Walk and Talk in Nature’s Classroom

Have you tried the “walk and talk” approach to student discussions?

Walk and talk works wherever you are. (Nollet, 2009)
Walk and talk works wherever you are. (Nollet, 2009)

Pair up students to discuss a concept you’re teaching. Take them outdoors—into nature’s classroom—for a brief walk, during which they’ll discuss and analyze the topic, with the mission of increasing their depth of understanding.

Upon return, ask them to write a short piece evaluating what they learned from their partner.

Connecting with fresh air, sky, and earth have a way of tossing around our minds and mixing in a new perspective. When you teach students the benefits of refreshing themselves outdoors—walking, talking, listening, noticing—you introduce them to a new place to think, to reflect, and to be.


            What does this word bring to mind for you?  A cold, refreshing drink .…perhaps memories of diving into a favorite green-blue lake in the mountains…or a chemical substance necessary to sustaining life around the world?

            How about a moment that changed the life of a student?

            You know the story of how teacher Annie Sullivan persisted with her student, Helen Keller,  by pumping a gush of water over her hand while finger spelling “water.”  When Helen made the connection, Annie wrote later that day, “a new light came into her face…she was highly excited…in a few hours she had added thirty new words to her vocabulary”  (Herrman, 1998).

             This profound “w-a-t-e-r” moment in the life of a student is what we teachers strive for.  It’s part of why we choose to teach:  we want to make a difference in the lives of our students.  We want to change their worlds by opening up new possibilities of thought, seeing, feeling, listening, and doing.  We want to teach them perseverance as we persevere along with them.  We want to ignite their curiosity to increase their motivation to learn.  And our job is to create these w-a-t-e-r moments so they will discover the joy of learning.

              At the water pump, Annie Sullivan unlocked the world of language and learning for Helen, and that’s what you’ll be doing with your students this semester as you teach biology, calculus, reading, social studies, Spanish, writing, math, literature, art, and wellness.  As you begin to design your classes for students, keep this in mind:  What kind of experiences can you create to help students discover learning and make it their own?  What can students touch, feel, build, manipulate, draw, invent, create, move, construct, show, present, demonstrate, do

               Build these experiences into lessons every day and you’ll move your students closer to w-a-t-e-r moments.  Watch for the “new light that came into her face”—that incredible reward of teaching, seeing when the student understands.  We teachers set the stage for these moments through our training, dedication, and perseverance.

                What w-a-t-e-r moments have you experienced?  How did they happen?  What did they feel like for you?  What new light of understanding came on for you and your student?



Herrmann, D. (1999). Helen Keller: A life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.