Teaching Writing

Talking Trees: Prompts for Writing Outside

Write Out


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).

“The trees act not as individuals, but somehow as a collective. Exactly how they do this, we don’t yet know. But what we see is the power of unity. What happens to one happens to us all. We can starve together or feast together.” ―Robin Wall Kimmerer

Ecologists and researchers have published work demonstrating the ways that trees “talk” to each other through networks of roots and fungi under the ground.

How might writing outside allow us to tap into our experiences with trees around us? In these two videos, we are prompted by two experts to go outside, spend time with the trees around us, and explore – through writing – what they communicate to us and to each other.

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 Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park—We know that some trees can “talk” to each other through their root systems. What kind of messages might trees send to each other?

Content focus: Masting process of oak trees, exploring how tree communicate
Age-level recommendations: All ages, good for younger writers
Time: Video length = 3:45; Writing time as needed

Park Ranger McKenzie of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park describes the ways that oak trees in the park go through a process of masting, ie. the synchronous production of large crops of seeds, every few years. Ranger Makenzie prompts us to write by asking: We know that some trees can “talk” to each other through their root systems. What kind of messages might trees send to each other?

Spark from Dr. Easley of Hip-Hop Forestry—Write near a tree. Come back inside; note how you feel. Add that to your writing.

Content focus: Forests and the stories they tell; diversity, equity and inclusion
Age-level recommendations: Older writers engaging with complex topics
Time: Video length = 2:29; Writing time as needed

Dr. Thomas RaShad Easley—forester, hip-hop artist, and Assistant Dean for Community & Inclusion at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies—describes his Hip Hop Forestry philosophy (video used with permission) and prompts writers to engage in the following process:

  1. Go outside and compose/write near a tree
  2. Come back inside; note how your body feels coming from the outside to the inside
  3. Add that to your composition/writing
  4. When ready, read your writing out loud to another person.

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

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park: Huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the world’s largest trees exemplify the diversity of landscapes, life, and beauty here. Explore these pages to learn about the plants and animals here and the threats they face. Our ancient giant sequoias may seem invincible, but they, too are vulnerable.

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.

More on Tree Communications

“How trees secretly talk to each other”, BBC News, published June 29, 2018

“How Trees Secretly Talk to Each Other in the Forest”, National Geographic Decoder, published Sep 11, 2018

“The Social Life of Forests: Trees appear to communicate and cooperate through subterranean networks of fungi. What are they sharing with one another?”
New York Times Magazine, published December 2, 2020

“Tons of acorns? It must be a mast year”
The Conversation, published November 15, 2019

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

“How Hip Hop Can Bring Green Issues to Communities of Color”
Yale Environment 360, published March 3, 2020
Authored by Thomas Easley


Image source: The Wood Wide Web: How Trees Secretly  Talk and Share with Each Other

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