National Parks & Reading Class: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

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The back to school season is in full swing these days- the shelves at Target are filled with school supplies and many of us are awaiting for the BTS email from our principal. 

I don’t mind getting back into my classroom and setting things up- I actual like being creative and finding new ways to set up my room. And last year things were going great until I started having some head pain. 

Over the next two days it got worse, until I was crying at my desk the morning before school started. I texted my assistant principal and told her I was headed to the doctor because the pain was becoming quite severe. 

A few hours later I was diagnosed with shingles. They were on my face, and oh so very painful. I had a feeling it was singles before I left school that day, as I had shingles about 10 years earlier (yes that, right, I’ve had shingles twice before the age of 34). 

School was set to begin about 12 hours after I was diagnosed and I was on doctor’s orders to stay home for the next 5 days. Imagine having to call your principal and telling him you weren’t allowed to be at work for the first three days of school! 

So why do I tell you this story? Well, that’s because I had just hours to whip up lessons plans for the week, plus plan what I would do the week I was back! And of course, I used my go-to theme- the National Park Service!

The first day of school also happened to be on the birthday of the National Park Service (and my birthday… August 25), so while I wasn’t there, I was able to equip my sub with everything she needed to teach reading that week… all while tying it to the national parks!

In this post, I’ll give you a quick overview of how to use the national parks in your ELA class! Then, make sure to grab the back to school ebook (for FREE) with my NPS history freebie AND tons of other great ideas for getting back to school.

Why the National Parks?

The national parks are so versatile and can be easily incorporated into any subject area. There are so many ways to use the parks into language arts class- research, reading comprehension, writing, non-fiction text features, and so much more!

And while it’s easy for the teacher to integrate, it is important to mention that students LOVE it! For so many of them, the national parks aren’t close by, so they get to learn about a new place and explore it right from their desk. 

My Year with the Parks in ELA

Beginning of the Year

The birthday of the national parks is on August 25, so I like to start the school year by teaching about the history of the park system. My focus with my students is non-fiction text features, along with comprehension. This is always an easy way to ease into the year. 

Later in this post, you will find a link to the back to school ebook. In there, you will find this History of the National Park Service resource (for free). You’ll receive a three page article, reading comprehension handout, and non-fiction text-feature posters, along with with a guide on how to use everything with your students. (This is what I left for my sub to use- it worked so well!)

Then, I move into teaching about Yellowstone National Park and we do a paired passage- one fiction and one non-fiction. Using the parks also exposes students to different vocabulary, so we often do a vocab study as well. Usually by this point, I have students hooked on the parks!

Middle of the Year

As the year goes on, I pair what we are learning in other subjects to the parks and ELA. For example, when we are working on our Iditarod unit, students will learn about Denali National Park. And when students are learning about ecosystems in science class they will learn about Everglades NP with me in LA class. This is a great way to reinforce the skills/information they are learning in other subjects.

End of the Year

At the end of every year my students finish up by writing a research paper about one national park. They do all the research (including writing notecards), drafting, editing, and publishing. 

I usually give them free choice of national parks, and then I meet with them to review their research and prepare them for drafting. They edit themselves, along with having a peer edit their piece. It’s a lot of work, but the end result is SO rewarding for them! 

Looking for all the Resources I Mentioned?

If you are ready to dive into all things National Park and ELA, then my bundle is right for you! You’ll receive my non-fiction text structure/features unit, 10 park reading comprehension resources, and my full national park research paper unit! (plus when I add any new national park based ELA resources to my TPT store, you’ll get them for free!)

Ready for more FREE Resources!?

Hooray! Your next step is super easy! All you have to do is download this AMAZING (and free) back to school ebook. In the ebook, you will find so many ideas for getting your school year off to the best start, including the National Park History Mini Unit. The mini-unit will give you the tools to get started with the parks in your reading class! Every page in this ebook has a free resource you can grab and use right away! Click the picture below to grab your copy of the ebook!

And while you’re there be sure to enter the book giveaway! We are giving one teacher 20 different books to help build up their classroom library. I’ve included the National Geographic Kids- National Parks book… this is a favorite in my classroom. It’s a great resource for the national park research paper!

Keep the learning going...

Check out even more great ideas for back to school here! So many teachers are sharing about their free resources and back to school tips.

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