The TES forums are full of teachers looking for new and innovative ways to teach literacy and phonics. If you are looking for inspiration, you should consider moving some of your lessons outdoors into the playground. With the space to move around and the freedom to make a bit more noise, numerous opportunities present themselves to take your teaching to a different level. Here, we’ll explain how.
Reading in the round
When children read or are being read to, they go on an adventure of the mind. You can enhance this journey on clement days by taking them outside, away from the familiarity of the classroom where their minds will be more open to the stories and characters they engage with.
You can do this just by taking the chairs outside or by sitting in a circle on a patch of grass. What would be better, however, is if you had a dedicated story-telling place to go to. Many schools have now created these, often using artificial grass surfacing topped with circular seating. Some even create magical areas with mushroom seats and story-telling chairs
These can be used for whole class or small group sessions and the circle makes it a great place not just for reading but for talking about the stories and the language the writer uses.
Develop literacy through roleplay
To develop their understanding of literacy, children need to explore how characters react to the situations they find themselves in and make predictions about what will happen as the plot develops. One of the best ways to do this is to use roleplay, with the children taking on the roles of the characters in the story.
This is more than just acting out the story. It is putting the characters in imaginary situations that they haven’t encountered in the plot. For example, imagine what Cinderella would say to her friends when she first discovered her father was getting married. How would this conversation change once her father had died and she was left with her stepmother and stepsisters?
A story-telling circle would be a great place for this to happen, with the children acting out in the middle. Alternatively, a small stage could be erected in the playground.
Letters and phonics games
Teaching letters and phonics can be a chore and children can struggle to learn them. It makes it so much easier, however, if this takes place as part of a game where the emphasis is on having fun and the learning is a natural by-product.
Teach a child to play snakes and ladders and they soon learn the values of the numbers on the dice. The same happens when you play letters and phonics games. Luckily, some of these are available as playground markings which can be played on not just in lesson time but during break and lunchtimes as well, where they can extend learning even further.
Mark-making is the first step towards learning to write and children need plenty of practice in order to develop both the dexterity of the hand and familiarity with trying to recreate the shapes. At such an early stage in their development, you don’t need to concentrate entirely on developing these skills with a pencil, any mark-making apparatus will do: board pens, crayons, paintbrushes and even fingers are all helpful.
Outside, children can practice mark-making in more ways than indoors. They can paint and draw on large upright whiteboards or chalk on blackboards where they are using their hands at different angles and creating marks of different sizes, they can even recreate letters by drawing in the sand using a sandbox.
Of course, with so much variety, it is possible to get the children to experiment with different types of mark-making equipment and techniques, helping them to master skills quicker and keeping them engaged with activities.
Charades has been a popular party game for centuries and will be familiar to many children either in its original form or in one of the many modern reinterpretations, such as Rapidough or Pictionary. Its value for teaching literacy comes in its ability to get children to think about the meaning of a word and how to communicate that to other children.
Vocabulary charades, where you give a child a word and they have to act it out to their peers, is a fun way to teach literacy and works well in an outdoor environment, such as in the story-circle. This can be enhanced by getting the children to do improvised roleplay after playing charades, during which they have to use the vocabulary you’ve been learning as often as they can.
With games to play, equipment to experiment with, space to explore and less concern over keeping quiet, the playground can be an inspirational learning space for children. This makes it ideal, when the weather’s fine, as a place for teaching literacy and phonics. Hopefully, you’ll find the ideas we mentioned here useful.
For more information take a look at our Outdoor English Curriculum page.