Lesson Plans

Field Journaling: The Plains Through My Eyes

Grade Level

7 – 12


Someday, we will place the responsibility to protect and respect this plains region that we love into the hands of our students and their peers. To truly engage the next generation – and the next, and the next! – we must give them opportunities to learn about and connect with the world around them.

In this lesson, students will create field journals, documenting information about their natural environment from the smallest detail, like the insects found on stalks of prairie grass, to the largest, like regional issues of the day. Through the pleasurable and powerful act of field journaling, students will improve observational skills, increase the quality of their imagery writing, and become authentic ambassadors of the plains.


In this unit students will:

  • learn and practice writing in the mode of an observational field journal.
  • engage in a personal writing practice.
  • practice focused observation of the natural world using all five senses.
  • conduct research and gain insight about current issues facing their community.
  • compose a poem based on personal observations from the field.
Required Materials
Step-By-Step Procedures

(This activity could take one class period, or several class periods, depending on teacher objectives for the unit.)

  1. Lead students through a guided free-write, encouraging them to respond to the following prompts:
    • List all of the words and phrases that immediately come to mind when you hear the words The Great Plains.
    • List all the different types of land that you think exists in the plains region, for instance, prairie or marsh.
    • What types of animals and insects are indigenous to the American plains?
    • What types of trees and plants are indigenous to the American plains?
    • What aspects of your life today would be different if you lived in a different region?
    • Where do you plan to live in 10 years? Why that place?
  2. After a discussion of the findings from the free-write, take your class outside (or to a place where the outside is easily viewed, if weather is a hindrance) and give students the instructions to record what they witness, using all five senses.
  3. 10 minutes of silent observation and journaling should follow.
  4. Guide discussion about what students observed. Did they all notice the same things? Which of the five senses seem to dominate the reports? Why might that be?
  5. Instruct on the required pieces of a field journal, including but not limited to:
    • Date of observation
    • Location of observation
    • Description of the weather
      • temperature
      • wind
      • cloud cover
      • moisture
    • Noticeable smells in the air
    • Sounds from far away
    • Sounds from nearby
    • Sights
      • colors
      • signs of life
      • naturally occurring things
      • things placed in the path by another
    • Textures
      • ground consistency
      • tangible sensation of leaves, grasses, other flora
    • Other animals present
    • A hand-drawn map of the area
    • A drawing of at least one small scale item that can be viewed up close
    • At least one artifact or found object, to be taped in the journal.
      • feather
      • leaves
      • grass blades
      • flower petals
      • seeds
    • Personal thoughts, feelings, experiences of the day, both related to and unrelated to the outdoor environment
    • Community issues that hold current relevance
  6. Encourage students to select an outdoor place personal to them where they could reasonably spend some quiet time writing and reflecting. They should devote at least 30 minutes to immersion in this place, completing their field journaling notes.
  7. After the outdoor portion of the field journaling, students should also read some news of the day from reliable local news sources and record highlights and issues of relevance in the day’s journal.
  8. The class should reconvene as a group and students should share highlights from their journaling experience.
  9. Read the following poems out loud to your class, encouraging them to listen for elements of observations from the natural and social world:
    • “Words From Neale Woods” by Matt Mason
    • “Smith Falls State Park” by Matt Mason
    • “Prairie: Giants in the Earth” by Twyla Hansen
    • “Walk on the Prairie” by Twyla Hansen
    • “Platte Mares” by Allison Hedge Coke
    • “White Cranes in Spring” by Don Welch
    • “A Windmill on the Prairie” by Yvonne Hollenbeck
  10. Direct your students to use evidence and detail from their field journals to compose a poem that captures the ecological, social, and/or political truths of the moment, like the poems listed above.
  11. Poems should feature images that engage all five senses of the reader as well as musings or statements about the poet’s current relationship to his or her world.
A Fun Follow-up Activity:

Repeat this activity throughout the year documenting each season and making a Phenology Journal: a personal document that records the natural changes in a specific place over a specific period of time.

This lesson meets the following Nebraska State Standards:
  • LA 10.1 Reading: Students will learn and apply reading skills and strategies to comprehend text.
  • LA 10.2 Writing: Students will learn and apply writing skills and strategies to communicate.
  • LA 10.3 Speaking and Listening: Students will develop and apply speaking and listening skills and strategies to communicate for a variety of purposes.