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Component for Module 270

Meeting the Needs of Organized Groups

Content Outline | Developmental Activities | Resources

To present a successful curriculum-based program an interpreter must understand and meet the needs of the specific organized group with whom s/he is working. Human development theory explains the way people learn, how they learn best, and what they learn. To be effective, the program should address a variety of learning styles through age appropriate activities and presentation techniques. This component introduces human development, learning theory, appropriate presentation techniques, and group management strategies.

Upon completion of this component the learner will be able to:

  • Apply knowledge of developmental theory and learning styles in a presentation;

  • Demonstrate ways to address a variety of learning styles during a presentation;

  • Describe and apply at least three different presentation techniques;

  • Select group management strategies appropriate for a given situation.

All people have preferred ways to learn. A background in learning theory strengthens an interpreter's ability to use effective teaching strategies and involve the participants in different types of activities for different purposes. Knowing the audience ahead of time gives the interpreter the opportunity to better prepare and plan to meet the group's needs. Organized groups tend to be more uniform in their characteristics. It is important to remember, however, that generalizations are used as guidelines and may not apply equally to all the individuals in each group. In any group with like characteristics, there are individual differences. An interpreter must avoid developing biases and stereotypes. (See Module 201: Identifying and Removing Bias from Education and Interpretive Programs).

Effectively teaching a variety of learners requires a toolbox of presentation techniques. Knowing which technique to use in a particular situation facilitates reaching instructional objectives. Developmental levels and learning styles should guide the selection of presentation techniques. For example, preschool students "look" with their hands and benefit from hands-on learning. In a natural resource, this could translate into preschoolers learning about mollusks by handling seashells. At a cultural park young children might unpack the bag of an immigrant child to learn more about life in a different time period. Techniques selected are important at all age levels and differ in the complexity of issues addressed.

Choosing appropriate techniques to engage students encourages involvement in the learning process. Participants who are interested and involved are more likely to exhibit appropriate behaviors. Setting appropriate expectations for behavior, giving clear directions, and planning for group movement sets the stage for a successful learning experience and safe use of the resource.

Content Outline

I. Human Development
Human Development is a maturation process all individuals go through from conception to death. Each age group has characteristics that can be outlined as physical, emotional, social, and cognitive development. Knowledge of these characteristics can assist you in presenting a program that meets the needs of the specific age group.


A. Physical (Psychomotor)- Activities focus on developing physical skills
B. Emotional (Affective) - Activities focus on clarifying values and feelings, based on emotional and social development
C. Knowledge (Intellectual/Cognitive) - Activities focus on concepts and content

The following is a list addressing age groups, characteristics, and suggested learning activities based on human development. The division between each age grouping is not precise and overlapping occurs. The chart should be used as a reference guide to help you plan your activities to take advantage of the characteristics/developmental levels of these groups.

Age Group Characteristics Suggested Learning Activities
Ages 3-5 (Pre-School/ Kindergarten)

Physical development:
Very energetic and active
Gross motor skills developing
(running, jumping, bicycle riding)

Learning through senses
Developing vocabulary
Limited understanding of time
Unexplainable fears
Action precedes thought
Short attention span

Varying degrees of independence
Relationship with adults-most primary care person(s)
Spontaneous Storytelling, games, puppetry, nature walks, songs, finger plays

What they can do: use crayons, write their name, like to handle larger objects - very tactile

Ages 6-9 (Elementary)

Physical development:
Coordination improving
Fine motor skills developing (writing, keyboarding)

Increased awareness of surroundings
Active learning/hands-on
Able to classify objects
Understanding change
Cause and effect
History is. . . olden days
Learning to follow directions

Pair relationships - best friends
Relationships with other adults
Outgoing, busy
Blaming and tattling common
Believe things are alive and have feelings

Demonstrations, hands-on activities, structured role playing, guided discovery, scavenger hunts, cooperative learning, simulations

What they can do: participate in organized sports, writing skills improving, complete sentences and paragraphs, imagination, simple rules for games

Ages 10-11 (Upper Elementary)

Physical development:
Wide variation in development
Gross motor skills developed
Fine motor skills steadily developing
Tires easily

Concerned with things rather than ideas
Attention span 15-20 minutes per method
Ability to verbalize curiosities
Begins to contrast present with past
Able to draw conclusions
Personal values and opinions beginning to develop

Learning to cooperate; enjoy group activities
Boys/girls segregate; regard each other as silly
Sensitive- fear of not being liked

Hands-on activities, self-guided discovery, group discussions, hands-on activities, structured role plays, problem solving, group activities, simulations

What they can do: sports related activities, can think about objects that are not in front of them, can write clearer, reason and problem solve

Ages 12-14 (Middle School or Junior High)

Physical development:
Rapid growth and development
Fine motor coordination
Wide variation in developing maturity
Onset of puberty

Interested in ideas
Beginning to think abstractly
Longer attention span
Looking for new ways to do things
Eager to contribute in small group discussions
Needs guidance and focus for learning

Tendency to question authority
Easily embarrassed
Needs approval
Developing an interest in the opposite sex

Hands-on activities, self-guided discovery, group discussions, hands-on activities, structured role plays, problem solving, group activities, simulations
What they can do: work in groups, write well, can organize information, think in the abstract, can learn in social situations

Ages 15-18 (High School)

Physical development:
Rapid physical changes
Great diversity in strength and size
Advancing sexual maturity
Periods of high energy, periods of fatigue

Ability to think abstractly
Full comprehension of historical time
Concern for reasons and proof
Desire to do something well
Forms own opinions
Most have not made the connection between learning and life's experiences

Self-conscious and concerned about appearance
Needs peer group support, fearful of "looking stupid"
Fear of being singled out for attention
Tendency to question authority
Need to interact with adults as adults

Demonstrations, debates, open-ended discovery, open-ended role playing, open-ended discussions, problem solving

What they can do: handle short lectures, think independently, think about the parts of a whole, argue a position, analyze information, synthesize and evaluate information.

Ages 18+ (Adults)
Physical development:
Slow physical changes
Great diversity in strength and size
Advancing to Golden Age with limiting abilities

Ability to think abstractly
Full comprehension of historical time
Sensitive to multiple points of view
Forms own opinions
Eagerness to learn

Secure in who they are and less inhibited
Like the opportunity to interact with people that share their interests
Speaks out on personal beliefs
Vast experience base

Demonstrations, debates, open-ended discovery, open-ended role playing, open-ended discussions, problem solving.
What they can do: handle lectures, think independently, think about the parts of a whole, argue a position, analyze information, synthesize and evaluate information, group discussions. Bring their own experience to the discussions.

II. Learning Styles
Everyone has preferred ways of learning, commonly called learning styles. Effective presentations incorporate a variety of learning styles so that each person has an opportunity to work from their personal strengths. There are several theories of how people learn. Below are examples.

A. Multi-modal Learning is a sensory-oriented theory based on how people receive information.

1. Aural: Learners prefer to learn new information (and retain it) through hearing about it.
2. Visual: Learners prefer to learn new information (and retain it) through seeing and reading about it.
3. Tactile-kinesthetic: Learners prefer learning new information (and retain it) through hands-on activities.

B. Howard Gardner's "Multiple Intelligence" (Armstrong 1994) theory is one of the more recently developed theories and suggests there are at least seven ways that people have of perceiving and understanding the world.

1. Linguistic - being able to use language, the flexibility of language, and many ways of communicating.
2. Logical-mathematical - being able to proceed from ordering objects and assessing their quantity to high level use of logic and science.
3. Spatial - being able to think about the world spatially, perceive the visual world accurately, and recreate aspects of one's spatial relations.
4. Bodily kinesthetic - being able to use the body to solve problems or make things the way an engineer or craftsperson would.
5. Musical - being able to respond to music, organize it, and think about the world musically.
6. Interpersonal - being able to understand other people, how to work with them, and how they are motivated to work.
7. Intrapersonal - being able to understand self, strengths and weaknesses, intelligence, fears, desires, etc.

* A new addition to Multiple Intelligence incorporates:

8. Nature - being able to understand and connect with nature, identifies plant and animal species and understands natural systems (opportunity to understand environmental context of parks with historic focus also).

[Note: Traditional schooling heavily favors the verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. Gardner suggests a more balanced curriculum that incorporates the arts, self-awareness, communication, and physical education. Park settings offer opportunities to learn in non-classroom settings.]

III. Presentation Techniques
By addressing a variety of presentation techniques, an interpreter can actively engage an organized group into learning the significance of park resources while relating to their learning objectives.

A. Small (collaborative) group work

1. students work in small groups (3-4) to participate socially in a learning process;
2. each has a task or assignment;
3. results are shared with the large group.

B. Cooperative learning

1. each is a member of a learning team (3 - 5 participants)

2. each member has a task or assignment.

3. team is responsible for each member learning and understanding the concept;

4. leads to higher-level thinking skill development on the part of all the members of the team.

C. Active learning/hands-on learning

1. all participants have the opportunity to make or play or do something that reinforces the theme;
2. Hands-on activities help students comprehend abstract concepts. (For example, students learning about weaving make potholders on a hand-held loom.)

D. Questioning

1. Types of questions encourage levels of thinking.
a. Convergent questions (closed questions)--encourage lower-level thinking and test recall and acquisition of knowledge.
b. Divergent questions (open-ended)--encourage innovative solutions and new ideas and higher-level thinking skills.
c. Evaluative questions--create a set of criteria to validate an opinion.
d. Focus questions--provide a constant reminder of the theme and goals of the presentation.
The way in which the park ranger responds to student answers (and questions) can either help students expand on their thoughts or close off the thought process. (see lesson plan on Questioning Techniques, in the Resources list for Module 103)

E. Discussion

1. group leader sets the parameters, communicates procedures, states the purpose, and manages and encourages the flow of conversation.
2. active listening techniques such as asking one participant to acknowledge respectfully and comment on the statement of another.
3. appropriate "wait-time" (a good rule of thumb is to wait a full 10 seconds after asking a question) to allow students to process content or concepts.

F. Guided discovery

1. leads the learner through a series of activities that lead to a conclusion by the learner without giving away all the elements of surprise.
a. allows students to explore the content and concepts in a way that protects the resource in an area where they cannot necessarily see, feel, and touch the resource

i. scavenger hunt
ii. "Fact, Find and Figure-out" sheet

IV. Selecting a technique

A. Age appropriateness/developmental level
B. Logistics - Can the presentation technique work in the space available?
C. Time constraints and balancing the program sections
D. Resource preservation considerations
E. Materials - amounts, condition
F. Connections to themes, goals, objectives
G. Amount of preparation to set up and take down the activity
H. Understand your own biases and characteristics of your target audience (home and community culture, norms, etc.) that affect your program potential (see Module 201--Identifying and Removing Bias From Educational and Interpretive Programming)

V. Group management - Tips for working with a group

A. Directions need to be clearly stated when the group is ready to receive the information. Participants who are not physically or emotionally engaged are not ready to be told what to do next. Directions and requests should be stated in positive terms. Use "DO" instead of "DON'T"", and model the behavior you want your group to use. For example, if you want them to raise their hand, raise your hand while you are stating the rule.

B. Movement of groups needs to be planned in advance in order to avoid injury to the student as well as the resource.

C. Rules and expectations need to be clearly stated at the beginning of the program, reinforced throughout, and outlined or noted in your lesson plan. Work with the group leader to designate roles and responsibilities. The group leader should be responsible for discipline and rules. Rules need to be enforced-set clear boundaries and stick to them--be consistent.

D. "Plan B" - have a back-up plan in case the first one does not work due to problems like a rainy day or bus breakdown.

E. Engage the teachers/chaperones in managing the group. They are the people who best know the members of the group, and can make your job much easier.

View more Classroom Tips and program strategies

Suggested Developmental Activities
1. Identify the age or grade level of the group you will choose for a program. Make arrangements with a local school district to observe a class of this age group for at least one full day. Record the developmental characteristics you observe and incorporate this knowledge into your program. After the observation, discuss with the teacher why s/he chose the techniques used with the students.

2. Attend a workshop on learning styles, critical thinking skills, or human development. Incorporate that information into your program planning. Present a brief training session to your coworkers on what you learned in the workshop.

3. Observe an experienced park ranger, guide, docent, or teacher. Notice the variety of presentation and management techniques used and their effectiveness. Discuss observations with the presenter. Create a checklist of group management techniques to try in different situations. Add to this list whenever possible. Keep these in a notebook for future reference. (see attached sample review sheets for classroom/park curriculum program visits).

4. Start a personal record (journal, log, database) of new techniques, noting the relative success of each. Try to determine why each worked or didn't work.

5. Ask a teacher, peer, or supervisor to observe your presentations and suggest ways you can improve your overall group effectiveness.

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Books, Articles and Websites
The Paideia Program, Adler, Mortimer J., MacMillian Publishers, New York, NY, 1984.

Earth Education: A New Beginning, Van Matre, Steve, The Institute for Earth Education, Greenville, WV, 1990) Chapter 5: Earth Education...The Ways.

Elementary School Science for the '90s. Louck-Horsley, S., R. Kapitan, P.J. Kuerbis, R. C. Clark, G. M. Melle, T.P. Sachse, and E. Walton, ASCD, 1990. Chapter 6.

Environmental Education at the Early Childhood Level, Wilson, R., editor, North American Association for Environmental Education, 1994. Page 35-48.

Programming for School Groups: A Guide for Interpreters, Tevyaw, Kathleen, National Park Service, 1990.

Science Education Guidebook, Blakseslee, T., and J. Kahan, Michigan Department of Education, Lansing, MI, 1996.

Classroom Management and Discipline: Methods to Facilitate Cooperation and Instruction. Burden, Paul R., Longman Publishers, 1990. Chapter 3: "Models of Discipline" divides the models of discipline into three categories: Low Teacher Control, Medium Teacher Control, and High Teacher Control.

Classroom Management Strategies: Gaining and Maintaining Students' Cooperation. Cangelosi, James S., 2nd edition, Longman Publishers, 1993. Chapter 6: "Designing and Conducting Engaging Learning Activities" gives concrete examples of the connection between well-structured, appropriate activities and good management skills.

Cooperative Learning Basic Strategies: Lessons for U.S. History Teachers, Griswold, Robyn, and Audrey Rogers, Golden Owl Publications, 1995.

Inspiring Active Learning: A Handbook for Teachers. Harmin, Merrill, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1994. This short book gives practical strategies for engaging students in learning and offers a wide variety of types of activities.

The Interpretive Process Model, NPS Interpretive Development Program, 2002. The Interpretive Process Model provides a framework for the development of interpretive programs and products. It consists of a sequence of activities that guide an interpreter to develop opportunities for their audiences to make emotional and intellectual connections to the meanings of the resource, as well as cohesively develop an idea or ideas that are relevant to the resource and the audience.

Interpretive Skills Lesson Plans: Questioning Techniques; How Children Learn; Understanding… (, 1992.

Interpretive Techniques (39 Pages), NPS Interpretive Development Program, 2003. The Complete document 3,088KB; Cover Page, 302KB; Part 1, 1,247KB; Part II, 895KB; Part III, 674KB; Part IV, 295KB

"The Interpreter's Toolbox" worksheet (Word format, 46KB; PDF format, 48KB)

Teaching Strategies: A Guide to Better Instruction. 3rd edition. Orlich, Donald C., Donald P. Kauchak, Robert J. Harder, R.A. Pendergrass, Richard C. Callahan, Andrew J. Keogh, and Harry Gibson, D.C. Heath and Company, 1990, Chapter 6, "Deciding How to Ask Questions" describes the different types of questions, and provides strategies for conducting effective questioning sessions.

The Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC)

The U.S. Department of Education

About learning

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