Notebooks on Field Trips: Discovering the Writer’s Life

Discovering the Writing Life Blog SeriesOne of my favorite things about being a classroom teacher was taking educational field trips with my students. One year, I took my fifth grades on 20-25 field trips around the five boroughs of New York City. We walked, rode buses, and took the Subway to museums, zoos, parks, and botanical gardens. I loved supplementing our classroom learning with field trips, in addition to providing my students with experiences some of them weren’t used to having.

The majority of my fall field trips in New York were history-based since I was supplementing my students’ test prep for the NY State Social Studies Test (BTW: This test no longer exists. But that’s another story.) with field trips to places like Fraunces Tavern Museum and the Morris Jumel Mansion. However, once that test was over in November, I focused many of my students’ field trips on art appreciation and writing. Specifically, poetry writing.

I infused poetry into my classroom all year long — not just in April — with poetry centers, free verse poetry read-alouds, and Friday afternoon poetry circles. Every spring, my students would engage in a four – six week unit of study on poetry. As a result, I wanted my kids to have opportunities to craft poems outside of our classroom. I made an effort to take them on as many field trips as possible to gather inspiration for their poems. Often, my students field trip poems made it into their personal poetry anthologies at the end of our poetry unit of study.

Here’s a sampling of some of the memorable trips my students and I took in service of poetry over the years:

  • Bronx Zoo: My students visited the Bronx Zoo and took a “Wild Poetry” class, which allowed students to interact with a variety of animals. From there, my students built word lists based on their observations. Once the class returned to school, they crafted poems about their animal encounters. (Check out the Wild Poetry mini-grant proposal I wrote on in order to obtain funding for the field trip.)
  • Central Park: My school was located on 103rd and Madison when I taught in Manhattan, which meant we were one block away from Central Park. (Early each school year, I’d obtain neighborhood walk permission slips from my students’ parents so I could take my class out of the building to walk anywhere on Museum Mile or in our East Harlem neighborhood.) On several occasions, we grabbed our notebooks and headed outside to observe the change of seasons or special exhibits, such as The Gates.
  • New York Botanical Garden: My students participated in a “Prose, Poetry and Plants” workshop, which examined the connections among literature, nature, and science. In addition to finding out how plants inspire great works of literature, my students used scientific observations of plants and wildlife to create individual and class poems. (Check out the mini-grant proposal I wrote for this trip on so I could provide this trip to my students at no cost to them.)
  • Poets House: We took two subways downtown when we visited The Children’s Room at Poets House. (The Subway adventure was worthy of writing about!) This trip served as a way for my students to celebrate their published poems with each other (at the end of our poetry unit of study) outside of our classroom.
  • Providence Poetry Walking Tour: I invited my students to step out into the community and explore downtown Providence with me and their parents on a Sunday afternoon. Students and their families were encouraged to meet at the Amtrak Station with their poetry notebooks in hand. From there, we walked to the State House, the Renaissance Hotel (which was a former Masonic Temple), and the Providence Place Mall, in search of poems. (I blogged about it here and here.)
  • Skywalk Observatory at the Prudential Center: During our poetry unit, we took a bus from Central Falls to Boston so we could experience the world from way up high. If I remember correctly, my students wrote a lot of poems about their observations of Fenway Park!
  • Top of the Rock Observation Deck: My students brought their poetry notebooks to this skyscraper to craft poems about the New York City from a different vantage point. (See the Poetry at Top of the Rock mini-grant proposal I wrote on so I could obtain funding for this trip.)

So what was the point of all of these poetry-related field trips? Here are three things I wanted my students to take away from each of them:

  1. Poets can write about a wide variety of topics and experiences.
  2. A notebook is a useful way to help a young writer notice the world around them.
  3. Writers craft poems or stories based on their travel experiences — regardless of how far from home they venture.

What kinds of field trips have you taken in-service of writing? Please share a bit about any kinds of writing-related field trips or neighborhood walks you’ve taken with your students by leaving a comment below.

Please join us on Monday, February 8th for the Discovering the Writing Life Twitter chat. Use the hashtag #TWTBlog to join. The chat begins at 8:30 EST. We look forward to chatting with you on Monday.

Please join us on Monday, February 8th for the Discovering the Writing Life Twitter chat. Use the hashtag #TWTBlog to join. The chat begins at 8:30 EST. We look forward to chatting with you on Monday.