Teaching Writing

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


This resource is available to support place-based writing outside anytime of year and comes with related resources and age-level recommendations. Originally developed for Write Out (writeout.nwp.org).

“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

This post is part of the STEAM-powered prompts for Writing Outside collection.