Student Activities

Design a Trail

Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
State Standards:
Science: 3rd grade 3.1; 4th grade 2.2
Social Studies: 3rd grade 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 4.1; 4th grade 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2; 5th grade 1.1, 1.2, 2.1
Reading/Writing: 3rd grade 2.2, 3.2, 4.1; 4th grade 2.2, 3.2, 3.3, 4.1, 4.2; 5th grade 2.2, 3.2, 4.1

Student groups will work cooperatively to produce an interpretive walking trail. Together they will research a topic, choose a focus, write, illustrate interpretive information, lay out a trail, organize information, and teach.


Interpretive trails provide a bridge between our daily lives and our natural and cultural heritage. They can help connect visitors to a place and engage them with their surroundings.

The act of creating an interpretive trail allows students to be the teachers and provides a full-spectrum educational experience. Students must research a topic, choose a focus, write, illustrate, construct, organize, work together, and teach.

Visit Great Sand Dunes' web page on Hiking and view the park's Visitor Guide to learn more about trails in the park.


Vary, depending on location.


If your school is located near a natural or cultural setting with interpretive trails, such as Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, plan a visit and have your students take notes about the characteristics of an interpretive walking trail. The Montville Nature Trail is an interpretive trail located near Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center.

Method for creating an interpretive trail at your school:

  1. Plan trail route - Tell your students that as a class they will decide on the best location for an interpretive walking trail. Explain that the trail should be designed so it passes points of interest. Walk with your students around the school grounds and look for potential points of interest and features. Unless you want to be out breaking trail with your students, help your students plan a route on existing pathways.
  2. Learn about the trail's features - Once a trail route has been chosen, have your students research features of the trail. Plant species, natural features, historic structures, and vistas will make good points of interest.
  3. Decide on a theme - A theme will help tie points of interest together and help those who walk on the trail connect with the area.
  4. Choose points of interest - Decide on points of interest to focus on and divide your students into groups that will each research one location. An additional group of two or three students should be assigned to compile the work of each group into a trail guide. Each point of interest should be assigned a number referencing its numerical location from the beginning of the trail.
  5. Write trail guide - Each group should write two to three brief paragraphs that summarize their research about their point of interest. Creating accompanying artwork adds a nice illustrative touch to the final trail guide. Each group should submit their completed information to the group who is compiling the trail guide.
  6. Create and install sign posts - As a class, create temporary or permanent numerically-based sign posts for each point of interest. Consider having your school's shop class produce and install sign posts.
  7. Produce a trail guide - Photocopy, fold up, and staple copies of the trail guide and provide a small supply to each teacher and administrator in the school.


After the project is complete debrief with your students.

1. How was the project a success?

2. Where could a better job have been done?

3. Were there any organizational failures?

4. What did each student learn about their abilities: their strengths and weaknesses?


Students can lead younger grades on interpretive walks around the trail.



Last updated: March 8, 2019