Sound Map

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This is an activity that gets students to be quiet and listen to the sounds in the forest using their auditory and intuitive sense as well as their imagination.


Students will:

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Age group: Any Venue/s: Anywhere, preferably away from main campus or roads

Materials: Journal, craypas, prismacolor pencils, and writing utensil. Instructor white-board is helpful.

Time: 15-25 minutes

Set up: None

The Lesson Plan


As we have traveled through the woods today, have we seen many animals? No? Does that mean they are not there? One reason we do not see them is animals tend to be masters of camouflage. Also, they hear us coming long before we get to where they are. We are going to take the next 10 minutes to sit quietly and see if we can hear any activity happening around us that we haven’t noticed before. Pay attention to the sounds, the similarities and differences. You may want to close your eyes. We rely so much on sight for observation, but our other senses can give us valuable information as well.

The Activity:

The students should get out their journals or teachers pass out art paper and choice of art materials listed. Let them know that you will soon be spreading them out along the trail (or along the bridge, or the dam, or…) where they will sit quietly and emphasize that they cannot talk to their neighbors. You could open the dialogue with them, by asking what is sound? Discuss how sound is the movement of air (sound travels in waves, whether through air, water or a solid) and describe how sound is multi-faceted or multi-dimensional.

Demonstrate this next part for them on a piece of paper or small white board and show them examples of other sound maps. Explain to them they are not creating an accurate or realistic drawing of what is making the sound, the bird or machine. Instead, they are making graphic marks on the page, a logo or symbol of the sound itself. Direct them to listen to the shape of the sound, is it full, or tiny? What is the rhythm of the sound? Does it have jagged edges, or one long thin note? Have them write in their journal these words that will help them to give a fuller description of the sound graphically: it’s direction, speed, shape, volume, rhythms and patterns, color, and placement in space. Direct them to think about the location of the sound in relationship to where they are sitting, is it in front of them or above them, and where each sound is in relationship to the other sound. Remind them that sounds may overlap one another and that they should show that on their paper. For those students who are more comfortable using words, ask them to try the symbol approach first and if this is not working then use words to describe the sounds. Since this is a lesson in support of intuitive and non-linear ways of learning, try to stay away from expecting them to know the taxonomy of the bird sounds at this time.

Once they are settled into their spot, let them know they should take out their journal and other art materials. They will spend the next 10-15minutes focusing on the sounds of the forest. Each time they hear something they create a graphic mark on their paper using the above directions.

Tell them that you will signal them when there are 5 minutes left in the exercise.


Have the students share their sound maps with the rest of the group. Talk about how it is different when using the sense of sound as opposed to the sense of sight. Help them to think about how they might know those sounds more completely by remembering the symbol they created. What were some things you heard? Were you surprised by the number of sounds you heard? Did your mind ever wander? Did you notice fewer sounds during those times? When you heard birds in the bushes, were they loud or quiet? How loud do you think we sound to them?


Safety Considerations

Make sure they aren’t sitting in a patch of stinging nettles or blackberries.

Related Pages

Pictures of Practice


Sound mapping, as described above, can be an incredible way to encourage students to quiet themselves, focus intently on an ecosystem, interpret their surroundings through a different sense, and communicate their experience with others. A shorter version of this activity can provide many of the same benefits in only 10-20 minutes, making it a great addition to an outdoor evening program or Solo Sit.  It also can be used before or after Each One Teach One or Solo Walk, when students depart or arrive at staggered times.    

This video shows one way to introduce a simplified sound mapping activity, and these tips will help you lead it more effectively:

  • Use a quiet and calm, but enthusiastic tone as you describe the activity.
  • Clearly explain how students should select their spot for sound mapping.  I’ve found it useful to require them to choose a spot that is safe, comfortable, and where they can quietly focus. You will also want to set boundaries for how far they can go in selecting their spot and provide a specific amount of time (usually about 30 seconds) for them to find a good spot.  
  • Before they disperse, demonstrate to students how to complete a sound map, by actually listening yourself and marking on a whiteboard or piece of paper what you hear.
  • Suggest a variety of ways for students to record sounds on their map - common words, descriptions of the sounds, onomatopoeia, symbols, shapes, etc.  
  • Ask students to record the location, description, and frequency/number of times heard for each sound.  
  • Make sure you let students work for at least five minutes on their sound map.  Extend for longer if they continue to be engaged and you are not confronted by time constraints or environmental factors.    
  • Provide an opportunity for students to share what they heard, and tie this into your learning objectives (observation skills, scientific process, ecosystem comparisons, nocturnal vs. diurnal, ecological relationships, and communication are all themes that are easily connected to sound mapping.)