Teaching literacy outdoors

Sam Flatman

Sam Flatman is Sales & Marketing Director for Pentagon Sport. Pentagon have worked with over 5000 settings to create innovative playgrounds and learning environments for young students. Sam has been designing playgrounds for the past 10 years and has a passion for outdoor education. He believes that outdoor learning is an essential part of child development, which can be integrated into the school curriculum. Sam is currently based in Bristol with his two sons.

Follow @samflatman

Follow @PentagonSportUK

Website: www.pentagonsport.co.uk Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Originally published on 4th November 2014 Originally published on 4th November 2014

Storytelling is an essential part of childhood. The literature we read contributes to our social and emotional development. It enhances our understanding of the world around us. Unfortunately, that literature isn’t always easy to understand. That’s where outdoor storytelling can help.

The new English curriculum places higher expectations on spelling ability and the importance of Shakespeare. Looking back, these are the two areas of literacy that I struggled with most as a child. In fact, I still struggle with them now from time to time. If we aim to raise the bar when it comes to what is expected of our children, then it is high time that we raise the standard of our English lessons too. Without innovation, our children may only experience frustration and boredom if literacy simply becomes an exercise in memorising dense Shakespearean passages.


I believe that moving literacy lessons outdoors will inspire our children. Learning in the natural world is a great way to stimulate the imagination and let student’s burgeoning creativity enhance their understanding of what they’re reading. Getting children excited about reading in school is the key to ensuring that they read when they get home too. From woodlands to fields, the outdoors is captivating to children. By integrating literacy into that environment, we will strengthen both their understanding and their interest.


For younger learners, it’s important to have spaces where they feel comfortable and relaxed. The classroom can feel like a high pressure environment as children begin to realise there is an expectation for them to finish tasks to a certain standard. Sitting in a circle on logs or on the grass for storytime can create a safe, low pressure environment that encourages children to contribute more freely.


As learners begin to practise their ABCs, the outdoors can provide many creative ways to improve their comprehension. Drawing letters into the mud with sticks, making letter shapes using sticks and stones, and practising writing on paper in the outside world can reinforce what has been demonstrated inside the classroom, especially for those children who learn better from movement and touch than they do from reading and listening.


Role playing is an important aspect of literature as it promotes cognitive, social and emotional development in children. The imaginative act of ‘being in someone else’s shoes’ helps them to empathise with others and express emotions more freely. For early years, role play is about making sense of the world. By the time children reach KS2 and KS3, role play is vital for making sense of the story and the characters, especially when it comes to Shakespeare.


For early years learners, role play can be as simple as walking in a line through the woods like the seven dwarfs in Snow White. As they become more comfortable with role play activities, problem solving can be introduced. How will the three Billy Goats Gruff cross the river when the fearsome troll is living under the bridge? Can the kids think of any alternative endings to the fairy tale? What would they do differently?


Even as an adult, my experiences of literature in the natural world are the most memorable. One warm summer evening, I attended a magical promenade theatre performance. The audience had no fixed seat, but instead followed the actors around from scene to scene. The play was Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream, and in a park in Oxfordshire. I saw the play come alive. It was the first time I felt truly immersed in that world, walking around with the characters at dusk.


Understanding and remembering the story is the essential groundwork to comprehending all of the written words, and the outdoors can play an integral role in that. The four walls of a classroom can be a restrictive space when it comes to using imagination and developing understanding. In comparison, the outside world is a learning environment that has no physical restrictions and no imaginative limitations.


Have you used outdoor learning in English lessons? Let us know in the comments.

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now
Login

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"