Learning Beyond the Classroom with Literacy Inspired Outdoor Education

Blog post written by: Kate Heap, Primary English Specialist from Leeds.

There is so much scope for imagination when children are given opportunities to learn beyond the four walls of their classroom and explore the wider world through outdoor learning.

The Michael Morpurgo novel, Kensuke’s Kingdom, is an engaging story which can be linked to many fantastic cross-curricular units in Upper Key Stage Two. “Journeys”, “The South Pacific”, “Exploring the Word” and “Survival” are just some of the exciting possibilities. In this book, ten-year-old Michael embarks on a sailing adventure with his parents. As they cross the South Pacific, they are caught in a storm and Michael falls overboard. The remainder of the story follows his quest for survival and rescue.

A number of years ago, my Year 6 class included many children for whom English was an additional language and who had never had the experience of being out on the water in a boat of any kind. I knew they may struggle with the vocabulary and concepts of Kensuke’s Kingdom. In response to this challenge, we decided to take the children to our local sailing club for a day of sailing experiences, vocabulary development and survival role play. It has since become a regular (and popular) part of the school’s Year 6 Literacy plans.

Our aims:

    • give children an experience of sailing to support their understanding of the novel Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo
    • help children to develop empathy for the main character, Michael
    • develop vocabulary around sailing, ocean, weather, island, survival
    • teach children the basic needs for survival
    • develop team-building and personal resilience at the beginning of Year 6

During the day, the children took part in three sessions. They were given a booklet to enhance their understanding of the various activities and to hold any notes and sketches.

The first activity was sailing itself. This was incredibly empowering for the children. Many were nervous but once they were out on the water, the freedom and joy they found was amazing. Their confidence, pride and sense of teamwork flourished. The sailing centre staff made a greatly appreciated effort to read the book ahead of time and strived to use as much vocabulary from the story as possible. They chatted with the children throughout the experience and referenced the story as often as they could. The children came away with an in depth, practical understanding of the sailing and marine elements of the book which was invaluable.

Their second activity was a survival role play. Using extracts from Kensuke’s Kingdom, the children imagined they had been washed up on a beach. As they lay on the ground at the side of the water with their eyes closed, they took in the sounds, smells and feelings of the shore. Listening to the story being read aloud, the children slowly opened their eyes to see nothing but sky and then slowly got up to take in their surroundings. A discussion about basics needs for survival helped to focus the group on their priorities for exploring the nearby trees. They worked in small groups to role play a search for food, water, shelter and fire building. At the end of this session, they made brief notes in their booklets in preparation for a “Recipe for Survival” to be written back at school – more advanced instructional writing to add to their range of genres.

Finally, the children took part in a vocabulary and poetry session on the shore. With a focus on being intentional and specific with their word choices, the children sat quietly to take in their environment. The adults encouraged them to jot down a wide variety of words, thinking about nouns, verb, adjectives and adverbs linked to water, waves, wind, weather and sky. The group then developed their understanding of abstract nouns and figurative language, thinking about possible themes for shape poetry based on sailing and the sea. Using examples in their booklet, the children experimented with lines of poetry in the shape of sailboats, waves and the wind which they continued and improved once they were back at school.

Linking Literacy with OAA (Outdoor and Adventurous Activities) was more successful than we could ever have imagined. The empowerment of adventure, the depth of the conversations and the focus on team-building as the children worked together on something completely new contributed to love for fantastic novel, respect for the outdoors and elements of survival, and inspired the children to write with rich language and detail. Every child, especially those with EAL (English as an additional language) or who had lower Literacy skills, progressed and surpassed our expectations.

I encourage every teacher to look for OAA links in their Literacy units. Thinking beyond the classroom helps to create a meaningful, vibrant and engaging curriculum that is memorable and inspiring for our students.

For more information, you may wish to visit the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom website.

Credits: Thank you to Farsley Farfield Primary School and Leeds Sailing and Activity Centre.

About the author

Kate is an experienced Primary English Specialist from Leeds. She is passionate about helping children to be inspired by their learning through adventure and imagination. She is skilled in supporting colleagues in their professional development, creating meaningful cross-curricular English plans and linking English objectives, lessons and resources to the rigorous Key Stage Two assessment requirements.
Kate is also an author for teachers with her book, Classics for Key Stage Two, to be published in 2020.
Read more from Kate on her blog: www.scopeforimagination.co.uk and follow her on Twitter (@KateHeap1).

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