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Break Outside: Getting Outside of the Classroom

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

Why stay inside the same four walls every day?

Your students will want to earn time outside of the classroom. This will not only enhance student learning but can also be used as a reward that can be taken away. Now you have an extra classroom management tool to put in the toolbox! Sounds great right?

If leaving your classroom sounds scary, then it’s about time you try it out. When we are pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone as teachers, we are pushing ourselves to be better than what we were yesterday. So give it a try. Not only will be in the fresh air help your mood, but it will also decrease the irritability of your students who have had to sit still all day in their other classes.

three girls with school supplies sitting on the bleachers Break Outside: Getting Outside of the Classroom

Set the Expectation Right Away

The impact of being outside is like night and day. Your students will LOVE that you trust them enough to give them this privilege, and they will behave accordingly if they want to continue to get the opportunity to go outside of the classroom again.

I always warn my students that we will not go outside of the classroom if they don’t show me they can handle the responsibility. Additionally, I let them know that the ONLY reason I am trying out a lesson outside that day is that I do trust them, and I feel that they can handle it.

Then, I go over what I am looking for in their behavior outside of the classroom. I have them briefly retell me what the expectations are. Even at the high school level, I won’t leave the classroom until every student is quiet, including that one kid who just can’t help him/herself. Only then will we all head out. Every student knows exactly where to go and knows to wait for further instructions or to get started on their assignment.

Only by having clear expectations and directions will your time outside of the classroom be successful.

three girls sitting outside under tree Break Outside: Getting Outside of the Classroom

Managing Outside Activities

Depending on what you’re doing, you may want to give instructions for the activity while you are still in the classroom or wait until you are at the designated location. For a surprise Edgar Allan Poe Scavenger Hunt inside of the school’s secret graveyard on campus, you may want to wait before you tell them what you’re up to. However, for most activities, they need to know what they’re in for.

For example, for the photojournalism project, I like to do, I go over camera angles, things to look for, and ways to connect ideas to their pictures, BEFORE they leave the classroom. They have everything they need in hand before they leave the classroom. Most of the time, the moment we head out they know what they need to do, this minimizes off-task behavior.

Stick together when going outside the classroom

Always stick with your students, and keep track of where they are by staying vigilant. Keep your clipboard with you and let them know that you’re keeping track of who is and isn’t there with the attendance roster you took that day. They always believe a person with a clipboard. For some reason, clipboards are the easiest, most effective tool I’ve used for managing my class.

Have a backup plan for students who wander off. Let them know ahead of time the consequences of doing this. My school has an in-school suspension room they can wander right into if they don’t want to stay with the class. I let them know that I care about their safety and well-being, I need to know where everyone is at all times. This changes a negative into a positive. It is important for them to understand the why of your rules, and that it all comes from a good place.

class of students sitting on a brick wall, working in groups Break Outside: Getting Outside of the Classroom

Ideas for what you can do outside with your students

Take Photos

  • ELA: Have your students create a photojournalism project with appropriate captions that tell a story.

  • Science: Have students take photos of various wildlife and identify plants/habitats with their photos.

  • Art: Photography is a great way to discuss perspective.

  • Math: Have students take photos of them measuring items, finding the area or perimeter of items, and have students show real-life applications of math all around campus.

  • History: Schools usually have trophies, plaques, statues, murals, and more, that relate to the school’s history. Students can explain their significance/importance for history classes.

Complete Independent Activities

Anything that allows them to just sit quietly and work can be done outside. Students love working outside in the courtyard or on the bleachers of the football field, maybe your school has a garden where students can work. Being outside allows them to just relax and work quietly. I used this time to write poetry or complete various creative writing pieces.

Ball Toss Game

Maybe this idea will inspire you and you will run with it to make it work for your topic. I have students try to get a streak of correct responses by throwing a ball. The person holding said ball has to either say a noun, adjective, verb, or adverb, starting with a letter of my choice.

They have to come up with as many words that meet the criteria such as a noun that starts with the letter “A” without repeating a word that had been used before. Correctly doing this would build the streak until someone either messed up or couldn’t come up with something to say. I had them competing against my other classes for the highest streak, the entire class would be rewarded. I kept track of the streak by counting out loud until the streak broke.

three boys working on the staircase Break Outside: Getting Outside of the Classroom

Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger Hunts are one of my favorite activities and I will talk about them all of the time. Having QR codes set up around campus where students have to complete various activities with their groups can be so much fun.

Giving them a physical list of places and things to do is also a great option. Use a Google Form to have students upload all of their proofs for accomplishing the tasks in one place.

If Forms don't work, they can create Slides or a Doc to upload videos, written responses, and photographs they’ve taken on their journey. This is much better than having them send several separate emails.

Best Kept Secret

Take your students to a place that they probably don’t know exists and is a unique part of your school’s campus. Use this place to spark their creativity. Maybe have them do an interesting writing project, an art project, or whatever comes to your mind. Showing them something new will get them excited about learning whatever you have in store.

students sitting on floor of hallway Infront of lockers Break Outside: Getting Outside of the Classroom

All the World’s A Stage

If your students are super into the play you’re reading, give them all apart to read, and have them act it out on your school’s stage. My 9th graders begged me to do this again and again. This activity is best done after your students have gotten comfortable with their classmates and are used to reading out loud to one another.

Go to Another Classroom

There’s nothing quite like combining your class with another teacher. Talk with teachers in and outside your department. Maybe have the choir teacher have their students perform a song in another language for your Global Literature students, so they can hear something more authentic from the country whose literature you’re exploring that week.

Or if your fellow English teacher specializes in literary analysis create a lesson where they teach a lesson they are the expert in, and then you return the favor with your own expertise in writing. Find your school’s brand new S.T.E.A.M. lab and apply it to your non-science-related topic, see what happens when you combine subjects for the day. You may be surprised.

No matter how you decide to utilize your time outside of the classroom, getting out in the first place will be a worthwhile investment.

students looking down at camera, blue sky overhead Break Outside: Getting Outside of the Classroom

The mood that a change in the atmosphere creates is incredibly positive. Make it a goal to take them out at LEAST three times throughout each semester. Being outside doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to take them outside, anywhere that isn’t your room will do just fine. This will create a bonding experience not only between the teacher and students, but the students will bond more with each other.

You are creating a shared experience that your students will continue to talk about long after they’ve left your class and moved on to the next step in their lives. Not to mention the fact that the classroom environment will highly benefit from these well-deserved breaks.

Leaving the classroom helps lighten the students’ AND your mood. Who wants to be in the same room every day? Enjoy some fresh air once, take in the change of scenery, AND enhance the learning experience for your students. I have never regretted taking my students out of the classroom, I feel you will experience the same.

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