5 Tips for Successful Class Field Trips

Careful planning will create a more rewarding experience for everyone.

Students Enjoying Aviation Museum

by NEA Member Benefits

Field trip. Those two words produce great excitement for your students, and perhaps even greater anxiety for you. While the importance of hands-on, experiential learning is well-known, with some studies suggesting that hands-on learning increases lesson retention by nearly 85%, the work involved to pull these trips together can often seem daunting.

Have no fear, with detailed planning and some key steps, you can ensure that anything from day trips to week-long, overseas adventures will be enjoyable learning experiences for you and your students.

1. Plan, plan, plan

As with any great undertaking, planning is the key. Field trips for younger students are often about getting out of the school building and having a good time in a new environment. Kindergarten students love a pumpkin patch in the fall or near-by park in the spring. For older students, field trips are almost always tied to a specific learning objective. For these trips, a little additional planning legwork is required to prepare materials (i.e. scavenger hunts, fill-in-the-blank worksheets) to be completed during the trip.

According to Kim Werner, first-grade teacher at Moscow Elementary Center in Pennsylvania, and a veteran of more than 20 field trips, the key is in the details. “Be prepared. Know anything and everything about where you are going. Find out medical information about your students. Keep multiple copies of your information (class and group lists, reservation and transportation information) and keep a check list to refer to often.”

Additional planning tips:

  • If possible, visit the site yourself ahead of time. Think about where you will eat lunch and locate the restrooms.
  • Follow your school’s procedures for obtaining the administration’s approval, coordinating bus and food services and completing paperwork for permission slips. Before even mentioning the trip to your students, ensure all approvals have been signed off on.
  • Develop a schedule of activities. List what learning objectives students need to be completed, when and where lunch will be and when and where you will meet to leave. Review the schedule in class before the trip, and have copies for the students and chaperones on the day of the trip.

2. Prep students for the trip

Experience shows students gain more from a field trip if they can relate it to classroom lessons. For older students, in the weeks before the trip, tie the subject matter into one or more lessons. Develop specific trip-related activities that can be used at the site or as post-trip exercises. If possible, show a brief video about the destination.

Remind students to not bring any toys, video games or MP3 players that could get lost. It’s recommended that students do not bring back packs or lunch bags. Lunches can be packed in brown bags and then recycled at the site.

If the trip is to an outdoor venue, make sure students know to dress appropriately. Regardless of location, students and chaperones should wear comfortable clothes and shoes and layers of clothing. Make sure everyone eats a good breakfast, especially if there will be no snack break until lunch.

3. Make sure everyone knows the rules

Prior to the trip, prepare a set of “Field Trip Rules,” in the form of a behavior contract. Review this and require students to sign it as a condition of participating. For younger students, teach, model and review appropriate field trip behavior for at least a week before the big event.

Assign smaller groups and chaperones in advance. Be proactive in regards to challenging students. If possible, ask his or her parent to be a chaperone to limit any potential problems. When making groups, split any problem pairs into separate groups. This is a good policy for troublemakers, chatty girls or bickering frenemies. It’s probably best to keep the most challenging students in your own group.

4. Choose your chaperones wisely

Since you can’t be everywhere, all field trips require reliable chaperones. About 2-3 weeks before the trip, send a letter home asking for volunteers. Phone the volunteers to confirm in advance, and have a list of two or three back-ups in case one of your chaperones can’t make it at the last minute.

Be sure the chaperones understand their responsibility. Ms. Werner says, “I feel it is extremely important to inform your chaperones about your expectations of them. Sometimes as educators we assume an adult knows what is acceptable and appropriate around children, but that is not always true. Be sure to educate chaperones about all of their duties and expectations, no matter how logical or common sense it may seem.”

Helpful tools to provide each chaperone:

  • Nametags for all chaperones and students.
  • The day’s itinerary, special rules, your cell phone number and a list of all the students in each chaperone’s group. Remember to charge your cell phone the night before.
  • Gather and label grocery bags that each chaperone can use to carry the group’s sack lunches or other paraphernalia.

5. Be prepared…for anything!

Be flexible in the field. The kids may be having an incredible experience simply discovering the new environment. However, do make sure you know what is coming next during the day and give students warnings of when it’s near time to move to the next area or activity.

Be sure to arrive at school early on field trip day so you aren’t rushed. Your students will be excited and ready to go. Greet the chaperones and give them their materials. Review the rules and have a quiet activity ready while you complete the last-minute details.

Special considerations: overnight and overseas trips

Sometimes a day trip isn’t enough to cover your learning objectives, or your students have been invited to attend a special event or perform in a new city—or even another country. These trips require an extra level of planning.

Ronald Frezzo, a choral teacher, has accompanied students on three European trips and numerous excursions to Florida, New York City and Toronto for competitions or to perform. With all his experience, he has some hard and fast rules:

  • Don’t allow students you can’t trust to attend.
  • Ensure parents understand you will not be with the students every minute, and if the parents can’t trust the teen, they should not allow them to participate.
  • Get help. You can’t manage all the details yourself. Entrust some logistics to your responsible chaperones.
  • Remember this is an amazing experience, for the students, the teachers and the chaperones. Relax and enjoy the trip.

Mr. Frezzo also mentions when planning a trip overseas, the students are going to tour and perhaps perform in churches of different denominations. If you are taking public school students, make sure they and their parents realize the purpose of the trip is to be immersed in a new culture with its own history. If parents or students are not comfortable with this, they should look for another opportunity to travel.

Now you are set to get out there and explore! Just don’t forget your sense of humor, a good dose of patience and your camera for posterity.