Teaching Writing

Mapping Our Moves: 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).

“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.

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