Index

Write Out Into the Winter Holidays

Even though the sun stays a bit lower and leaves us more quickly during the winter months, that doesn’t mean that we can’t spend time outdoors and do some writing. Writing Project Teacher Consultants and National Park Service Rangers, we find that writing outside and in our communities gets the creative juices flowing, engages learners, and supports important connections. It is also fun! That’s why we designed the Write Out event that happens each year in October in the first place.

Write Out taps into the value of the outdoors in support of learning while also building on the importance of place-based writing and education. Research suggests that “experiences of nature boost academic learning, personal development, … environmental stewardship” (Kuo et al., 2019), health, and well-being (White et al., 2019). According to the Nebraska Writing Project, “young writers, in connecting to their own place and community, gain an understanding of who they are in their place, a better knowledge of the local history, culture, and geography, while learning to apply writing concepts … to an awareness of interdependence and interconnection in place and in writing.”

If you weren’t able to participate in this year’s Write Out, never fear! Here are a few cool activities that we saw during this year’s event that you might want to try with your family and friends over the upcoming months and holidays.

Make a Zine!

This simple yet powerful notebook is made of one piece of paper but provides 8 “pages” for writing and composing when we are outside. Find out how here: Go Outside and Make A Zine and then check out these examples of what some people did with them:

Check out these writing prompts and resources about “Talking Trees” and learn more about Wonder Walks from Kim Douillard of the San Diego Area Writing Project.

Create a 4-Leaf Palette Poem

Here is another simple yet ultimately flexible activity suggested by Dr. Kim Ruffin, a facilitator with Outdoor Afro: 4-Leaf Palette Poem. Inspired by the work of Dr. George Washington Carver, Kim shows us how to make a leaf palette that can be used as a background and inspiration for poetry writing.

Check out these writing prompts inspired by Dr. George Washington Carver for more.

Find a “Sit Spot”

Abigail Lund (@Mrsablund) of the Ohio Writing Project shares a local way of working outside where writers find their own “sit spots” to start their process by connecting to their place. Read more about how Abigail supports her students in Exploring Place through Writing; she has even done it virtually!

Spark your writing with other STEAM-y prompts created by National Park Service Rangers

National Park Service Rangers have been creating prompts for Write Out since its beginning. Here you can tap into a range of STEAM-focused topics and activities to keep you and your friends and family engaged outside for days.

This year, educator Rebekah O’Dell (@RebekahODell1) of Moving Writers made a handy one-pager from all the “sparks” that you can download to use; she also encourages writers to check out these STEAM-filled notebooks to inspire their process.

 

Hero image: Posted by @seecantrill on Twitter

Innovation Station: Prompts for Writing Outside

To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. -Thomas A. Edison

Did you ever have to make a copy of a door key? Did you every need to use a hammer to pound a nail? If so, then you used items that were cut by a modern form of the Blanchard Lathe, an important invention of the year 1819. And what about flying? If you’ve ever flown in a plane then you’ve benefitted from the tenacious work of the Wright Brothers who successfully flew the first airplane at Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1902.

In these two videos you’ll learn about the Blanchard Lathe and the Wright Brothers’ first successful flight, plus the earlier, not-so successful attempts. You’ll be asked by Ranger Pearl to write about some other inventions that have changed the course of history, and Rangers Lulu and Adonis will ask you to use your imagination and write about something you want to invent and to consider the obstacles that you might encounter in bringing it to life.

Writing Sparks

As educator Peter Elbow writes, “the most effective way …to improve your writing is to do free writing exercises regularly.” Use these writing “sparks” to get your writing started. Use a notebook or a journal, go digital or stay analog, feel free to incorporate images and multimedia; use or experiment with approaches that work best for you.

Spark from Wright Brothers National MemorialDo you have a dream? How will you overcome your obstacles?

Content focus: Wright Brothers experimentation and flight at Kitty Hawk
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: Video: 3 mins 57 seconds, writing time as needed

Rangers Lulu and Adonis teach you about the trial and error and eventual success of the Wright Brothers’ first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk in 1902. They ask you to write an action plan and a hypothesis for an invention of your own! What might you invent? What obstacles might you encounter in building it?

Spark from Springfield Armory National Historic SiteThink about an invention that changed the course of history and describe why it was so important.

Content focus: Innovation and the Blanchard Lathe
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time:  Video, 1 min 13 seconds, writing time as needed

Told in both English and Haitian Creole, Ranger Pearl teaches you about the invention and uses of the Blanchard Lathe and asks you to think of and write about other inventions that have changed the course of history.

Sharing your writing

Writing outdoors provides a wonderful opportunity to share your writing with others. Here are a few ideas how do this whether you are in person or at a distance from each other:

  • Come together in a circle to share your writing, or an excerpt from your writing (passing should also always be an option); if you aren’t in person, set up an online video conference to do this;
  • Develop a collaboration on the fly by having each writer share one line of their work to add to a greater whole; if you aren’t in person, you can create an email address, hashtag and/or online form for individuals to submit their selections;
  • Set up a “gallery” of writing which could support browsing, feedback and/or response; this is especially useful if the writing includes more than just text but also images, video, sound. This can happen in person or online using a shared collaborative space like Google Jamboard, Padlet etc.;
  • Especially during Write Out, share your writing by posting on social media using the hashtag #writeout

Related resources

Below are related resources gathered to further support inquiry and exploration of this topic. If you have additional resources to recommend, please share them online via the hashtag #writeout

Wright Brothers National Museum: Wind, sand, and a dream of flight brought Wilbur and Orville Wright to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina where, after four years of scientific experimentation, they achieved the first successful airplane flights on December 17, 1903.

Springfield Armory National Historic Site: Springfield Armory National Historic Site commemorates the critical role of the nation’s first armory by preserving and interpreting the world’s largest historic US military small arms collection, along with historic archives, buildings, and landscape

Works Museum, Inventions by Kids! Have you ever marveled at kids’ creativity and enthusiasm? Or maybe you remember being a kid yourself and having a never-ending stream of imaginative ideas. These seven kids took their ideas and turned them into real, physical products. Some of them are practical, popular, or used every day, yet you would never guess a child invented them. Others will make you smile at their brilliant and sometimes whimsical uniqueness.

Kids Invent Stuff! Kids Invent Stuff is the YouTube channel where 4-11 year olds have the chance to get their invention ideas built by engineers Ruth & Shawn!

Important Innovations and Inventions, Past and Present, ThoughtCo: There are endless famous (and not so famous) inventions worthy of curiosity and wonder. Of course, the lists below are by no means complete, but do provide a ‘greatest hits’ list of inventions, both past and present, that have captured imaginations and propelled us forward.

Five Women Inventors You Didn’t Learn about in History Class, Smithsonian Magazine

10 Black Inventor Who Changed the World, Mental Floss

Image source: Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash 

By Land Or By Sea … Or Portal? Prompts for Writing Outside

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over looking for boats to save. They just stand there shining.”
-Anne Lamott

Acadia National Park in Maine allows visitors to climb from sea level to 1500 feet up to the summit of a mountaintop, up the steps of the lighthouse to look out at the sea, and up the rungs of the fire tower ladder to look out over the trees! Jay Elhard tells us of the many writers who have penned their stories there, such as Stephen King and Edna St. Vincent Millay, and asks us to pretend that we are writers in Acadia National Park, too.

Golden Gate National Park represents so many years of both natural and societal history that the Park Rangers create an imaginary portal through which they fly and land on some of the most notable features and moments, such as the fight for equality at the Sutro Bathhouse, and the magical impact of the Redwood Tree Forest.

If you lived in the park lighthouse, up a fire lookout, or went through an imagery portal, what characters and conversations would there be? What do you think would happen?

Writing Sparks

As educator Peter Elbow writes, “the most effective way …to improve your writing is to do free writing exercises regularly.” Use these writing “sparks” to get your writing started. Use a notebook or a journal, go digital or stay analog, feel free to incorporate images and multimedia; use or experiment with approaches that work best for you.

Spark from Acadia National ParkWould You Rather Be A Fire Lookout Or A Lighthouse Keeper? What conversation would occur if the fire lookout and the lighthouse keeper met in the middle of the park?

Content focus: About the Park and prompts for storytelling
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: Video: 2 mins 45 seconds, writing time as needed

Learn about the diverse topography of Arcadia National Park and all of the animals that call it home, and the writers who have written there. Then you’ll be asked to become the writer and ask yourself questions such as, Would you rather be a lighthouse keeper watching for boats in duress, or a fire lookout, scanning the tree tops for smoke? What conversation would occur if the fire lookout and the lighthouse keeper met in the middle of the park?

Spark from Golden Gate National ParkCreate a story about someone (could be you) who passes through an imaginary portal in the park. Where would this magic door lead?

Content focus: About the Park and prompts for storytelling
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: Video: 3 mins 47 seconds, writing time as needed

Can you imagine happening upon a portal in a park near you? Can you imagine what you would see if you stepped inside of it? What secret stories might nature keep? This is what the rangers of Golden Gate will prompt you to write about, so put your imagination cap on!

Sharing your writing

Writing outdoors provides a wonderful opportunity to share your writing with others. Here are a few ideas how do this whether you are in person or at a distance from each other:

  • Come together in a circle to share your writing, or an excerpt from your writing (passing should also always be an option); if you aren’t in person, set up an online video conference to do this;
  • Develop a collaboration on the fly by having each writer share one line of their work to add to a greater whole; if you aren’t in person, you can create an email address, hashtag and/or online form for individuals to submit their selections;
  • Set up a “gallery” of writing which could support browsing, feedback and/or response; this is especially useful if the writing includes more than just text but also images, video, sound. This can happen in person or online using a shared collaborative space like Google Jamboard, Padlet etc.;
  • Especially during Write Out, share your writing by posting on social media using the hashtag #writeout

Related resources

Below are related resources gathered to further support inquiry and exploration of this topic. If you have additional resources to recommend, please share them online via the hashtag #writeout

Acadia National Park: Acadia National Park protects the natural beauty of the highest rocky headlands along the Atlantic coastline of the United States, an abundance of habitats, and a rich cultural heritage. At 4 million visits a year, it’s one of the top 10 most-visited national parks in the United States. Visitors enjoy 27 miles of historic motor roads, 158 miles of hiking trails, and 45 miles of carriage roads.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area: Experience a park so rich it supports 19 distinct ecosystems with over 2,000 plant and animal species. Go for a hike, enjoy a vista, have a picnic or learn about the centuries of overlapping history from California’s indigenous cultures, Spanish colonialism, the Mexican Republic, US military expansion and the growth of San Francisco. All of this and more awaits you, so get out and find your park.

826 Digital: 826 Digital brings the 826 approach to teaching writing to educators, students, and communities that need it most. When students write with 826, they tap into the power, brilliance, and joy within themselves. With each new word, their voices emerge on the page, whether writing about pizza, aliens, climate change, or social justice. Our writing lessons are designed to reach and engage every student, from aspiring authors to reluctant writers.

Reedsy: Reedsy gives authors and publishers access to talented professionals, powerful tools, and free educational content.

How To Write Dialogue – a video by Mr. Gold:

Author Jason Reynolds’ thoughts on writing the first line of a story:

NANO WRIMO: National Novel Writing Month Young Writers Program is an opportunity, a community, and has resources.

Write Out: Write Out is a free two-week celebration of writing, making, and sharing inspired by the great outdoors, and was created through a partnership of the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. It is a public invitation to get out and create that is supported with a series of online activities, made especially for educators, students, and families, to explore national parks and other public spaces. The goal is to connect and learn through place-based writing and sharing using the common hashtag #writeout.

 

Image source: Photo by Fotis Fotopoulos on Unsplash

Built Environment Brainstorming: Prompts for Writing Outside

“A kid in Minecraft can build a world and inhabit it through play. We have the possibility to build the world that we want to inhabit.”-Bjarke Ingels

It’s hard to believe that the design for the world’s tallest arch began by playing around with pipe cleaners, but that’s how designer Eero Saarinen first came up with the form for what would later be known as the ‘Gateway to the West.’ It wouldn’t be the last time Saarinen and his team of structural engineers, steel workers, and construction workers would have to be creative with their materials and techniques in order to successfully build the 630-foot structure that is now the tallest monument in the Western Hemisphere.

Are there any interesting structures (such as monuments, sculptures) where you live? Have you ever thought of designing your own? With this writing spark you’ll be encouraged to go outside and consider the built environment that is around you. Think about the very beginning of the design process and all the many steps and materials required for completion. Who knows? Maybe a structure near you began with pipe cleaners, too!

Writing “Spark”

As educator Peter Elbow writes, “the most effective way … to improve your writing is to do free writing exercises regularly.” Use these writing “sparks” to get your free writing started. Use a notebook or a journal, go digital or stay analog, feel free to incorporate images and multimedia; use or experiment with approaches that work best for you.

Spark from Gateway Arch National Park—Write about a special structure where you live and why it is meaningful? Or write about one you’d like to design or build.

Content focus: Architecture, engineering and human connections
Age-level recommendations: All grades
Time: Video is 3 mins 45 seconds, writing time as needed

Ranger Matt introduces architectural marvels in the city of St. Louis, and invites you to join to write about a special place in your community.

Sharing your writing

Writing outdoors provides a wonderful opportunity to share your writing with others. Here are a few ideas how do this whether you are in person or at a distance from each other:

  • Come together in a circle to share your writing, or an excerpt from your writing (passing should also always be an option); if you aren’t in person, set up an online video conference to do this;
  • Develop a collaboration on the fly by having each writer share one line of their work to add to a greater whole; if you aren’t in person, you can create an email address, hashtag and/or online form for individuals to submit their selections;
  • Set up a “gallery” of writing which could support browsing, feedback and/or response; this is especially useful if the writing includes more than just text but also images, video, sound. This can happen in person or online using a shared collaborative space like Google Jamboard, Padlet etc.;
  • Especially during Write Out, share your writing by posting on social media using the hashtag #writeout

Related resources

Below are related resources gathered to further support inquiry and exploration of this topic. If you have additional resources to recommend, please share them online via the hashtag #writeout

Gateway Arch National Park: The Gateway Arch reflects St. Louis’ role in the Westward Expansion of the United States during the nineteenth century.

Dred and Harriet Scott Statue, Gateway Arch National Park

More about … from Wikipedia: the Gateway Arch | Old Courthouse | Eads Bridge

How the St. Louis Arch Stands Against All Odds” 1 October 2019. HowStuffWorks.com

Writing in the Outdoors with the Gateway Writing Project: Throughout the school year, Gateway Writing Project brings local teachers and students a variety of writing activities centered around the outdoors including writing marathons planned at Gateway Arch National Park, Forest Park, and Weldon Springs Conservation Area; two writing contests; and themed social media writing challenges.

* For Write Out 2022, check out the Write Engineering Contest and the Gateway Arch Writing Marathon

Write Out: Write Out is a free two-week celebration of writing, making, and sharing inspired by the great outdoors, and was created through a partnership of the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. It is a public invitation to get out and create that is supported with a series of online activities, made especially for educators, students, and families, to explore national parks and other public spaces. The goal is to connect and learn through place-based writing and sharing using the common hashtag #writeout.

 

Image source: Photo by Keran Yang on Unsplash 

Our Many Trips Around The Sun: Inspired by Agate Fossil Beds

“Time limits are fictional. Losing all sense of time is actually the way to reality. We use clocks and calendars for convenience sake, not because that kind of time is real.” —Leslie Marmon Silko

Every culture has a unique sense of “time” and how they track it. Do you see time as linear or sequential? Do you measure it down to the hour, minute or second? The planet Earth also has its own ways of marking time which we can learn about through sediments and fossils. At the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska, we can imagine all these different time scales and markings since it is a place where paleontologists unearthed the Age of Mammals as well as the ancestral homeland of the Lakota people.

Use these different scales and marks of time to consider the passage of time where you live.

Writing “Sparks”

As educator Peter Elbow writes, “the most effective way … to improve your writing is to do free writing exercises regularly.” Use these writing “sparks” to get your free writing started. Use a notebook or a journal, go digital or stay analog, feel free to incorporate images and multimedia; use or experiment with approaches that work best for you.

Spark—Go back to a memorable time – for you and/or your community. How would you pictorialize it? What would the symbols include? What would you leave out? How are the pieces connected?

Content focus: Lakota Winter Counts
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: Writing time as needed

While modern Americans track time and events on paper calendars or digital devices, the Lakota traditionally used “Winter Counts” where the year runs from the first snowfall to the next year’s first snowfall.

Each year would have a name and pictograph that represented it, based on the most memorable thing that happened that year. The tribal elders consulted with the keeper of the count to find a consensus representative event. The Winter Counts are often laid out in a spiral or a circular pattern. This matches the Lakota perception of time as cyclical instead of linear.

The “Running Water” Winter Count was created by Dawn Little Sky to mark the events impacting the lives of James Cook and Red Cloud at the current location of the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.

Based on this idea of the Winter Count, go back to a memorable time in your own life (or that of your community). How would you pictorialize it? What would the symbols include? What would you leave out? How are the pieces connected?

Spark—What would a paleontologist 23 millions years from now say about the fossils we leave behind?

Content focus: Geological time
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: Writing time as needed

Through the deposition of sediments, we can tell where the Agate Paleoriver flowed and watered our Miocene animals. Through the overlying fossilized roots of plants, we can see the cycles of drought, flood and volcanic ash. The same cycle that led to the flourishing of the huge herds of menoceras and then to their deaths in the drying watering hole.

These cycles, amplified by over-allocation and climate change, are in play once again. This is most dramatically seen at National Park sites in the Southwest, such as Lake Meed National Recreation Area.

What would a hypothetical paleontologist 23 millions years from now say about the fossils we leave behind?

Sharing your writing

Writing outdoors provides a wonderful opportunity to share your writing with others. Here are a few ideas how do this whether you are in person or at a distance from each other:

  • Come together in a circle to share your writing, or an excerpt from your writing (passing should also always be an option); if you aren’t in person, set up an online video conference to do this;
  • Develop a collaboration on the fly by having each writer share one line of their work to add to a greater whole; if you aren’t in person, you can create an email address, hashtag and/or online form for individuals to submit their selections;
  • Set up a “gallery” of writing which could support browsing, feedback and/or response; this is especially useful if the writing includes more than just text but also images, video, sound. This can happen in person or online using a shared collaborative space like Google Jamboard, Padlet etc.;
  • Especially during Write Out, share your writing by posting on social media using the hashtag #writeout

Related resources

Below are related resources gathered to further support inquiry and exploration of this topic. If you have additional resources to recommend, please share them online via the hashtag #writeout

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument: In the early 1900s, paleontologists unearthed the Age of Mammals when they found full skeletons of extinct Miocene mammals in the hills of Nebraska — species previously only known through fragments. At the same time, an age of friendship began between rancher James Cook and Chief Red Cloud of the Lakota. These two unprecedented events are preserved and protected here… at Agate Fossil Beds.

Lakota Winter Counts: Two Smithsonian experts describe the Lakota tradition of creating Winter Counts as a way of recording events. This video is part of the “Tools” exhibition at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum from December 2014 to May 2015.

“Running Water” Winter Count: Artist Dawn Little Sky (Lakota), who lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation, created this modern chronology of events impacting the lives of James Cook and Red Cloud and the place called Agate Fossil Beds. Events are portrayed yearly from the birth of Red Cloud in 1821 until the death of James Cook in 1942.

Writing Marathon at Agate Fossil Beds with the Nebraska Writing Project: This marathon, co-created by the Nebraska Writing Project with Park Service Rangers from Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, is an invitation to step out and explore Agate with a different lens. It’s your chance to digitally wander the park virtually and to share your observations with each other through writing.

Write Out: Write Out is a free two-week celebration of writing, making, and sharing inspired by the great outdoors, and was created through a partnership of the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. It is a public invitation to get out and create that is supported with a series of online activities, made especially for educators, students, and families, to explore national parks and other public spaces. The goal is to connect and learn through place-based writing and sharing using the common hashtag #writeout.

 

Image source: Sunrise at Agate by Ranger Mar

Bug Orchestra: Prompts for Writing Outside

“Do you know the legend about cicadas? They say they are the souls of poets who cannot keep quiet because, when they were alive, they never wrote the poems they wanted to.” —John Berger

There’s somewhere around 1 million species of insects on the planet, says Julian of Nat Geo Kids, but that’s just the ones we know for sure. In fact, he says, scientists think there might be as many as 10 million! 

Do you ever wonder what bugs do all day? Do you ever listen to their songs? With these writing sparks you will be bugging out! by writing about the things that bugs do and by making your own outside orchestra or movement theater, just like the buzzing bees and the hissing cicadas. 

Writing “Sparks”

As educator Peter Elbow writes, “the most effective way … to improve your writing is to do free writing exercises regularly.” Use these writing “sparks” to get your free writing started. Use a notebook or a journal, go digital or stay analog, feel free to incorporate images and multimedia; use or experiment with approaches that work best for you.

Spark from Canaveral National Seashore—Write a “What Things Do!” Poem

Content focus: Preservation and insects
Age-level recommendations: All ages, good for younger writers
Time: video length=1:57; writing time as needed

A Canaveral National Seashore ranger prompts you to write a “What Things Do” Poem, and because we are bugging out, we encourage you to write about the bugs and what they do all day! 

Spark from Tar River Writing Project & Poetry Project—Create a Rhythm Circle!

Content focus: Insect ecosystems and sound
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: video length=3 mins 36 seconds; Sound time as needed

CJ Suitt (@suittsyouwrite) guides Tar River Writing Project teachers in creating a Sound Ecosystem based on the many sounds found in nature. Head outside where you can mimic the sound of an insect you have come across, or you can make a whole new sound—the one you’d make if you were a bug! Then come together with others and give the sound circle a try! 

Spark from Northwest Arkansa Writing Project—Act Out in Nature!

Content focus: Sounds and nature
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: video length=12:52

Caity Church, a 6th grade English Language Arts teacher and theatre enthusiast in Northwest Arkansas, and her daughter listen to the sounds of the outdoors and get silly by acting out! Bugs provide much of the ambiance. The video guide explains and demonstrates three improvisational acting exercises and includes a handout with more details.

Sharing your writing

Writing outdoors provides a wonderful opportunity to share your writing with others. Here are a few ideas how do this whether you are in person or at a distance from each other:

  • Come together in a circle to share your writing, or an excerpt from your writing (passing should also always be an option); if you aren’t in person, set up an online video conference to do this;
  • Develop a collaboration on the fly by having each writer share one line of their work to add to a greater whole; if you aren’t in person, you can create an email address, hashtag and/or online form for individuals to submit their selections;
  • Set up a “gallery” of writing which could support browsing, feedback and/or response; this is especially useful if the writing includes more than just text but also images, video, sound. This can happen in person or online using a shared collaborative space like Google Jamboard, Padlet etc.;
  • Especially during Write Out, share your writing by posting on social media using the hashtag #writeout

Related resources

Below are related resources gathered to further support inquiry and exploration of this topic. If you have additional resources to recommend, please share them online via the hashtag #writeout

Looking Closely at Bugs with Kid Writing: Kid Writing offers manageable and fun ways to think about writing while providing structured writing practice; designed for 4-8 year olds.

Nighttime Bug Hunt: Turning on your porch light at night or looking at a well-lit wall at night can reveal a whole world of insects you might never see during the day! The Beginner’s Guide to Porch Light Insects can help you identify the insects you see! Created by Christine L. Goforth and available online at thedragonflywoman.com.

How Insects Work Together | Nat Geo Kids Insects Playlist:

Understanding Insect Sounds with Naturist Outreach:

NPR—Insect Sounds: Telling Crickets, Cicadas, and Katydids Apart: For many, an insect chorus is the sound of summer. But many Morning Edition listeners wrote in to say they needed help identifying the bugs making the sounds.

Write Out: Write Out is a free two-week celebration of writing, making, and sharing inspired by the great outdoors, and was created through a partnership of the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. It is a public invitation to get out and create that is supported with a series of online activities, made especially for educators, students, and families, to explore national parks and other public spaces. The goal is to connect and learn through place-based writing and sharing using the common hashtag #writeout.

 

Image source: Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Mapping Our Moves: Prompts for Writing Outside

“I wish I could stuff my mouth full of raindrops and fill my pockets full of snow. I wish I could trace the veins in a fallen leaf and the feel the wind pinch my nose.” —Tahereh Mafi

Nature is always in movement, and what grows can act like a spot on a map that can tell us where to go to find and harvest our food. The Lenape, the First Peoples of The Brandywine Valley, lived and fished on Delaware’s coastline in the summer, but as winter arrived, they moved into the valley where the land was higher and the river was full of fish even in the colder weather.

Have you or your ancestors ever moved from one place to the next? In these two videos, you will be asked to go outside and think about the movement of both people and nature.

Writing “Sparks”

As educator Peter Elbow writes, “the most effective way … to improve your writing is to do free writing exercises regularly.” Use these writing “sparks” to get your free writing started. Use a notebook or a journal, go digital or stay analog, feel free to incorporate images and multimedia; use or experiment with approaches that work best for you.

Spark from Capital Reef National Park—Draw the veins of a leaf and then imagine that it’s a map and label all of the places on your map.

Content focus: Asset and resource mapping.
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: video length=2:33; writing time as needed

Ranger Ann at Capital Reef National Park prompts you to draw the veins of a leaf and then imagine that it’s a map and label all of the places on your map.

Spark from First State National Historical Park—Draw a picture or write a letter about what life was like for your ancestors who had to live off the resources of the land, and whether you think that you could have survived.

Content focus: The movements and resources of the Lenape People in the Delaware Valley region.
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: video length=4 mins 31 seconds; Writing time as needed

Ranger Hugh at the First State National Historic Park asks you to draw a picture or write a letter about what life was like for your ancestors who had to live off the resources of the land, and whether you think that you could have survived.

Sharing your writing

Writing outdoors provides a wonderful opportunity to share your writing with others. Here are a few ideas how do this whether you are in person or at a distance from each other:

  • Come together in a circle to share your writing, or an excerpt from your writing (passing should also always be an option); if you aren’t in person, set up an online video conference to do this;
  • Develop a collaboration on the fly by having each writer share one line of their work to add to a greater whole; if you aren’t in person, you can create an email address, hashtag and/or online form for individuals to submit their selections;
  • Set up a “gallery” of writing which could support browsing, feedback and/or response; this is especially useful if the writing includes more than just text but also images, video, sound. This can happen in person or online using a shared collaborative space like Google Jamboard, Padlet etc.;
  • Especially during Write Out, share your writing by posting on social media using the hashtag #writeout

Related resources

Below are related resources gathered to further support inquiry and exploration of this topic. If you have additional resources to recommend, please share them online via the hashtag #writeout

Capital Reef National Park in Utah: Located in south-central Utah in the heart of red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (a wrinkle on the earth) extending almost 100 miles.

First State National Historic Park: Famous as the First State to ratify the Constitution, Delaware was born out of a conflict among three world powers for dominance of the Delaware Valley. From this beginning, the region developed a distinct character that tolerated diversity in religion and national origin and valued independence.

Write Out: Write Out is a free two-week celebration of writing, making, and sharing inspired by the great outdoors, and was created through a partnership of the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. It is a public invitation to get out and create that is supported with a series of online activities, made especially for educators, students, and families, to explore national parks and other public spaces. The goal is to connect and learn through place-based writing and sharing using the common hashtag #writeout.

Community Mapping Resources

Kid Writing – Looking All Around: Neighborhood Walk and Mapping: What do kindergartners and first graders write about? Everything! The whole world is a possible topic to draw, talk, and write about. In this exploration from the National Writing Project, we will explore your child’s world. You might take a neighborhood walk, or an exploration around your house, or a gaze out your window.

Roots and Shoots: Community Mapping 101: In this activity created by Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots, you will practice many types of research including observation, Internet, and print media searches, as well as interviews with family, friends, and community leaders who become collaborators with you on your efforts.

How can maps help us?: A “Daily Do” activity from the National Science Teaching Association

About the Lenape People

Lenape from Wikipedia: The Lenape, also called the Leni Lenape, Lenni Lenape and Delaware people are an indigenous peoples of the Northeastern Woodlands, who live in the United States and Canada.

The Original People And Their Land: Lenape, Pre-History to the 18th Century: The indigenous people who inhabited the land that became Philadelphia were the Lenape (also Lenni Lenape; their English moniker was “Delaware”); they were displaced by Quakers and other religious minorities that settled the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Resource created by the West Philadelphia Collaborative History project.

The Bird’s Nest on The Windowsill: Prompts for Writing Outside

I acknowledge my status as a stranger;
Inappropriate clothes, odd habits
Out of sync with wasp and wren.
I admit I don’t know how
To sit still or move without purpose.
I prefer books to moonlight, statuary to trees.

But this lawn has been leveled for looking,
So I kick off my sandals and walk its cool green.
Who claims we’re mere muscle and fluids?
My feet are the primitives here—ah the air now
Is a tonic of absence, bearing nothing
But news of a breeze.

—Rita Dove, Reverie in Open Air

Rita Dove writes about finding a spot of nature in which to float into her reverie. When you pay attention to it, you’ll find nature is everywhere. It’s in the flowers and blades of grass popping up in the cracks of the sidewalk. It’s in the birds that nest in the doorways of stores.

In these videos you’ll be prompted to go outside and look for these moments of nature, notice where they intersect with the human-made world. What stories might you find there?

Writing “Sparks”

As educator Peter Elbow writes, “the most effective way … to improve your writing is to do free writing exercises regularly.” Use these writing “sparks” to get your free writing started. Use a notebook or a journal, go digital or stay analog, feel free to incorporate images and multimedia; use or experiment with approaches that work best for you.

Spark from Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area—Look around at the birds in your area, to consider how they interact with both the natural and human-made environments. What sorts of challenges do they face?

Content focus: The joys of nature found in a park between two major cities.
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: video length=2:54; writing time as needed

Ranger Casey loves spending time with the birds and other animals of The Delaware Water Gap, and knows how special this natural world—which is surrounded by two large cities—really is. She encourages you to look around at the birds in your area, to consider how they interact with both the natural and human-made environments. What sorts of challenges do they face?

Spark from Philadelphia Writing Project—Contemplate Nature in Urban Parks

Content focus: Observation in urban parks.
Age-level recommendations: All grades
Time: video length=4:24; writing time as needed

Educator Angela Crawford takes us into the parks of Philadelphia as she falls in love with nature in urban spaces. Spend some time doing the same in your own urban park and find inspiration for your writing.

Spark from Kent State Writing Project—Contrasting Worlds: Intersections Between Human and Nature

Content focus: The poetry found in the spaces where human-made and nature-made meet.
Age-level recommendations: Resources oriented towards older writers
Time: video length=13 mins 20 seconds; Writing time as needed

Educator Amy Hirzel uses the Cuyahoga National Park and its surroundings as a metaphor for all that occurs at the intersections between the human-made and the natural world. She hopes that you will go outside and be inspired by the human and natural world that is directly around you, and consider all of the connections and contrasts found there.

Here is a set of related handouts along with an extended resource guide. This activity can be used with all ages while the video and resources are oriented towards middle- and high-school writers:

Sharing your writing

Writing outdoors provides a wonderful opportunity to share your writing with others. Here are a few ideas how do this whether you are in person or at a distance from each other:

  • Come together in a circle to share your writing, or an excerpt from your writing (passing should also always be an option); if you aren’t in person, set up an online video conference to do this;
  • Develop a collaboration on the fly by having each writer share one line of their work to add to a greater whole; if you aren’t in person, you can create an email address, hashtag and/or online form for individuals to submit their selections;
  • Set up a “gallery” of writing which could support browsing, feedback and/or response; this is especially useful if the writing includes more than just text but also images, video, sound. This can happen in person or online using a shared collaborative space like Google Jamboard, Padlet etc.;
  • Especially during Write Out, share your writing by posting on social media using the hashtag #writeout

Related resources

Below are related resources gathered to further support inquiry and exploration of this topic. If you have additional resources to recommend, please share them online via the hashtag #writeout

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area: Situated within the most densely populated region of the United States, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area provides a unique opportunity to experience tranquil landscapes, rich human history, and striking scenery along 40 miles of the longest free-flowing river east of the Mississippi. The park offers year-round recreation including hiking, paddling, fishing, and hunting.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park: Though a short distance from the urban areas of Cleveland and Akron, Cuyahoga Valley National Park seems worlds away. The park is a refuge for native plants and wildlife, and provides routes of discovery for visitors. The winding Cuyahoga River gives way to deep forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands. Walk or ride the Towpath Trail to follow the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal.

U.S. Urban Parks and Programs: The NPS, through its many programs and parks, has much to offer the urban dweller: a sense of place, an escape from cubicle confines, recognition that everyone’s history is important, a restored and accessible waterfront, and a threshold experience to a greater outdoors.

Write Out: Write Out is a free two-week celebration of writing, making, and sharing inspired by the great outdoors, and was created through a partnership of the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. It is a public invitation to get out and create that is supported with a series of online activities, made especially for educators, students, and families, to explore national parks and other public spaces. The goal is to connect and learn through place-based writing and sharing using the common hashtag #writeout.

 

Image source: Photo by Syed Ahmad on Unsplash

Nature’s Toolbox: Prompts for Writing Outside Inspired by George Washington Carver

“When you can do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” —George Washington Carver

Nature’s Garden For Victory and Peace, National Agricultural Library

How does writing outside change the way you view nature? As George Washington Carver grew up his paintings and sketches of natural life prompted him to first study art, then horticulture and finally agriculture which he would teach to his students at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He continued to draw and make art throughout his life; his Bulletins published for farmers included agricultural suggestions, tips, illustrations and even recipes.

In these two videos, you will be encouraged to look at nature creatively, like Dr. George Washington Carver did, and use it as your writer’s toolbox.

Writing “Sparks”

As educator Peter Elbow writes, “the most effective way … to improve your writing is to do free writing exercises regularly.” Use these writing “sparks” to get your free writing started. Use a notebook or a journal, go digital or stay analog, feel free to incorporate images and multimedia; use or experiment with approaches that work best for you.

Spark from George Washington Carver National MonumentLike Dr. Carver, make an art nature journal. Take your journal outside & document what you see. Write it, draw it, or paint it.

Content focus: Nature’s influence on Dr. Carver as a scientist
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: video length=2:52; writing time as needed

One of George Washington Carver’s favorite things to do, according to Ranger Ryan at the George Washington Carver National Monument in Missouri, was to explore the fields, the woods, the streams, the prairie, to understand more about nature’s patterns and rhythms and cadences. Ranger Ryan asks you to make an art nature journal, take it outside & document what you see; write it, draw it, or paint it.

Spark from Dr. Kim Ruffin of Outdoor AfroCreate a 4-Leaf Palette Poem inspired by Nature

Content focus: Nature’s palette and its influence on Dr. Carver as a scientist
Age-level recommendations: All ages; good for younger writers
Time: video length=6 mins; Writing time as needed

Dr. Kim Ruffin of Roosevelt University and Outdoor Afro shows you how to create your own 4-leaf palette poem inspired by Dr. Washington Carver’s love of the beauty and utility of nature. A related handout is available.

Sharing your writing

Writing outdoors provides a wonderful opportunity to share your writing with others. Here are a few ideas how do this whether you are in person or at a distance from each other:

  • Come together in a circle to share your writing, or an excerpt from your writing (passing should also always be an option); if you aren’t in person, set up an online video conference to do this;
  • Develop a collaboration on the fly by having each writer share one line of their work to add to a greater whole; if you aren’t in person, you can create an email address, hashtag and/or online form for individuals to submit their selections;
  • Set up a “gallery” of writing which could support browsing, feedback and/or response; this is especially useful if the writing includes more than just text but also images, video, sound. This can happen in person or online using a shared collaborative space like Google Jamboard, Padlet etc.;
  • Especially during Write Out, share your writing by posting on social media using the hashtag #writeout

Related resources

Below are related resources gathered to further support inquiry and exploration of this topic. If you have additional resources to recommend, please share them online via the hashtag #writeout

George Washington Carver National Monument: The young child known as the “Plant Doctor” tended his secret garden while observing the day-to-day operations of a 19th century farm. Nature and nurture ultimately influenced George on his quest for education to becoming a renowned agricultural scientist, educator, and humanitarian.

Struggle and Triumph: The Legacy of George Washington Carver:This 28-minute film explores the life of the George Washington Carver. The film features Altorro Prince Black as the adult George Washington Carver and Tyler Black as the young Carver, narration by Sheryl Lee Ralph, and music by Bobby Horton.

see also: George Washington Carver National Monument annual 3rd & 4th Grade Art Show 2021

George Washington Carver, USDA National Agricultural Library Digital Exhibit: George Washington Carver was an agricultural scientist whose importance lies in his practical work supporting African-American farmers and his advocacy for specific crops such as peanuts and sweet potatoes. This exhibit showcases the 38 Tuskegee Institute Experiment Station Bulletins held by NAL that were written by George Washington Carver during his tenure as Director.

Carver Museum and Cultural Center: The George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center is a premier cultural institution that is the steward of the African American experience in Phoenix. We honor and share African-American Heritage, Arts & Culture. The support of our Museum Members, Visitors, Donors, and Partners plays a crucial role in ensuring we remain open and accessible to the public.

Outdoor Afro: Outdoor Afro celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. The network also connects Black people with our lands, water, and wildlife through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. Some examples of Outdoor Afro’s year-round activities range from fishing, hiking, biking, kayaking, gardening, skiing and more!

Write Out: Write Out is a free two-week celebration of writing, making, and sharing inspired by the great outdoors, and was created through a partnership of the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. It is a public invitation to get out and create that is supported with a series of online activities, made especially for educators, students, and families, to explore national parks and other public spaces. The goal is to connect and learn through place-based writing and sharing using the common hashtag #writeout.

Layers of the Land: Prompts for Writing Outside

“Exploring the layers of the earth is like reading the pages of a book.” —James W. Mercer

According to the Grand Canyon National Park’s website, the story begins almost two billion years ago with the formation of the igneous and metamorphic rocks of the inner gorge. And still today these forces of nature are at work slowly deepening and widening the region. Further up the Colorado River, at the Colorado National Monument, ancient landscapes built up the rock layers of sand and mud that you see there.

The two videos below created by Rangers at these two National Parks prompt writers to get outside and consider the landscapes around them, how those landscapes have been formed, are still changing, and will look in the future.

Writing “Spark”

As educator Peter Elbow writes, “the most effective way … to improve your writing is to do free writing exercises regularly.” Use these writing “sparks” to get your free writing started. Use a notebook or a journal, go digital or stay analog, feel free to incorporate images and multimedia; use or experiment with approaches that work best for you.

Spark from Grand Canyon National Park—Imagine yourself standing on the landscape one million years in the future; what would it look like and why?

Content focus: Geologic time and change
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: Video length = 4:42; Writing time as needed

After a land acknowledgement, Ranger Tarryn asks writers to consider the scale of the Grand Canyon through a geologic timeline and then prompts them to reflect on change and time in their own community. Imagine yourself standing on the landscape one million years in the future; what would it look like and why?

Spark from Colorado National Monument—Create a storyboard that shows a place changing over time.

Content focus: Geologic change and forces; storyboarding
Age-level recommendations: All ages
Time: Video length = 1:43; Writing time as needed

Ranger Sam from the Colorado National Monument describes the way that she learns about and tells the story of the landscape. She describes the way that she creates storyboards to sketch the details that she wants to share with visitors to the park and encourages writers to do the same based on their place and the way it has changed (geologically or otherwise) over time.

Share Your Writing

Writing outdoors provides a wonderful opportunity to share your writing with others. Here are a few ideas how do this whether you are in person or at a distance from each other:

  • Come together in a circle to share your writing, or an excerpt from your writing (passing should also always be an option); if you aren’t in person, set up an online video conference to do this;
  • Develop a collaboration on the fly by having each writer share one line of their work to add to a greater whole; if you aren’t in person, you can create an email address, hashtag and/or online form for individuals to submit their selections;
  • Set up a “gallery” of writing which could support browsing, feedback and/or response; this is especially useful if the writing includes more than just text but also images, video, sound. This can happen in person or online using a shared collaborative space like Google Jamboard, Padlet etc.;
  • Especially during Write Out, share your writing by posting on social media using the hashtag #writeout

Related Resources

Below are related resources gathered to further support inquiry and exploration of this topic. If you have additional resources to recommend, please share them online via the hashtag #writeout

Geology at the Grand Canyon National Park: Have you ever wondered how the Grand Canyon was formed and why it is found here in Northern Arizona? To understand the formation of the canyon, there is a simple way to remember how it was shaped over time. All you have to remember are the letters D U D E or dude. The letters stand for: Deposition, Uplift, Down cutting and Erosion.

The Active Geology of the Monument: The rock layers here connect many neighboring National Park Service units. The Precambrian rock layer in our canyon bottoms is on full display at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The smooth Entrada sandstone along Rimrock Drive is the main arch-forming layer at Arches National Park. The Morrison formation in our highlands also produces fossils at Dinosaur National Monument. The geology here connects stories from across the Colorado Plateau and the planet.

Write Out: Write Out is a free two-week celebration of writing, making, and sharing inspired by the great outdoors, and was created through a partnership of the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. It is a public invitation to get out and create that is supported with a series of online activities, made especially for educators, students, and families, to explore national parks and other public spaces. The goal is to connect and learn through place-based writing and sharing using the common hashtag #writeout.

 

Image source: Cross-section of Sedimentary Layers, Wikimedia Commons