Standard Lesson

Nature Study Outdoor Treasure Hunts (with Spanish language option)

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Seven 60-minute sessions
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This is a great activity to take students and learning outside. After playing a treasure hunt game in an outdoor setting, students create their own treasure hunts with clues for their classmates to find. Students research and imagine an animal's activities, then write a story from the animal's point of view. A scaffolded writing process, including peer editing, provides a structure for revision, so students can develop well-written stories for their readers to enjoy. Students then hide clues from their stories in the appropriate places outdoors, and classmates follow the trails. This activity is perfect for classes with a need for differential instruction or ELL classes. Handouts and websites in Spanish are included.

From Theory to Practice

  • Before students begin writing, they should know whom they are writing for, and respect their readers or listeners enough to make an effort to write well. They need to have a real audience.

  • Real writers take time to draft and redraft according to the importance of their audience.

  • "Writers need time: time to think, time to rip it all up and start again, time to get it as right as possible for the reader, who's as important as possible."

  • "[R]eal literacy only happens in a community of one sort or another, when people need to connect for one reason or " Creating community in the classroom encourages students to produce writing that is "genuine and urgent and meaningful and correct."
  • In inquiry-based learning, teachers need to be able to recognize generative questions to encourage extended investigations and broader connections.

  • Having students wonder is what gets them into an inquiry mindset; this is what starts the process, not necessarily the specific questions they initially ask.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access (one for each student)

  • Overhead projector (optional)




1. Decide on one or two outdoor places for this activity. (The teacher-made treasure hunt in Session 1 can be done in one place and the student-made treasure hunts in Session 3 somewhere else.) Suggested locations: the schoolyard, a nearby park, or other outdoor area. Establish where students can and cannot go in each place.

2. Decide on logistics for the teacher-made treasure hunt.
  • Option 1: Divide the class into groups of four and have the groups take turns doing the treasure hunt. (One group at a time goes to the outdoor location, while the others do another activity somewhere else, so they don't see where the clues are hidden. You will need to have another adult to supervise part of the class.) A student "Clue Coach" can rehide the clues each time and offer hints as needed.

  • Option 2: All of the groups do the treasure hunt at the same time. Create several different versions, with the clues in a slightly different order for each group. The clues should be hidden fairly far apart. Color code each group's clues, and instruct them to grab only the clue marked with their group's color, and to leave the rest. Tell them it's not a competition-taking another 's clue will not help. (Alternately, have student volunteers posted around the area to pass out the color-coded clues as the groups find them.)
3. If you decide to conduct this lesson in Spanish for all or part of your class, follow the instructions in this lesson, using the student handouts and websites in Spanish as needed. You may choose to have all or only some students participate in Spanish.

4. Prepare a teacher-made treasure hunt for your students, either by making appropriate changes in the Sample Treasure Hunt to fit your environment or by making up an original one. Make copies of your treasure hunt for each group of four students and cut each copy into strips to separate the clues. If you are following Option 2 above, change the order of the clues slightly for each group. Color code and number each group's clues.

5. Decide on configurations of students for working in groups of four (Session 1 treasure hunt) and groups of two (Session 6 peer editing). Ideally, groups should be heterogeneous, with students of varying abilities who would likely work well together.

6. Make a transparency of your model treasure hunt and two copies for each student of the Peer-Editing Form for Sessions 2 and 6.

7. Make copies for each student of the Treasure Hunt Story Worksheet and Grading Checklist.

8. Preview the websites listed and bookmark them on student computers. If necessary, reserve the computer lab for Sessions 2 and 4, and the library for Session 5.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Conduct some basic research on an animal of their choice and incorporate their scientific findings into a fictional story

  • Improve their writing fluency through a scaffolded writing process

  • Write for a specific audience, as they fashion their stories into a treasure hunt game to be enjoyed by classmates

  • Support each other through peer editing

  • If the Spanish version is used, improve their Spanish language skills, both written and oral, while simultaneously learning research and writing skills that are transferrable to English

Instruction and Activities

Instruction and Activities

Session 1

Before session starts

  • If desired, assign one student to serve as a "Clue Coach," who will discreetly help you hide the clues for the teacher-made treasure hunt (while others are in recess or before school starts). Instead of participating in the game, this student will be available to assist other students. Instruct the Clue Coach to offer hints as needed, but never to directly give out the answer. Make sure the Clue Coach reads and understands the entire treasure hunt and knows the location of all the clues.

  • Working with your Clue Coach, hide the clues. Make sure they are well hidden, and secured with tape as needed, since other students might be tempted to take the papers out of curiosity.

When session begins

1. Ask students if they have ever done a treasure hunt before, and if so, have a student describe what it is. If not, explain that it's a game involving a series of clues written on pieces of paper. The clues are hidden and each clue leads to the next one in a subtle way. The final clue leads to a "treasure," in this case the identity of the animal in the treasure hunt story. Explain that you have made a treasure hunt game for them to play, and that in a later session, they will make their own treasure hunts for their classmates to play.

2. Explain how the game will be played (per Option 1 or Option 2 of Preparation, Step 2) and divide students into their pre-established groups of four.

3. Take students to the outdoor area where the treasure hunt will be played. Inform students as to where the boundaries are for the activity.

4. If applicable, introduce the Clue Coach and explain that students should consult with the Coach if they need help understanding or finding the clues. Pass out the first clue and begin the game.

5. When all groups have completed the treasure hunt, ask students what they thought about the game: Was it difficult or easy? Did the group members work well together? Did they enjoy working outside of the classroom? Give students feedback as to their overall behavior, their strategies for figuring out clues, their teamwork, and so on. Be sure to include positive as well as negative examples in your observations.

Session 2

1. Use the overhead projector to display the teacher-made treasure hunt and read through it with the class. Have students identify which parts of the clues seem to be based on scientific research and which on imagination. In many cases there could be more than one correct answer. Point out that the student-created treasure hunts can combine different kinds of clues in the same way.

2. Pass out a copy of the Peer-Editing Form to each student and explain that they will be using this form later to comment on each other's stories. Now they will practice by filling out the form based on the treasure hunt they just did. Referring to the teacher-created treasure hunt, go through each question on the Peer-Editing Form and discuss possible responses as a class. As students write their own answers on their forms, invite them to suggest changes that might make the story more interesting to read, and to clarify parts that they think are unclear under Comments. Tell students to keep their completed Peer-Editing Forms, together with all other work related to this lesson, to turn in at the end.

3. Take students to the computer lab and explain that they will use the websites you have bookmarked to search for an animal they think would make a good subject for their own treasure hunt. Read aloud the guidelines for choosing an animal on the Treasure Hunt Story Worksheet (#1). Encourage students to narrow down their subject to a specific species ("spider" would be too broad; a Sydney Funnel-web Spider would work). Once they have decided on their subject, they can read about it for the rest of the period (taking notes isn't necessary). Have them jot down their chosen animal before the end of the session so they do not forget before Session 3.

Session 3

1. Pass out a copy of the Treasure Hunt Story Worksheet to each student. Have students write the name of their chosen animal in the space provided (#1).

2. Take students to the outdoor area you have designated for this activity, worksheet and pen in hand. Have them each find a quiet place to sit alone and imagine their animal subject. After a few minutes, announce that they are now to imagine that they are the animal. At first they should just think, from the animal's perspective, without writing anything. Then they can fill out #2 and #3 on the worksheet. Invite students to draw upon their imaginations, and if they ask what they can and cannot do, be as flexible as possible so they will feel a sense of ownership towards their stories.

3. Gather students and discuss guidelines for the six research questions they need to formulate (#4 on the worksheet). These questions should be something they are curious about or that gets at some fascinating aspect of the animal. They should also be something that can be answered in a sentence or two, neither too narrow nor too broad. For example, "Where do pharaoh ants " is too broad and "Do leopard geckos like to climb ficus trees?" is too narrow. Something like: "How are leopard geckos born?" or "How do pharaoh ants work together?" could work. Give students time to write their questions and encourage them to help each other.

4. Collect students' worksheets at the end of the session. Check each question and write constructive feedback as needed. Return worksheets to students by the next session.

Session 4

1. Take students to the computer lab and explain that they will use the bookmarked websites to search for the answers to their questions. Remind them to note the source of each fact in the space provided on the worksheet.

2. Explain that as they look for answers to their questions, they will probably find other interesting information that they could incorporate into their stories. They should note these facts (and the source of each fact) in #6 on their worksheets.

Homework: Using the research information, complete #7 on the worksheet including the improved map.

Session 5

Take students to the library and tell them they have this session to write their actual treasure hunt stories (# 8 on the worksheet), using reference materials as needed to find more information about their subjects. Provide help and feedback to individual students as needed.

Homework: Finish treasure hunt stories.

Session 6

If students have not done peer editing before, begin the session by showing them the PowerPoint Peer Edit With Perfection! Tutorial.

1. Have students work in pre-assigned pairs to check each other's stories using the Peer-Editing Form.

2. Give students time to make changes and improve their stories, and then have them produce a final draft (either word-processed or neatly hand written). Remind them they will need two copies of the final draft, one to cut up and one to turn in.

3. Tell students to continue through the rest of the steps on the worksheet to prepare their treasure hunts for the next session.

Homework: Finish preparing the clues for the treasure hunt by carefully following the instructions on the worksheet for #10 and #11.

Session 7

1. Take students to the designated outdoor area and remind them where the boundaries are.

2. Collect each student author's first clue (which should have names of the author and the peer editor on the back). Allow students to go and hide the rest of their clues.

3. When all students have finished hiding their clues, hand out the first clues at random, making sure you don't give them to either the author or peer editor. Tell students that if they get stuck, they can find the author of the story and ask for help. Remind them to check the name on each clue they find, to make sure they don't take someone else's clue by accident.

4. Tell students to begin searching for clues, and remind them that they should be trying to guess the identity of the animal subject as they follow the clues. Tell them to continue until they have reached the final clue, the "treasure" (the animal's identity). Allow students to help each other, as this is designed to be a fun, social activity.

5. When all students have found all the clues, bring the class together and invite comments from everyone. Students may choose to report on the treasure hunt they solved or the one they wrote. Offer feedback or ask questions as needed. Ask a few students to comment on what they learned from the whole activity. Possible discussion questions include:
  • What are some advantages or disadvantages of working on a class project outside?

  • Do you put more effort into a writing assignment if you know your classmates will be reading it?

  • What did you learn about your animal (or the animal in the treasure hunt you resolved) that you didn't know before?

  • What was it like writing from an animal's point of view?
You might also mention something you enjoyed or learned by teaching this lesson.

Homework: Pass out copies of the Grading Checklist. Tell students to gather their work on the treasure hunt in accordance with the checklist, and then write responses to the questions on the checklist. The completed checklist and attached materials should be turned in and can be used in evaluating the treasure hunt story for a grade.


  • Challenge another class to figure out the treasure hunts your students created.

  • Repeat the lesson using inanimate natural elements as the subjects of the research and stories. Some possible subjects include pollen, wind, a leaf, a seed, dust, or dirt (elements that could move with the wind or with the help of animals). A rock or a tree would not work as a subject because it does not generally move from place to place.

  • Repeat the lesson with the requirement that the animals chosen be native to your region.

  • Find a large green area with many insects, birds, and so on (and few people to scare them away). Challenge students to make a treasure hunt based on an animal they can actually observe. Have them spread out and observe very quietly. Some examples of animals that might be observable are various kinds of spiders, ants, roly-polies, caterpillars, birds, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, mosquitoes, bees, wasps, squirrels, lizards, beetles, and ladybugs.

Student Assessment / Reflections

It sounds so wonderfu! I can't wait to use it. I want to be albe to keep the teenagers awake and excited about the class. Thanks sooo much.
It sounds so wonderfu! I can't wait to use it. I want to be albe to keep the teenagers awake and excited about the class. Thanks sooo much.
It sounds so wonderfu! I can't wait to use it. I want to be albe to keep the teenagers awake and excited about the class. Thanks sooo much.

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