral communication because there are predictable sentence structures and they are practicing sentences in both standard and question form depending on if they're the seeker or the clue giver.


To sum it up

There are proven benefits to outdoor learning, but we don't often do too much literacy learning outdoors. Let's make this the year to try new things! I'm in, if you're in! :)


I know much of these activities may not work during the winter season, so look for a future post on how to keep outdoor learning happening in primary grades once the weather gets colder.


Stay tuned...

Next week, I'll be talking about how I'm planning help my students transition from kindergarten to Grade 1!


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