Scavenger Hunt in the Neighborhood: Fun Outdoor ESL Activity

Two lions
The Russian flag
A famous American (hint: a state is named for him)
A wooden man
A dog holding a basket in its mouth
A green elephant
An orange elephant
A yellow bear
A president of the United States
A solar panel
The flag of El Salvador
A picture of a harp
A man on a horse
An Obama sign


What do all the above have in common? They’re among the odd and curious objects to be found tucked away in the blocks around Language ETC, a stately diplomatic neighborhood of embassies, apartment buildings, and gracious homes. And they are among the 24 items our class of Advanced students tracked down in a scavenger hunt last Wednesday, when we took advantage of the slightly cooler weather to get out of the classroom on a summer evening.

The Russian flag was pretty easy to find, right around the corner from our school.

This is the second time I’ve done a scavenger hunt with an Advanced class, and both times it’s been great. The students go out in teams of three or four, with at least one non-Spanish-speaker per team to keep the conversation in English. Each team has a Google map of the neighborhood, with highlighting on the streets where they should walk. Each also has a checklist with all the items and a space to record the location of each.

The scavenger hunt map and the first page of items, with the locations filled in by students.

We spent the first 30 minutes of class going over the list, clarifying vocabulary in the item descriptions. We briefly reviewed the format for writing addresses in English (the number comes first, then the street name). And we went over the rules for the hunt (stay on the yellow streets marked on the map; don’t enter any buildings or yards; return to LETC by 8:00 p.m.; speak only English!).

Then we went outside. While the teams hunted, my co-teacher Caroline and I strolled around the neighborhood, greeting the students as we encountered them.

A team of students from Argentina, Russia, and Colombia.

The green elephant. What fruit does the elephant resemble? Watermelon!

The dog holding a basket in its mouth.

Students from Sri Lanka, Argentina, and Senegal check their list.

After an hour, we all reconvened in the classroom and went down the list, item by item, to see which team had found the most. They had to have written the location to get credit (though a few objects, like stone lions, were found at multiple addresses — residents of this neighborhood seem to have a thing for lions).

Lots of lions in our neighborhood.

The class became quite raucous, talking and laughing and arguing (in English) as they tried to discredit each other’s finds. Someone who suggested that the “famous American” was Winston Churchill was hooted down, and another team that didn’t find the wooden man but did find a wooden head — so they claimed — was summarily informed that that wasn’t good enough. In the end, one team had found 22 objects, two teams found 23, and the winning team found all 24.

The wooden man was one of the hardest items to spot, lurking in a doorway on Phelps Place NW.

A scavenger hunt is a high-payoff but also a high-preparation activity. The most time-consuming task, of course, is compiling the list of items. I had the list from two years ago still on my computer, but I spent an hour walking around the neighborhood to check that the items were still there. I deleted those that weren’t and printed the list again. I made four copies of the list and four copies of the Google map and stapled each sheet to a light cardboard backing.

A couple of other caveats. For this activity to be fun, you need reasonably pleasant weather. I got my materials ready and then waited for a good day. You also want plenty of daylight, so for an evening class, that means summer. Finally, it’s most appropriate for intermediate or advanced students, and it works best when each team includes a mix of languages. That way, when you send groups of students out for an hour by themselves, you can be pretty confident that the conversation will be in English.

Oh, and the famous American? That would be William Penn, whose face adorns the William Penn Apartments, 2231 California St. NW, almost directly across from Language ETC.

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This entry was posted in Community Resources, Language for Exploring the World. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Scavenger Hunt in the Neighborhood: Fun Outdoor ESL Activity

  1. Aaron says:

    This was an excellent blog post. As I was reading it, I was trying to think of where each item was in the neighborhood. The pictures were great too. I’d love to try something similar one day with my students.

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