The bottom of my field teaching backpack usually contains a section of rope, a habit that carries over from backcountry trips. Rope is an incredibly versatile tool that can be used for many things, including teaching in the field.
My “teaching” rope has yet to teach any knots. I could, of course, use it to teach students a figure-eight, square knot, half-hitch, clove-hitch, fisherman’s and so on. I’ve taught knots in other settings and doing so can be a great way to break the ice, occupy time with something productive and provide a challenge that involves both the hands and the brain.
Most frequently the rope gets used to teach students about teamwork. One good entry-level team-building exercise involves tying the rope ends together to make a circle and have each student take the rope in their hands. The task is to work together to make a square, a rectangle, a hexagon. Have every other kid turn around and face the opposite direction to make it harder. Or skip the shapes altogether and have the students all lean backwards at the same time so the rope becomes taut and holds them up. This is sometimes referred to as a “yurt circle” and works best with an even number of students.
If the rope is marked in increments it can be used as a giant measuring stick. Stretched out straight it can serve as a transect line, or it can section off a specific area for close study like a quadrat. Want to know how tall something is? Figure out how long the rope is, then hold onto one end tightly while throwing the other end upwards: you can get at least an approximate idea. I’ve also used it as a human continuum, with students lining up along the rope according to how they feel about something. One end of the rope could be “my favorite food is broccoli”, the opposite end “I consider broccoli evidence of evil in the world”.
I’ve used the rope as part of a ceremony to bookend teaching, inviting students to join me inside the rope circle at the beginning of the week and asking them to step outside the circle at the end of the week. The rope signifies group membership and reinforces a shared sense of language and shared customs. Crossing the rope becomes a symbolic rite of passage.
Orchestrating various lessons is easier with a piece of rope. Making knots in a piece of rope can be used as a mnemonic device for breaking down complex tasks: narrate the individual steps, tying an alpine butterfly as you go, then have the students walk through the steps themselves, tugging on each butterfly loop as they recall the step. You can even leave the rope out and the knots visible as a reminder for students.
Rope can be used in all manner of games, to designate a starting line, delineate a safe area or simply provide a boundary.
Need students to circle up and listen to instructions? Make a circle on the ground with rope and have students line their toes up with the rope. It’s like wrangling students with the teaching lasso!
Whatever you end up using it for, a piece of rope in your backpack can be an invaluable teaching tool.