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10 Creative Writing Prompts to Boost Your Nature Journaling Skills

My writing desk looks out over Lake Erie. When I am stuck and staring at a blank screen, I take a break and walk on the beach near my house. Every day is a new scene. I may encounter a flock of seagulls squawking and tussling on the pier, or a bald eagle scanning the shore for his next meal. I’ve seen a man baptized in the shallow water, while children make sandcastles on the beach. I may greet a neighbor or make a new friend. Whatever the case may be, the stimulation of the sights, the sounds and the people I meet, all refresh my perspective and even trigger new ideas.

For me, nature is a stimulus for creative thought and, as a result, better writing. By the time I am home again and facing my computer, I am usually free from whatever was blocking my flow of ideas … even if I’m not specifically writing about nature. I return more in tune to my surroundings and aware that I am a part of something much larger than myself. Being out in the natural world reminds me of who I am … and that keeps me from trying to be something I’m not. And I think that’s the key to good writing … conveying your thoughts in an authentic voice that’s true to who you really are.

American essayist, poet, philosopher,and naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote,“It is the marriage of the soul with nature that makes the intellect fruitful, and gives birth to imagination.”

I agree.

So here goes… pick a writing prompt you like and make it your own.

  1. Describe your most significant experience with nature. Try to remember the sights, sounds, smells and other sensory details of the experience. Did it have a positive or negative effect on your relationship with the natural world? Did the experience change you as a person?
  2. Tell a story or describe a hike or nature walk that you’ve experienced. Who were you with, what did you bring, and why do you remember it so well? If you never have, tell an imaginary story about a hike you would like to try. Have you always wanted to try to hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail? Or, do you enjoy walking in your community park? Describe what your see and how it makes you feel.
  3. Buy or make a bird feeder and hang it in your backyard or on your windowsill. Purchase a field guide to local species (or find one at the library) and note the type and number of species that come to your feeder during the week. Observe the type of seeds they like to eat and whether they eat from the feeder or from the ground. Do any other species of animals visit the feeder? Note any other observations you feel are relevant to your study. Save your observations for future creative writing projects or stories.
  4. Imagine that one day you took a walk and the trees began to talk to you. What would they say about their relationship to humans and how would you respond? Would it change the way you interact with the natural world? Tell a story about your experience.
  5. Think about some aspect of nature in you community that needs improvement and write a rough draft of a letter to the mayor of your city. Why is this important to you and to other members of the community. Include a viable solution to the problem and how you are prepared to help out.
  6. Take a walk and pause for a moment in a place that feels comfortable to you. Capture one aspect in nature. It can be as small as a raindrop on a leaf or as expansive as an approaching thunderstorm. Write a haiku poem about your observations.
  7. If you had a choice of any place to live on the planet and money was not an issue, where would you live? Would it be a rural, suburban or urban setting? Would it be important to you to live near a park or other type of natural landscape? If so, why? How would it be similar or different to the place you live now? Tell a story about your first year living in your new home.
  8. What is your favorite season and why? Describe a memory from the past that may have contributed to these feelings. If you live in a place where you do not experience significant seasonal changes, what subtle differences do you notice?
  9. Your favorite natural area is about to be changed into a housing development. What do you do to stop it and how do you get the community on your side? Write a speech that you would give at the town hall meeting.
  10. Write a story about an animal rescue from the perspective of the animal. Research using a “story arc” or “plot diagram” to structure your story, including beginning, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.

Remember, first and foremost, nature journaling should bring greater joy and creativity to your life. It is liberating to be able to express your inner thoughts and it’s fun to experiment with different forms of writing to find your true voice. img_6941

Happy Journaling! 

Elizabeth


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Teach Green: Lesson Plan to Create an Illustrated Nature Journal

Illustrated Nature Journals for Kids

Summary:

Whether writing for scientific purposes or personal satisfaction or to convey personal experiences in the natural world to others, what better place to start a nature journal than on the Huntington Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks. Students will explore Huntington Beach, Porter Creek and the flora and fauna of the surrounding meadow lands, while expressing their creativity through writing and illustrating their own personal nature journal. Both rewarding and fun, students are sure to sharpen their analytical and observation skills while deepening their appreciation of nature.

Grade Level:

Geared primarily toward children ages 8 to 12, but works just as well for teenagers and adults with a few modifications.

Time:

Two hours per class for six weeks.

Learning Objectives:

Objective #1

Students will use real-life experiences in nature as inspiration for journal writing, illustration and personal expression.

Objective #2

Students will explore various practices of nature journaling for descriptive, informational, narrative and persuasive writing.

Objective #3

Students will learn the fundamentals of map making in order to develop a sense of place and an increased appreciation of the natural world.

Materials Needed:

  1. 8.5 x 11 three ring view binder. A “view” binder will allow students design their own cover.
  2. Pencils ( varying hardness, often sold together), colored pencils, a sharpener and a white eraser
  3. Watercolors and paint brush
  4. Bottle of water
  5. Paper towels
  6. Ziploc bags for collecting treasures such as pine cones, leaves, shells or seeds
  7. Field bag or backpack to hold supplies

Optional Items:

  1. Binoculars
  2. Camera
  3. Compass
  4. Measuring tape or ruler
  5. Field guides
  6. Map

Instructor will supply additional worksheets, including templates for field notes, writing prompts, and graphic organizers. Also, graph paper and art/craft supplies for projects created in studio will be supplied. Students will want to have their own art supplies for creative work completed on nature walks.


 

Lesson Plans:

Week One: Introduction to Nature Journals and Mapping

Background


Creating a Nature Journal

Getting kids interested in natural world teaches them to appreciate it. Once they are outdoors and engaged, they are more likely to develop a feeling of connection to the plants, animals and natural spaces in their backyards, communities and parks. And, they will be more likely to want to protect them as they grow into adulthood. Keeping a nature journal is a great way to start.

In the most popular recent book on the subject, “Keeping a Nature Journal”, author Clare Walker Leslie puts it simply: “whereas a diary or personal journal records your feelings toward yourself and others, a nature journal primarily records your responses to and reflections about the world of nature around you.” With a subject as broad as the natural world, nature journals lend themselves to a wide range of expression. The possibilities are endless.

Keeping a nature journal helps students connect with nature through writing and illustration. They will learn how to observe nature closely and keep accurate records on these observations. They will also learn to narrate their experiences in the natural world

Developing a Sense of Place

A sense of place can be described as the fundamental ways people relate to places that convey a feeling of attachment and belonging. It develops when personal meaning is attributed to a specific location or setting and usually starts close to home. Maybe it’s your back yard or the neighborhood where you played as a kid. Or maybe it’s a park you’ve visited with your family on vacation. Whatever the case may be, studies have shown that attachment to natural spaces is beneficial to our emotional, functional and cognitive well being.

The Importance of Geography and Mapping

They also must have a better understanding of maps and geography. Studies reveal that the geographical acumen of American children consistently leaves much room for improvement over the past decade. Results from the National Geographic – Roper Public Affairs 2006 Geographic Literacy Study found that recent graduates of the US education system were “unprepared for an increasingly global future”. Just months after hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the study found that 33 % of study participants could not find Louisiana on a map.

According to the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, called “the nations report card”, less than a quarter (22%) of fourth grade students in the US scored “proficient” or above proficient” on the test. The same test for eighth graders in 2014 showed little improvement.

Understanding geography is important because helps us to better understand our world. Through the study of geography, students learn to use data from maps, graphics and texts to recognize patterns and solve problems. It contributes to global understanding and tolerance by making students more aware of of the countries and their cultures. It also helps us to understand the impact of environmental factors on specific areas. But, the study of geography starts with understanding our immediate environment and it expands with experience. Geographical awareness serves as a link between home, school and the world at large. In the early grades, basic geographical knowledge and map skills are the foundation for more complex critical thinking skills later. Later, geographically informed students will emerge as leaders and be well equipped to take their place in the global community.

Procedure


Introduction to Nature Journals and Maps and their various uses

  1. Have students illustrate the cover of their nature journals using paints, colored pencils or markers. (Have examples of nature journal pages for inspiration.)
  2. Overview of the importance of reading maps
  3. Using graph paper, have students draw a simple map of the Huntington Reservation from an actual Metroparks map.
  4. Have the class take a break on a picnic table with healthy snacks suitable for a nature hike. (Remind students they may want to pack similar snacks for future class nature hikes.)
  5. Explain how to write a personal narrative (story) and then have the students write about their favorite memory of a time they spent in nature. Encourage them to draw a picture.
  6. Assemble materials in field bag for next class

Week Two: Flora or Fauna?

Background


  • Learning about plant and animal species as preparation for future experiences in nature
  • Making a bird feeder
  • Writing about a process (descriptive writing)

Flora and fauna mean plants and animals; the word “flora” is used to discuss plant life, while the word “fauna” refers to animal life. Recently, children are becoming disconnected from nature. So much so that they are more familiar with Pokemon characters than they are with animal species, even some of the most common ones. They can recognize hundreds of consumer brands, but only a handful of plant varieties. This week, students will become familiar with a wide variety of local bugs, birds, animals, plants and trees through art projects, games and personal observations.

Procedure


  1. Introduction to Flora and Fauna – use a game to teach familiar names of native plants, trees and animals they may encounter on future hikes.
  2. Ask students to paint a picture of their favorite bird (fauna) and add it to their nature journals. Have pictures of some of birds native to the area for reference.
  3. Take a walk outside and have the students look for birds in the yard. Show them the areas where we have bird feeders hung. Explain how it is important to feed the birds in the summer while they are nesting as well as the winter when its cold and snowing.
  4. Have students choose a bird feeder to make.
  5. When they are finished with the project have them write about it in their journals.
  6. Have students take a picture of their bird feeder in their back yard and add the picture to their nature journals to illustrate their “How to” essays.

Notes:

Create a preprinted “Sequence Chain” (step by step) diagram and pass out the class to organize information before writing descriptive essay on how to make a bird feeder.

 

Week Three: Sensory Beach Hike

Background


  • Sensory beach hike
  • Learning to use five senses in observing nature
  • Employing descriptive journaling to capture impressions of nature

One of the most diverse and unique ecosystems in the Emerald Necklace chain of the Cleveland Metroparks, the Huntington Reservation borders Lake Erie on its northern boundary. Students will hike to the beach and use their senses to explore descriptive journaling to open up their perceptions of their natural surroundings. Students will be asked to write a descriptive essay on a day at the beach using descriptive journal entries and illustrations that will add depth to their writing and also deepen their awareness and appreciation of this valuable freshwater ecosystem.

Procedure


  1. Point out the path that the class will follow to the beach and make notes in their journals.
  2. Hike to Huntington Beach
  3. Allow time for students to explore the beach and find a place of their choosing to journal their impressions.
  4. Working with a partner, they will experiment with their senses by walking along the beach and taking turns closing their eyes to concentrate on what they hear, feel and smell without the benefit of sight. One partner will lead and the sightless partner will follow. Students take turns in each role.
  5. Allow students to find a piece of driftwood to bring back to for an art project in Week Four.
  6. Stop at the picnic pavilion for a healthy snack

Notes:

Use a preprinted observation chart to organize information by using the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.

 

Week Four: Creek Walk Hike

Background


  • Explore habitats
  • Learn about informational (scientific) journal writing
  • Complete painted fish project

All types of living species need certain things to thrive, including food, water and shelter. Students will hike to the meadow lands bordering Porter Creek in the Huntington Reservation of the Metroparks. Along the way, we will discuss ecosystems, habitats and watersheds that sustain local wildlife in this area. We will take time to discuss keeping a Grinnell type journal and the application of informational journal writing for scientific purposes. Grinnell journaling is the method most used by professional biologists and field naturalists and was developed by Joseph Grinnell, a filed naturalist and teacher and the first director of the University of California’s Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. His method included recording his observations as they were happening, detailed observations on specific species and species counts and keeping a record of where and when specimens were collected.

Procedure


  1. Point out the path that the class will take to explore Porter Creek and the meadow on the class map of the Huntington Reservation.
  2. Hike the Porter Creek Trail
  3. Allow time for students to explore the meadow and find a place of their choosing to journal their impressions in the Grinnell style of journaling.
  4. Stop at the picnic area to have a healthy snack
  5. Use the driftwood collected in Week Three to complete an art project painting colorful fish on the pieces of wood

Notes:

Create a preprinted “Network Tree” graphic organizer to help students answer key questions about their observations and organize research before writing Grinnell journal entries.

 

Week Five: Hike to the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center

Background


  • Explore the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center
  • Writing a story about a rescue animal (narrative writing)

Many species of local wildlife are endangered everyday. Humans have moved into areas previously occupied by animals and habitats have been destroyed and migration patterns disrupted. Hazards such as traffic, power lines, pollution and overpopulation are threatening otherwise healthy populations. At the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center they teach visitors about wildlife through live animal exhibits, wildlife education programs and the animal rehabilitation services they provide to over 1000 animals per year. They have outdoor and indoor display areas for public visitors to view both local wildlife and exotic/domestic animals. Students will hike to the Nature Center located at the south end of the Huntington Reservation to observe and learn about native species and animal rescue programs. In addition to journaling their observations during the hike, they will then be tasked to create narrative (story) about one of the animals they have observed at the Nature Center and include this story in their nature journals.

Procedure


  1. Point out the path that the class will take to hike to Lake Erie Nature & Science Center on the class map of the Huntington Reservation.
  2. Explain to the class that they will use their observations at the Nature Center to write a story about a rescue animal they saw on their field trip.
  3. Review the steps to writing a narrative (story) account of the experience (see notes below). Explain how this is one of many ways to describe their observations and experience.
  4. Hand out a template with space for students to fill in information for the prewiting (research) phase of their writing project.
  5. Hike to the Nature Center and tour the animal sanctuary and indoor displays
  6. Stop to have a healthy snack
  7. Have the students create a story from the animals point of view on how they came to live at the Nature Center.

Notes:

Use a preprinted “Storyboard” organizer to plan a story about a rescue animal

Week Six: Working Together for the Good of All

Background


  • Call to action
  • Collaborative mapping project/Writing a friendly (persuasive) writing
  • Persuasive writing

Children have become increasingly disconnected from nature. Today, young Americans spend about half as much time outdoors as their parents did. Causes range from parents fears of danger to loss or natural surroundings in neighborhoods and cities. Combined with the temptation of indoor activities such as television, video games and social media, a disconnect from nature has reached epidemic proportions. So much so that a wide range of physical and cognitive disorders have surged. People are losing touch with the natural world at a time when their ecological literacy is not only crucial to their own health, but also to the well-being of future generations and the future viability to our planet. Faced with increasing environmental challenges, tomorrow’s leaders must be prepared to understand the connections between human and natural systems (eco-literacy) and make decisions for the benefit of all.

Procedure


  1. Have the class work collaboratively to illustrate a large mural of a map of the Huntington Reservation. Using their entries from their nature journals, have them work to fill in the map based on their observations and experiences.
  2. As some students are working on the mural, others will write a friendly opinion letter about why someone should visit the Huntington Reservation based on the facts and opinions they have developed over the past five weeks.
  3. With the extra time left, students will go on a Nature Scavenger Hunt. They will be given a list of seasonal flora and fauna to collect and/or locate and observe. The group will take one last hike around the park and look for the species on the list. They will then be asked to journal the experience.

Notes:

Use a preprinted “Fact and Opinion Chart” as a graphic organizer to assemble information before beginning to write a Persuasive Friendly Letter

Illustrative Nature Journaling for Kids lesson plans address the following standards:

NATIONAL LANGUAGE ARTS STANDARDS , GRADES K-12

Standard 6

Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts.

Standard 7

Students gather, evaluate, and synthesize date from a variety of sources.

Standard 8

Students use a variety of technological and informational resources to create and communicate knowledge.

NATIONAL SCIENCE EDUCATION STANDARDS, GRADES K-12

Content Standard A

As a result of activities, students develop an understanding of scientific inquiry and abilities necessary for scientific inquiry.

Content Standard C

As a result of activities, students develop an understanding of life sciences.


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Nature Journaling for Environmental Awareness and a Balanced Life

img_7268The natural world is filled with seasons and cycles that provide predictability to life. Plants and animals depend on it. However, sometimes humans forget we are a part of nature too. We believe that the law of the land doesn’t apply to us. That somehow we can outsmart Mother Nature, creating a man-made place apart from the natural world rather than a part of it … Cutting down trees and clearing fields to make way for houses and businesses with little to no regard for how it affects other species. Damming rivers and using more than our share of fresh water. Creating products that take hundreds of years to biodegrade, if they do at all … while we dump the same products in to landfills and buy more … products that are produced in factories that pollute the air, the water and the land in a different kind of cycle…a man-made cycle of destruction. All the while we have become more and more disconnected from nature at a time when we need it the most.

We make excuses for why we don’t take time for nature study. Our family schedule is too busy. It’s too dirty or too dangerous. Studying nature isn’t going to get our children into the right schools or on to the best teams and takes valuable time away from homework and practice. However, taking time to get outside and experience the lessons that nature teaches, doesn’t need to take the place of these other activities and it may even enhance them. Connecting with nature allows us to connect with ourselves – to access the quiet place within us that gives us wisdom and strength – and keeps us happy, healthy and feeling secure … all important aspects of a balanced life. img_6845

What is a Nature Journal?

Keeping a nature journal helps us to translate what we experience in nature into how it makes us feel, resulting in a deeper and more sensitive awareness of the world around us … which can help us in so many different ways. Writing or drawing in a nature journal is much like keeping a diary, only where a diary or records your feelings about yourself and others, a nature journal primarily records your responses to and reflections about the world of nature. But actually, it can be whatever you want it to be and serves a wide variety of purposes. With a subject as vast as all of nature, the sky is the limit!

 

Here are a few examples of different types of nature journals to get you started:

Simple (Personal) Record: A personal journal is a general account of sensory experiences in nature. This type of journal helps the observer to learn about the natural world while also discovering important elements of their own nature. Keeping a personal nature journal can be a story, a poem or an observational record … or a combination of all of the above. One of the most notable journalists in this genre was Henry David Thoreau who wrote about his experiences in in the natural world starting on October 22, 1837, just a few days after his graduation from Harvard. He wrote in it nearly everyday until November 3, 1861, seven months before his death on May 6, 1862. His journaling progressed and evolved until it became the main focus of his life. He grew into an expert naturalist and learned to live well on the land. He used his journal to record his observations of the life cycle of plants, the sequence of plant growth, animal behavior, the weather and more. He made very simple sketches and maps to illustrate an observation or an event. Thoreau’s journals are filled with simple nature essays, character sketches, news events, stories, quotations and snatches of conversations along with his social commentary on human society. Thoreau’s journals are still used as inspiration for nature journal keepers worldwide.

A Travel Journal: Travel journals are used to chronicle a trip. This is a great way to capture your feelings and impressions of a place. Such first hand accounts are fun to share with others upon your return and also can be used for inspiration for future creative projects. Many notable artists and writers have used their experiences in a particular place as the focus or topic of great works. John Muir is well known for his travel journals written between 1867 and 1913. They include his thousand mile walk through Yosemite in 1867-68, his travels to Alaska, and his voyage to South America and Africa in 1911-1912 . The journals offer his personal perspective on a wide variety of topics including native populations of people, their culture and their relationship to their surroundings in his own words and drawings.

A Phenology Journal: Phenology is a segment of ecology focusing on the study of plant and animal life-cycle events that are influenced by climate and seasonal change in the environment. A phenology journal keeps a regular account of daily changes to a particular place. Observations of the timing of seasonal life events in plants and animals has been utilized by farmers, gardeners, scientists, and people who care for nature for centuries. An excellent example of a phenology journal is A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. The Aldo Leopold Foundation is an excellent resource for keeping a nature journal: http://www.aldoleopold.org/Programs/phenology.shtml

A Grinnell Journal: The Grinnell method of nature journaling is designed to aid scientific investigation. It is the method most often used by professional biologists and field naturalists and was developed by Joseph Grinnell (1877-1939), a field naturalist, teacher and the first director of the University of California’s Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. His method included detailed observations on specific species, species counts and keeping a record of where and when specimens were collected.

Materials Needed for Keeping a Nature Journalimg_6833

Materials you may want to bring along on your next nature hike:

  1. A Sketch Book: The perfect size is 5 x 7 with 50-90 lb paper so it will hold up to watercolors, but any notebook will work just fine.
  2. Pencils (of varying hardness and color), a sharpener and white eraser
  3. Watercolors and paint brush
  4. Bottle of water
  5. Paper towels
  6. Ziploc bags for collecting treasures such as pine cones, leaves, shells or seeds to keep or sketch later
  7. Field bag or backpack to hold supplies

Optional Items:

  1. Binoculars
  2. Camera
  3. Compass
  4. Measuring tape
  5. Field guides
  6. Map

img_6836So once you’re packed up and ready to go, just get outside and enjoy. You don’t have to be an artist or a writer. You don’t have to be a scientist. And you don’t have to have all the items on the list. Nature journaling is more about capturing what you see and how you feel rather than what you create. Feelings are an important part part of learning … not just about nature, but learning about ourselves as well. Plus, you’ll have a keepsake to treasure for years to come.

Interest in nature helps us to understand it and also teaches us to appreciate it. Not just kids, but adults too. Once people are outdoors and engaged, they are more likely to develop a feeling of connection to the plants, animals and natural spaces surrounding them. Maybe it starts with experiences in backyards or community parks. Or maybe it’s a vacation to the beach or the mountains. Whatever the case may be, once positive associations are attached to a particular place, you’ll be more likely to care about it and preserve it for future generations to experience and enjoy.

Thanks for reading and happy journaling!

Elizabeth

“The forcible writer stands bodily behind his words with his experience. He does not make books out of books, but be has been there in person”

  • Henry David Thoreau (Journal, vol.3, February 3, 1852)