Investigating a local area for evidence of the impact of religion and religious life both now and in the past
An RE trail is a Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) experience which involves investigating a locality for evidence of the impact of religion and religious life both in the past and the present.
A trail could focus on a single religion or touch on several. It might include examples of the interior and exterior of buildings as well as other features in the built and natural environment.
This resource considers the value of an RE trail, provides a toolkit for developing your own trail and examples of trails which you could do with students or use as a model. Finally, there are links to other trails and useful websites. See the map at the bottom for a selection of RE Trails.
How can I develop a trail?
The aims of the trail visit will depend on what you are teaching and how a trail would help to meet the aims of your scheme or unit of work. Most RE visits are to a single place of worship or other sacred space. It is important to think about the experience a trail can give pupils which is distinctive and enriching to their learning in a different way.
The toolkit looks first at the different places and kinds of trails which schools might plan. This depends partly on the aims of the work they are undertaking with pupils and partly on what is available in a particular place (whether the local area around the school or one which is accessible on a trip farther afield).
The second section is about planning. Key aspects of this are how a trail can contribute to a unit of work and how trails link to the whole curriculum for RE and the wider curriculum more generally.
The third section on pedagogy, poses some questions to help you home in on the aims, purposes and outcomes of taking pupils on an RE trail.
A fourth section focuses on some of the practical aspects of preparation and finally there are some ideas about the range of ways the experience of a trail can be recorded on the move.
What places might a trail include?
The main focus may be to see the impact and presence of religious life in a particular community. This could be your school’s local community or one further afield. Seeing buildings, names of streets or other features for example, shops, halls and community facilities used by one or more religious group(s) can help young people develop greater understanding of the part played by religion in the area they are looking at.
There are probably opportunities for trails focused on Christianity in every town and village in the country. If the class is learning about Christian diversity, a trail through a local town can go past the churches and chapels of five or six different denominations. Even if you don’t take your group inside a single one of them, an examination of their notice boards and activities will reveal something about their spiritual and social life and how they provide for different members of their community. Rural locations can provide evidence of religious heritage in both distant and recent past, for instance a Quaker burial plot, a stone marking when John Wesley came to preach, a church or chapel used by a two or more faith communities and a village hall rebuilt to commemorate the Millennium (with its basis in the Christian calendar).
Another focus might be the study of another individual religious tradition, where the trail gives a chance to see something of social and community life as well as worship. The JTrails website, for example, provides a large number of Anglo-Jewish heritage trails which reveal the history of a number of early Jewish communities in this country. Many of these have long since dispersed but it would be an interesting enhancement of a study of Judaism today for schools to explore a historical connection in their area. If a class is learning about Islam, there may be a mosque to visit but also shops with advertisements in their windows for meetings, Hajj tours, Islamic study classes and social events, shops or restaurants which offer halal food, a charity shop such as a branch of Islamic Relief, a newsagent which stocks papers and magazines for people whose family roots are in Muslim majority countries and whose heritage language is Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, Turkish or Panjabi.
An area near your school, or one you could visit, may have places you could link together to construct a trail on a theme such as religion, belief and war and peace/the environment/death and remembrance.
If several religious traditions are represented within a walkable area, the trail might focus on a particular aspect of the places of worship e.g. art and pattern.
Planning: objectives and outcomes
Like any visit, a trail will need the teacher(s) planning the work to identify clearly what will be done:
- after the visit, to make sure that the educational value of the experience is maximised.
This should include discussion with pupils about the purpose of the trail and its intended learning outcomes. One of the main aims of any trail experience will be for pupils to learn in a more accessible and memorable way, and to enjoy their time out as well as to develop knowledge, understanding and skills.
Planning: RE trails and the curriculum
Cross curricular links
Such links may be developed according to the particular trail, but some examples might include:
- links with Art, Maths and DT through looking at architecture, pattern and decoration in places of worship
- links with History and Geography through investigating different aspects of a locality
- links with Citizenship through exploring the range of identities seen, in terms of cultures and languages as well as religions and beliefs and also in terms of diversity within traditions and communities
- links with Music or Dance to explore how faiths use these creative forms to express beliefs or worship
- links with English in studying epitaphs and inscriptions.
Meeting local requirements and national recommendations for RE
Most locally agreed syllabuses require children and young people to have opportunities for visits in their local area to support work in RE. These give scope for building RE trails into school schemes of work.
- Foundation Stage – a theme related to buildings or special places, where activities include visiting local places of worship, taking photographs, talking about the importance of places of worship and comparing these local buildings with photographs of others from far away
- Key Stage 1 - visiting places of worship and focusing on symbols and feelings, listening and responding to visitors from local faith communities, beginning to use ICT to explore religions and beliefs as practised in the local and wider community.
- Key Stage 2 - encountering religion through visitors and visits to places of worship, focusing on the impact and reality of religion on the local and global community.
- Key Stage 3 – visiting, where possible, places of major religious significance and using opportunities in ICT to enhance children and young people’s understanding of religion
- 14-19 – where there should be opportunities within and beyond school for learning that involves first-hand experiences and activities involving people, places and events (for example the local area places of worship and community activities)
The plans should include explicit statements about:
- what will make this trail a unique and enjoyable experience for the children and young people
- how it make a contribution to their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development
- what it will add to their learning that could not be achieved so well in any other way
Some questions to consider
- Do I have a clear vision of what I want to achieve before/during/after the trail?
- Will there be opportunities for children and young people to use their senses as well as their brains?
- Can we build in times of stillness and reflection?
- How does the trail fit into and enhance the class’s unit of work?
- Can relevant cross-curricular links be made?
- How might the trail develop learners’ understanding of beliefs, values or the impact of faith?
- Is there any way in which the trail would contribute to good community relations?
- Could going on the trail help to challenge children and young people's pre- or mis-conceptions or help to overcome prejudice or discrimination?
- Does it offer opportunities for engagement with the local community? For example, could a member of the community speak to learners in school beforehand, or accompany them on the trail? Could the trail be undertaken with children and young people from another school?
An initial planning walk along the trail is essential. This will give an opportunity to:
- make a risk assessment (especially road safety, an issue on almost any trail)
- identify nearest toilets
- work out how long the walk is likely to take
- see if there are any obstacles to the full participation of children and young people with disabilities which need to be dealt with so that they can take part
- see if there are any cost implications e.g. of making a donation to a place of worship visited as part of the trail.
In-school planning will need to include:
- following routine school procedures for the organisation of visits
- sending and checking the return of parental consent letters
- agreeing with the headteacher whether it would be appropriate to seek press or media cover for the activity see: The RE teacher's media toolkit.
Recording the learning
An important aspect of the preparation and planning will be making decisions about how to record what is seen or experienced, and using the necessary equipment.
Devices and equipment might include:
- Mobile phone
- Digital still or movie camera
- Digital recorder
- Pencils and clipboards
Children and young people might take pictures of the places seen, dates and symbols, key words or phrases, voice recording of a small group commentary, notes and drawings. Recording images and comments makes it easier for learners to remember key points or to describe them afterwards in written work or presentations.
Digital cameras and smart phones can now be used to 'tag' photos with locational information. Photos could be uploaded to a Google Map or Google Earth to illustrate the places visited on the trail. As part of the learning process, pupils might creatively annotate such photos with information or their reflections. The Street View function in Google Maps/Earth can then be used to revisit the experience or contribute to ongoing learning. Many new digital devices also have recording capability which could capture such things as pupils' questions, comments or reflections, interviews, sounds or music.
The value of an RE Trail
Looking at buildings, street names and other features, shops and community facilities should help young people develop an understanding of the part played by religion and belief in the area they are exploring.
A trail may help help them gain greater awareness of what “community” can mean; visits often get this across more powerfully than books.
The focus may be on religious community and social life, in contrast to the greater emphasis on spirituality and worship which might be the central point of a visit to a place of worship.
If successful, the visit will help students be more awake to their own environment and more alert to the human factors that have influenced its development.