Need creative, out-of-the-box, zany ideas on teaching a unit on SURVIVAL to Intermediate ELLs:)

I am about to launch a unit on survival with my high school intermediates (kids who "sound" fluent, but struggle with reading and writing).  I want to enhance the lesson with practical information that they will be able to remember and most importantly link to other disciplines:  math, science, English, PE, etc.

The unit includes an abridged graphic novel on Shackleton's Expedition, basic survival tips if lost in a forest, surviving natural disasters, etc.  This is all great material, but I want kids to remember the material beyond my class.  Think of this goal as one of etching the information forever in their brains:)

I want to infuse memorable websites into the lesson and any other web 2.0 approaches that will stay with them beyond the class:)  Any ideas?



Tags: EFL, ELD, ESL, Education, English, Physical, Science, math, psychology

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It might be too babyish for them but Tough Boy and Sister is a really good read!
Also, I can't see learning survival without experiencing something outside the classroom! Can you put together a survival day? Meet with a survival expert and have him or her lead kids through a scenario (plane crash landing or something) and actually try some survival techniques like making fire from flint and tinder, seeking shelter, heating water in a leaf vessel, estimating direction and time using natural signals, making smudge SOS signals, etc.
I love your ideas! I think I can get the ELD science teacher to find an expert on surviving a natural disaster. The kids will love it. It will be an opportunity for them to see that this lesson is not just a movie theme!

Who is the author of Tough Boy and Sister? With my high school ELLs, I often pick books a couple of years below grade level. Illustrated books are often used to build background knowledge in come content areas such as science.

Thank you:)

Aren't those military types survival specialists who love to talk about what they do? Seems like a great idea for an anticipatory set / Skype video conference to me
A Skype Video? Is that something easy to find? I am new to Skype.


Hi Denise,

I'm so glad I found your post. I have spent time working with students in the wilderness, teaching survival skills. I teach survival to children aged 4 to 17, and adults as well. I currently teach second grade in NJ.

Check out This organization does school visits and can teach the elements of shelter, fire, finding water, getting food, along with other skills that bring children closer to home when in the wilderness. Often life changing experiences for kids. Powerful stuff. And best of all, the language of the wilderness comes in signs and symbols! Something we all can understand.

There are some amazing awareness games, activities and experiences to offer - of course science can be linked through nature observation, P.E. through awareness and native games, storytelling related to outdoor experiences. Many of these can be found in this outdoor curriculum book: The Coyote's Guide.

Another book that might fit your unit idea is called: Tom Brown's Field Guide to Nature and Survival for Children
ISBN 9780425111062

In this book, ad others, Tom Brown Jr. shares stories of wilderness survival, including scout skills that can be retold with great effect. The scout stories in particular resonate with high school age kids. Check other books on the site for one that calls out to you.

Feel free to email me if you need help answering any other questions. There are connections to all curriculum areas... those connections are easy to make and I've spent time working on this as well.

Best to you and your students,
John Altieri

You have given me some fantastic materials! I am going to talk to my principal on securing some funds to bring in speakers on this subject. People up here love to hike in the Santa Cruz Mountains and occasionally, hikers do get lost. This upcoming unit on survival will give me an opportunity to go beyond the book to living experts in the field. A visit from such a person will stay with my students longer than material from a book will.

Thank you once again!

Hey Denise,

Hope the unit plan is going well. I have taken a survival class in the mountains near Santa Cruz! Beautiful banana slugs up there! And the trees!!! And of course, wild edible plants! Ever try miners lettuce?

I did a quick search and found that there is a primitive skills school about 2+ hours from Santa Cruz that might be able to help out.

And if not them, I'm sure they could point you in the right direction. I totally agree that having someone come in would be quite powerful. Many of this stuff has a magic to it, and kids - I bet some in particular - will be drawn to it.

Have fun, and would love to hear how it goes.

I teach Lord of the Flies. I developed many activities on a Wiki where each team would detail how they would survive/ work as a team etc. which yielded very creative responses. We called it Survivor or "The Island Game"-there are many suggestions for this on the web.
One great introduction activity was having teams taking the Coast Guard survival test:
Another great interactive site was
Discovery Education
These are very engaging and spur a great deal of conversation.

Thank you so much for your sites. I explored the first one and found out that I would die:( Students will have a great time here. I will have them explain their choices BEFORE they click submit!




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