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7 Ways to Make Your Field Trip Awesome

Kim Haynes

7 Ways to Make Your Field Trip AwesomeField trips. Those two words can fill students with joy and teachers with dread.

Forget the logistics, the forms, the make-sure-every-kid-gets-back-on-the-bus worries: in today’s environment, where both time and money are at a premium, teachers can’t afford—in any sense of the word—a bad field trip. Before you schedule your next off-campus excursion, use these ideas to make sure you and your students get the most out of the experience!

Before: Scout the terrain.

As much as possible, know what you’re getting yourself into. Visit the museum in advance so you can anticipate the exhibit that will make the kids scream. Some theater companies offer educators discount tickets so teachers can view the show ahead of time.

If an in-person visit isn’t feasible, do what you can. Read materials provided by the organization and spend time going over their website. Some museums have photographs of key exhibits on their website, so you can prepare without ever leaving your couch.

Before: Plant the seeds.

Often teachers are so rushed that prepping students for a field trip consists of “Make sure to bring in your permission slips” and “Behave yourself in public.” To really make a field trip work, students need context:

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  • Ask the museum or organization for materials you can share with students in advance. Many have Teacher Guides or can suggest links to reading materials.
  • Give students something to read that will help them understand the trip better. Young students might enjoy a book about animals before a visit to the zoo; high school students will understand a Shakespeare play better if they read a summary of it beforehand.
  • Give students a reading that will change their perspective – especially useful with older students who think they’ve already heard everything. If they’re blasé about the zoo, have them research a day in the life of a zoologist. During the visit, ask kids to make connections between what they read and what they’re seeing.

Before: Make it professional.

Teachers often worry about how students will behave on a field trip. Instead of a list of do’s and don’ts, try giving students a professional job to do—and tell them to behave accordingly. For example:

  • Students are travel writers who need to evaluate this botanical garden, zoo, or historical site and write a report on it for a travel website.
  • Students are curators of a new museum and they need to look at how the museum they visit sets up its exhibits, handles its tours, etc.
  • Students are researchers studying a period of history or a particular type of animal. They need to accomplish specific research tasks or find the answers to specific questions in order to complete their research.

Before the visit, help students learn more about their “job” and discuss appropriate professional dress and behavior for someone who does that job. Create a specific list of questions or tasks students will do during the visit. If the museum staff will play along, you can even have students create business cards to leave during their visit and tell students to email staff the results of their “research” when it’s complete.

Before: Make it personal.

Give students a reason to care about the field trip by making connections to their personal interests:

  • Put students in groups based on their favorite animal or favorite flower. Have them think up specific questions about their favorite. Then arrange the field trip so each group gets time to explore their favorite more closely.
  • Before going to see an artistic performance, ask students: what job would you do in a show like this? What instrument would you play? Would you build the sets or act the starring role? At the show, have students pay special attention to their “job” and, if possible, ask questions of the person responsible for their job.
  • Make a list of topics related to a historical era or event and have students sign up for a topic. They can prepare questions on that topic to ask the tour guide and spend time learning about their topic during the museum visit.

Afterwards, students share the information they personally collected about a topic that interests them.

After: Two Thumbs Up?

Have students write a “review” of the field trip. What worked? What didn’t? What did they learn? How did they think the trip could be better? Would they recommend this trip for next year’s class? Why or why not? In between the obvious (“It would be better if it didn’t rain while we were eating outside”) and the predictable (“It would be better if we had field trips every day instead of boring class”), you may find some useful information. In addition, you’re building students’ capacity for critical thinking.

After: Putting things in perspective.

Context-setting is just as important after a field trip as before. What questions did the trip raise? What questions did the trip answer?

Tie the trip into your next test or assignment. If your English class read—and then watched—a Shakespeare play, ask them to write an essay explaining whether they had an easier time understanding the language when watching it or reading it. Now that students have visited the historical site, ask them to read excerpts from a diary written in that era. What connections can they make between the life described in the diary and what they saw at the site?

After: Create your own display.

As a class, create your own mini-museum exhibit about what students learned. Beyond the typical “We went to the zoo and I learned…” essay, have students present information in multiple formats, using photos, video, or music as well as words. Consider putting the exhibit on display in your classroom or creating a digital display that parents and friends can see online. For older students, challenge them to think as curators. What information will they include? What will they leave out? How will they present the information?

With tight budgets and the ever-present need for more seat time, a field trip can seem like an overwhelming challenge. But when properly put in context and connected to an activity or assignment, it can be an irreplaceable tool for learning—and a lot of fun!

 

How do you make your field trips the best experiences they can be? Tell us in the comments!