How to Tame a Field Trip to the Zoo

Keep your pupils focused on field trip learning objectives with before, during, and after activities.

By Erin Bailey

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teacher and students at the zoo

June is National Zoo and Aquarium Month, and a field trip to an animal sanctuary is the perfect way to celebrate. To ensure a field trip that supports your educational objectives, careful planning is key. Before the trip, make sure you write two or three objectives you expect your class to achieve. Perhaps you want them to understand how adaptations make an animal better suited to its habitat. Or maybe finding examples of camouflage is a primary goal. Below are a few ideas for before, during, and follow-up activities to guarantee your day out of school isn’t wasted.

Before Your Trip to the Zoo

Prehensile tails allow animals to grasp and manipulate objects, sort of like a third hand. Among the animals with prehensile tails are monkeys, opossums, and geckos. They use their tails to grasp branches, food, and even each other! Young learners will understand the benefits of such an appendage when they make this craft: 

  • You will need cardstock and pipe cleaners.
  • Draw a simple New World monkey, such as a spider monkey or tamarin, but leave off the tail.
  • Copy this onto cardstock and have children color a monkey, cut it out, and punch a hole where the pipe cleaner tail will be attached.
  • Scatter the monkeys on the floor or a desk and let youngsters try to hook another monkey using only the tails. What else can the tail grab?

To explore camouflage, print copies of a moth shape. Instruct learners that they will be hiding their moths somewhere in the classroom. They should color their moths to blend into the classroom because when the moths are found, they will be considered a meal for a predator. The teacher should step out of the room for a few minutes while the moths are being hidden. Note: instruct students to hide the moths in plain sight. For example, the moths shouldn’t be taped to the underside of a desk or inside a cabinet. Keep the found moths in a jar. How many are still hidden at the end of the day?

A zebra’s stripes are like a person’s fingerprints — no two patterns are alike. Make copies of a zebra that has lost its stripes. Participants will be adding their own stripes with a washer and paint. Show children how to put a string through the center of a washer. Holding both ends of the string, roll the washer through black paint. Roll the washer over the zebra to make stripes. Cut out each zebra before hanging the pictures and have each child press his or her fingerprint onto the back of the zebra.

Your upcoming field trip is a motivating way to practice map-reading skills. Print off a map of the zoo from the zoo’s website. Members of your class will get practice reading a map key as well as directions.

Learning about one of the many jobs at the zoo is an engaging research project for elementary-age learners. Have pupils choose from zoologist, veterinarian, nutritionist, horticulturalist, mechanic, tour guide, security officer, photographer, or any other possibility. If feasible, arrange to meet a few of these people during your field trip.

During Your Time at the Zoo

To keep children engaged at the zoo, make each of them responsible for gathering two to three facts about the animals. When you return to the classroom, turn their facts into a quiz game. Small plastic animals from the Dollar Store would make good prizes.

Print up bingo cards ahead of time with a variety of animals likely to be seen. Attach a small sheet of stickers for students to use as markers. Or, you might ask participants to find an animal with pincers, quills, or webbed feet. The list might focus on size: smaller than their hand, taller than a bus, or weighs less than a second grader.  

Older pupils can create an audio tour of one or two exhibits using iPods to take photos and record sounds of the animals and reactions from visitors.  When they return to the classroom, they can edit these and add music.

After You Have Returned to the Classroom

In the days after the field trip, review what they learned using the quiz game mentioned earlier or one of these ideas from Lesson Planet:

Zoo Animal Spelling

Several activities for grades K-1 are suggested. Included are a spelling game, a word search, and word scramble.

Zoo Animals

Although this is suggested for use before a visit to the zoo, it works just as well afterwards. Learners in grades K-1 compare characteristics of several animals to make a Venn diagram and complete activities in cross-curricular centers.

Zoo Habitat Design

Field trippers in grades 4-6 will use their observations from the zoo to create an animal habitat that addresses the physical and social needs of a chosen animal.  It is best to introduce the project before the trip so pupils can take notes.

Animal Classification

Upper grades will attempt animal classification in a practical setting. They complete a staircase grid by finding an animal that fits each category, focusing on phyla, genus and species.