Real-World Writing Experience at Holbrook Indian School

Providing students with real-world writing and planning activities allows students to feel empowered and engaged.

North American October 28, 2021

Each fall, 8th-12th grade students from Holbrook Indian School in Holbrook, AZ spend a week exploring a National Park. We want each student to experience mental, academic, physical, and spiritual wholeness, and Outdoor School provides the perfect avenue for introducing students to these concepts in a natural setting. For the past four years, students have helped plan the Outdoor School experience by calculating travel expenses, creating menus, and choosing learning activities that align with the school’s schoolwide learner outcomes (SLOs). 

This year, the English Language Arts teachers wanted to add a real-world writing element to the Outdoor School planning. To accomplish this, teachers participating in Outdoor School submitted their résumés to the students. The teachers emphasized the hobbies, experiences, and education in areas which aligned with our destination. Students reviewed the available activities at our destination and matched the activities to the teacher candidate best suited to teach a class about that topic. 

Once students chose a teacher and activity, they wrote a friendly business letter to the teacher. They were required to type their letter and format and print out an envelope. The letters had at least three body paragraphs, including a friendly greeting and connection point, a specific request to teach a class, and a call to action. Teachers responded to students via email. In many cases, the teacher included their own call to action in their email, and teacher and student continued the dialogue. 

Real-World Writing Projects for Groups

In addition to the business letters, students worked together in small groups to write proposals for other aspects of Outdoor School. 

Sabbath Afternoon Activities

The group with the task of proposing Sabbath afternoon activities decided to create a survey for the rest of the students to find out which activities appealed to the most students. After tallying the surveys, they discovered everyone else had chosen their least favorite idea. This activity helped them understand the value of soliciting input from all the stakeholders. 

Meal Planning

The students tasked with proposing a menu struggled to create suggestions for nutritious meals for seven days of camping. “This is so hard,” one of the students moaned to his group. 

“Just think how hard it is for Mrs. Espinal [the food service director] to make menus for us for an entire school year!” another responded. In addition to learning about proper nutrition and what one can and cannot cook over a camp stove, students in this group learned about empathy.

Travel Planning

A third group created a travel proposal for reaching our destination. They had to take into consideration which school vehicles to use, the cost per mile, bathroom breaks, departure and arrival times, and seating arrangements. To accomplish this, they had to email multiple staff members, map out a route, and calculate mileage.

Providing students with real-world writing and planning activities allows students to feel empowered and engaged when Outdoor School starts. Integrating writing exercises into real-world activities lets students practice their writing in a meaningful way while also developing other helpful real-world skills. 


Video that explains more about Outdoor School and how Holbrook Indian School uses it to promote our school-wide learner objectives:


MA English, juggles writing with teaching high school English and History at the North American Division’s only boarding school for Native Americans. When she's not lurking outdoors looking for and photographing rare birds in odd places, you can find her hanging out with her husband, camping with her kids, or mountain biking with her students. She blogs about self-care at and has a weekly podcast called Self-Care Hacks, available on Apple, Amazon, and other popular podcast sites.

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