Outdoor Science Games for Elementary and Middle School Students

Outdoor science games for elementary and middle school studentsThere’s so much we can learn from going out and observing nature. Whether you’re teaching about ecosystems, identifying different kinds of trees, or you just want to explore your local environment, there are plenty of learning opportunities right on school grounds. 

Learning about our environment can be fun! These science games are engaging, they can be adapted to your specific lesson objective, and they challenge students to put their new knowledge into practice. It’s also an interactive way to get students learning outdoors. 

 

1. Nature’s Bingo

Students go outside with empty Bingo sheets. Have them observe nature and fill in spaces with words or drawings of what they see.

Depending on the lesson, the teacher may choose a particular area for students to focus on such as birds, animals, parts of an ecosystem, or types of trees that they’ve been studying. Or it could be anything they see in nature.

Once their sheet is full, they switch sheets with another student.

Now the game begins! The teacher calls out elements in nature and students cross off the item if they have it on their sheet. Before moving on to the next item, the teacher can use this time to engage students in a conversation about that topic. 

 

2. Web of Life

This classic PLT activity (Activity 45 in PLT’s PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide) can be accompanied with a lesson about ecosystems. 

Have students stand outside in a circle. Give one student a ball of yarn and have him or her call out one component of a food system. That student will then toss it to someone else, who will call out another part of the food system that is related to the previous student’s response. For example, the first student may say “rabbit” and the next student could say “fox” because a fox eats rabbits so they’re connected. 

Once every student is part of the ecosystem, have them pull their strings tight and observe how they’re all connected. 

The teacher or other students can call out various scenarios that may affect that ecosystem. For example, a company bought the land and cut down all the trees to build houses, or a new disease was introduced into the area that killed all the turtles. How would that affect the ecosystem?

Get more ideas on how to incorporate STEM into this “web of life” activity here. 

 

3. Ecosystem Word Association

In groups of three, one student will name something they see in their surroundings that is related to nature – “pond,” for example.

A second student in their group will say something associated with that word. Since the first word was pond, the second student might say “frog.” This word does not have to be visible in their surroundings – it just has to relate to the previous word.

Students continue to go back and forth with word associations for one minute. The third student scribes and keeps time.

At the end of one minute, the group tallies up the points. They get one point for each word that is part of the ecosystem of the first word. They also get a point for all the words that are visible in the environment around them. 

Say for example that the group has these words on their list: pond, frog, green, algae, moss, tree, bark, owl, fly, bird, and eggs. They get one point for all the words that are part of the local ecosystem: frog, algae, moss, tree, owl, and bird. They also get a point for all the words that they can see from where they’re standing: pond, green, algae, moss, tree, bark, and bird. So that group would get a total of 13 points. 

Once the groups have finished, have them rotate the roles until everyone has been the scribe at least once. To add an extra layer of difficulty, don’t let the students repeat words after they’ve rotated. 

You can also do this activity indoors by projecting slides of different environments around the world – rainforests, deserts, deciduous forests, prairies, freshwater lakes, etc. and having students do a word association with the various types of ecosystems.

 

4. Zoology Four Square

You may have the squares for Four Square drawn on your blacktop, but even if you don’t – it’s easy enough to draw one  with chalk. It can be any size you’d like, but it’s usually a 10′ x 10′ square divided into four smaller squares.

To start, four students stand in their own square facing each other, and they bounce/pass a ball to take turns. A student who is not in the Four Square shouts out the names of two animals. For example, whale and snake.

As the students bounce the ball back and forth, students use their turn to say in which way the animals are alike. Students might say things like “they both wiggle to move around,” “they don’t have legs,” “they breathe air,” or “they swallow animals whole.”

When they’ve exhausted all the ways they are alike, switch to listing their differences. Some examples can be “whales can’t live on land,” “snakes lay eggs,” “snakes have teeth,” etc.

Once no one can come up with any more differences, switch who gets to be in the Four Square game and start over with two new animals. Students who are waiting can be fact checkers or second opinions to the answers.

With older students, you may want to give a time limit for how long they can take to come up with an answer. If they don’t say an answer within the time limit, they are out of the game.

 

5. Anatomy Chalk Draw

Using chalk outside or rolls of paper and markers, students will have the opportunity to practice human anatomy. In pairs, students draw the outline of their partner on the ground. Together they draw and label the major organs in the right places. Who has the most organs in the correct places? The pairs can compete against each other, or you can have the pairs work together to compete against other pairs.

 

6. Spelling Run

For vocabulary review with students, go outside and line up five students at a time to play. Start spelling a word related to a science topic that you’ve recently reviewed. For example, m-i-t-o-c-h-o-n-d-r-i-a.

As soon as a student recognizes the word, they run up to the teacher and score a point by saying the word, mitochondria. For their second point, they need to explain what it is; for an extra point, they can spell the word. Each student keeps track of their own points.

Once a student scores, they go to the end of the line and a new student takes their place in the line of five who are competing. 

 

7. Build-Your-Own Launcher Challenge

This challenge is a fun way to strengthen engineering skills. Students can work in teams for this activity.

First, provide students with materials to build a catapult. The materials could be popsicle sticks, rubber bands, cardboard, paper, glue, tape, plastic or paper cups, pencils, string, cardboard tubes, or any other materials you have on hand. You could also provide a limited number of materials such as rubber bands and tape and the rest of the materials students need to gather outside from nature.

Have each team should use the materials to build a catapult with the goal of launching an aluminum ball or ping pong ball as far as possible. The team that successfully launches the ball the farthest wins! This launcher challenge is best done outdoors because many

If you want step-by-step instructions and guidelines for this type of challenge, visit this page. 

 

Which science games are you going to try out with your students? Do you you have any fun games to add to this list?

Rebecca Reynandez

Rebecca Reynandez

Rebecca Reynandez is a Marketing and Communications Consultant and Principal of Spring Media Strategies, LLC. She has worked with nonprofits for the past 10 years and currently focuses on working with environmental organizations. She is based in Minneapolis, MN.

3 comments on “Outdoor Science Games for Elementary and Middle School Students

  • Terry Howie says:

    In the classroom and on field trips I’ve often found that some kind of interactive response/observation checklist helps give purpose to the activity. I like the idea of adapting the bingo format to help students formalize and organize their observations; it could also help tie in their background experience or their experiences in previous classes to the current topic. Thanks for the reminder and application!

    Reply
  • Cheryl Safford says:

    These are such great ideas. I am planning to create an outdoor classroom and these ideas will be a great start for us.

    Reply

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