Name it, Frame it, Tame it: Tips for managing behavior on field trips

Let’s be honest: taking 20+ children out of the classroom on a field excursion can feel like being responsible for ensuring 20+ bulls don’t destroy the china shop.  “Please walk!” “Don’t touch that!” “Lower your voices!” “Stay with your group!” “Watch out for other visitors!”

Can we say STRESSFUL?

Today, we want to reduce this stress.  

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of the pre-lesson.  I mentioned that at Live It Learn It, one of the questions we explore when we design our pre-lessons is: what behaviors will students need to practice to be successful in the field trip environment?  I learned the hard way that 10-year olds who have never been previously exposed to ballet cannot contain their surprise upon seeing a male dancer in leotard.  At Live It Learn It, we routinely pass by nude artwork with students on the way to see something else and often can do so without even a single snicker.  

“What is this sorcery?” you ask.  

The magic, of course, is simply great planning.  (Because that old teaching adage still rings true: “If you don’t have a plan for your students, they will have a plan for you.”)

But if you want to call it magic, grab your wand and with each wave, repeat these three commands:

 Name it. Frame it. Tame it.

This means:

Let’s start with an example that is super illustrative of how this magic functions: a pontoon boat ride with the Anacostia Watershed Society to observe wildlife.  This is an incredibly different context from the classroom!  For many students, it will be their very first boat ride–which can increase both excitement and trepidation.  

What behaviors will very excited and maybe slightly fearful students need to exhibit while on a boat so that everyone remains safe AND wildlife can be observed?

Other than listening to and following directions the first time given (which is critical!) the biggest behavior challenge we anticipate is that kids will be so excited that their volume will increase to the point where wildlife will not come near the boat!  Knowing this, we Name it, Frame it, and Tame it:

Now that students have an alternate way to convey their excitement, they can be successful with the learning objective and have fun–and so can you.

Please note: the above example is one of many ways you could name, tame, and frame it.  Use your knowledge of your own students to guide what would work best for them!


 To use Name it, Frame it, Tame it effectively, you need to spend time considering what, exactly, to name.  To get you started, we’ve rounded up the top 3 challenges we encounter in informal learning spaces–but these can also apply to the classroom setting.

  1. Movement in the space.  Have you ever noticed the difference in how kids move from desk to door when it’s time for lunch versus time to take a test?  Students who are excited to get somewhere move quickly–and often loudly, clumsily, and/or playfully.  The same is true in any context, which means it is important to prepare students for how they should move on a boat, in a small art exhibit, in a crowded room, or in the middle of a stream.  Even the most mature and composed students occasionally dash forward to get a better view of a painting they recognize.  When preparing to name, frame, and tame student movement, consider any movement that could cause harm to people or to the space (e.g. objects, artifacts, nature).

Expert Tip!  “Wandering” is a movement we continually encounter with students in museums.  While we are trying to get students to focus on one specific artifact, their eyes and/or feet are wandering towards something else.  This is natural!  Instead of fighting students’ tendencies to want to explore, we “tame it” by building in opportunities for exploration.  One strategy we use is doing a gallery walk.  Let’s say we enter a room in order to focus on one particular painting.  Before we sit down in front of that one painting, we take a loop around the room; think “Follow the leader,” with teacher in front and students in a line behind him/her.  The line moves slowly around the room and students are encouraged to think silently about what they see.  A gallery walk has 3 awesome impacts: 1) students have now seen everything in the room and can more easily focus on a specific object of study; 2) students have practiced the appropriate pace of movement and distance away from the objects that you expect throughout the trip; and 3) students can take in the organization of the room (e.g. thematic; chronological; etc), if applicable, which orients them to the content and helps with wayfinding if later activities involve looking at other objects in the room.

2. Proximity to object of study.  We constantly ask students to “look closely,” but that instruction can be at odds with the environment.  What does it mean to “look closely” when you cannot or should not get physically close to the object of study (e.g. a priceless painting that is not roped off or protected by glass) and/or the object does not stay still (e.g. animals in the wild)?  We need to “tame it” by offering scaffolds.

Expert tips! Here are some strategies we use before and during field experiences to ensure that students really can look closely:

      1. Study image of artifact/object in classroom before trip to build familiarity.  We do this with everything from the Minerva mosaic at the Library of Congress to Jacob Lawrence’s Great Migration series at the Phillips Collection to macroinvertebrates–tiny insects–that students will collect in a local waterway.
      2. Bring printed images with you on the trip for students to reference.  This way, students can continue to “see” the object even if you need to move away from the original more quickly than you’d like.
      3. Teach students to make a “finger viewer” to focus on one aspect of the object of study.  This helps students direct their attention to the object regardless of how physically close they are to it. 

3. Reacting to new content.  Also known as “things that make children squirm.”  Nude art and ballet attire fit this bill.  So do insects, anything that might make their hands dirty (e.g. soil; rocks and minerals), any space that they deem potentially haunted (e.g. historic homes; dark exhibits), and pretty much anything they don’t recognize (e.g. artifacts from other cultures).  Here is a perfect opportunity to frame and tame.

Expert tip!  As educators we know that when students encounter new information, it jolts their young minds–and that they need safe spaces in which to digest and transfer the unknown into known.  While I’m sure the National Park Service rangers at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (as well as the docents at George Washington’s Mount Vernon) have heard every reaction under the sun to the news that these important leaders died in the very spot in which you now stand (truth: Douglass died at the bottom of the stairs, in the entryway to his home in Anacostia), we would prefer that our students process their surprise with respect rather than alarm or fear.  To that end, we have students brainstorm what they could say instead of Ewww, That’s gross, or I’m not touching that.  Student favorites include a hesitant but genuine, I wonder why it looks like that? and the always handy, That’s interesting!  

A few final thoughts:

  • Timing: We usually introduce and practice the desired behavior in the classroom, well before we arrive at the destination site.  Practice makes perfect!  That said, sometimes it is more efficient to introduce a behavior in context.  For example, we demonstrate “using clipboards in a museum” etiquette when we pass out clipboards at the museum.
  • Tone:  Name it, Frame it, Tame it empowers students to engage appropriately.  It is not intended to collapse student behavior into “right vs. wrong” actions.  Is it “wrong” to stand up on a pontoon boat?  Of course not.  The boat captain stands the entire time while driving.  Will animals appear (or not) strictly based on the volume of student voices?  Of course not.  But, by sitting and communicating quietly while on the boat, we create a situation that is the most conducive to viewing wildlife and remaining safe.  The tone of this strategy is collaborative, supportive, and reasonable.

Now it’s your turn!  What challenges have you encountered with student behavior?  How could you use Name it, Frame it, Tame it to address and mitigate those challenges?


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