Hiking is Fun! The National Park Service Website for ESL Writing

I have always associated summers with being outside, somewhere in nature, spending time at a lake, going on a hike, and sitting by a campfire.  Since I came to the United States, I have not spent a single summer without going to a national park.  There are just so many of them here, and each of them offers unique opportunities for exploring and enjoying the beauty of the nature.

The good news is that thanks to online resources, we can prepare for a trip to a national park well in advance.  My favorite website to search for these kinds of experiences is “National Park Service” (www.nps.gov).  This website provides a wealth of information not only about activities you can do in the parks, but also a variety of educational materials covering a range of content areas, including history, geology, biology, and culture.

With this rich information, the website can also be an excellent resource for a classroom.  Let me share some ideas how you can use this website in your writing class.

Creating a Booklet

Creating a booklet about a national park is a great project that allows students to practice summarizing, synthesizing information, learning about visual rhetoric, and composing with a specific audience in mind.  You can make it a group or an individual project, assign a park of your choice, and determine the particular type of the audience the booklet will be created for, or you can let your students make these choices.  Because the website provides lots and lots of information for each park, I suggest that you make the concept of audience central for this project.  This way, students can create a booklet for little kids, or secondary school students, or professional backpackers, and so on.

Creating a PowerPoint Presentation

Putting together a well-organized PowerPoint presentation is not something that students consider a writing skill.  But it is!  For example, just like in a booklet, you can teach students about visual rhetoric and audience.  Using the website, students can prepare a PowerPoint presentation on a variety of topics.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Presentation of a particular national park (similar to the booklet above)
  • Comparing two national parks and describing the advantages of each
  • Creating an “advertisement” for a particular national park
  • Educational programs for kids and families in national parks
  • Making the best out of hiking
  • Making the best out of camping
  • Traveling to historical places
  • Exploring American history through national heritage areas

Compare and Contrast Essay

Students can also compare two national parks of their choice in a compare and contrast essay.  For a smaller project, students can write an essay comparing certain features of two national parks. For example, they can compare landscape, types of activities the parks offer, or camping options.

Classification Essay

Students can also write a classification essay by exploring national parks in a state that has several parks (e.g., California, Colorado, Utah) and organizing parks’ features by a certain principle.  For example, students can classify activities based on the types of travelers (e.g., family with kids, a one-day visitor, a lone backpacker).  They can also classify and describe parks’ attractions based on the appropriate season, or on the type of experiences, such as learning and educational programs, sport-related events, or relaxing activities. Another option is to classify based on the variety of wildlife.

In this type of essay, students will be able to practice the skills of describing, defining, summarizing, classifying, comparing and contrasting, and synthesizing.

You can make it a multimedia assignment by having your students turn it into a PowerPoint presentation or a short video.  Another option would be making a booklet or a brochure.

Opinion Essay

Using the information on the website, you can come up with multiple prompts for an opinion essay.  For example, students can express their opinions about statements such as, “This park would make an excellent summer trip for me and my family.  Why?  Why not?” or “This park needs to offer more children-oriented programs.”

There are certainly other websites that provide interesting and helpful information about national and stake parks.  I chose National Park Service for its high quality, updated information, and comprehensiveness.

Enjoy the summer!

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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6 Responses to Hiking is Fun! The National Park Service Website for ESL Writing

  1. carlena says:

    Hello! The hiking times listed are estimations only. We do recommend allowing extra time to stop and enjoy the scenic views and historic ruins. For your safety, bring water, dress for the weather, and wear appropriate footgear. Park trails are packed dirt and gravel. There are no paved trails in the park. By the way the best paper writing service that I saw: http://speedypaper.net/

  2. Hi Elena,

    I read your post about describing fruits and then I found your post about the National Park Service. I love your suggestions, especially about the National Park Service’s website! There are so many wonderful parks in my state, Virginia, and this site is so helpful. I didn’t even know it existed until I read your post. As I prepare to open up my own English institute in Charlottesville, Virginia, I’m looking for activities that my students can do in the wonderful classroom of nature. I love being outside so that my students can see everything for themselves instead of just looking at pictures. It also gets them moving instead of being sedentary in the classroom. You have really inspired me! Thanks for sharing!

    Tony Singleton
    The Jefferson Institute of Virginia

  3. Alexandra Lowe Alexandra Lowe says:

    What a wonderful blog post, Elena! I love these suggestions. I used the National Park Service website a couple of years ago as a way to help my students practice the use of articles. I would show one of the short videos on that site, and then ask my students to imagine that they were going to take a week-long camping trip in a park. What would they need to pack? A tent? Blankets? Some toilet paper? A flashlight? The students would work in groups to make their lists and then put them on the board to compare with their classmates.

  4. Elena Shvidko Elena Shvidko says:

    You are welcome! And enjoy hiking and teaching 🙂

  5. carol kubota says:

    Great idea! I also spend as much free time as possible visiting the National Parks and hiking. Thanks for sharing.

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