Emergent Writers Teaching Writing

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


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).

“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.

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