Salmon Run | Ecological Game

The salmon run is a game that teaches students the basics of salmon migration, as well as introduces basic ideas of conservation. The set up of the game is a bit confusing the first time, but once you understand how it functions, it becomes very easy to replicate and lead.


Salmon Run Diagram

  1. Put cones around your field of play. You’ll see from the diagram that a U-shape is often used to conserve cones, but a long rectangle would do the job as well (it would actually be easier and much less confusing for the students). You want about half as much space as used in capture the flag or about as much as a typical soccer game.
  2. Set out your supplies in the area they belong. In order of the game, they go:
    1. Jump rope
    2. Space with nothing
    3. 5-10 Hula hoops with a noodle for each
    4. A long row of discs, about a third as many as you have students. Anything can be used that is about the right size to stand on.


Several people, usually adults or staff, have roles within the game. You need: 2 people to run the jump rope, 3-5  birds, 5-10 fishermen, and 1-2 bear. Explain to them their function within the game.

Jump Rope: Play jump rope normally. Students have to jump through without hitting the rope. If they get hit by the rope, they go to the discs.

Birds: Tag kids. Don’t tag so many none make it through, you’re just weeding out a few.

Fishermen: Hit kids with noodles, but stay inside your “boat”. Don’t tag all of them!

Bear: Move fairly slowly, and walk along the outside of the river, reaching in-between kids to try to tag others. Help kids make a bridge as they get out and join the group. You may run out of discs, that’s okay. Have them extend the river anyway.

Explanation of Salmon Run:

Don’t collect the campers until you’re ready to go! They’ll get bored waiting for you to set up and be ready to go!

Ask: Who knows how salmon migrate? (They travel up-river)

Ask: What are some problems they may run into along the way? (Dams, animals, fishermen)

Say: We are going to pretend we are salmon for our game today. You all are going to start on this (point to the area right before the jump rope) side of the cones and go all the way through each area, trying to get to the end (point to the end) without dying. If at any point you die, you will go stand on one of those discs (point again) and put your hands up in the air, connect them to someone on the other side, and form a bridge for people to go through (show what you mean with another adult).

Say: First, you will go through the dam. If you touch the jump rope, you must go to a disc. Next, you will run through an area filled with birds that want to eat you. If you get tagged, you must go to a disc. Then, you will run through an area filled with fishermen in their boats. If you get hit by a fishing pole, you must go to a disc. Last, you will walk under the bridge to the end of the cones. If you are tagged by a bear, you must go to a disc. If you make it to the end of the cones without touching the dam, being eaten by a bird, being caught by a fishermen, or being eaten by a bear, you get to lie on the ground and flop around like a salmon!

Play one round.

Gather the students together at the beginning of the course and ask: What was difficult? What are some things that we could do to make it easier for the salmon to make it up the river?

Students will give various answers, including killing birds and bear. Talk to them about why we shouldn’t kill these animals, but we have other options. Fishing licenses are one way we help the salmon make it. After you explain why fishing licenses help, take out a few of the “boats” so it’s easier for the students. Dams also have ways to help salmon survive. Some dams have spaces on the sides for fish to go around the dam, and some dams turn off for a little while to let them through. After explaining this, instruct your jump rope people to either make space for students to go around, or to occasionally stop the jump rope for a little bit and let kids just run over it.

Play one round with the easier rules.

Gather the students together and talk about how the changes helped more salmon to survive, and how we can make changes in the way we interact with nature that makes it easier for animals to live. Ask about ways they can help nature survive, even as kids. (They can call out answers, talk with a friend, etc.)

Like Salmon Run? You may also like:

Outdoor Education Syllabus

University of Minnesota
CI 5960
Seminar Topic: Outdoor Education as Youth Development

Main Ideas/Learning Outcomes

This seminar will focus on the history and philosophy behind Outdoor Education as a tool for youth work and development. It will offer space for exploration of the topic and a solid base for understanding. We will visit spaces designed for Outdoor Education with youth, and utilize outdoor and non-formal spaces to practice facilitating this type of program. We will discuss our experiences as well as the benefits and drawbacks of the Outdoor Education format for youth development.

Learning Outcomes

Gain knowledge in the history and philosophy of Outdoor Education through reading research and articles on the subject.
Connect research on Outdoor Education with real life experiences through site visits, discussion and group facilitation.
Learn facilitation skills within the Outdoor Education context through observation, discussion and personal practice.
Demonstrate an ability to lead groups within the Outdoor Education context through facilitation. (2 credit option only)

Seminar structure:

Readings 15 hrs (30 hrs)
Group Discussion 10 hrs (15 hrs)
Online Discussion 5 hrs (5 hrs)
OE Site Visits 10 hrs (10 hrs)
Group Practice N/A (25 hrs)
Reflection Papers 5 hrs (8 hrs)

Seminar Prep:

Please have completed at least the first 3 readings before our initial site visit. There is a Facebook group we will be utilizing for remote discussion; you will receive an invitation to join. PDFs for some of the readings are located in the files section of that group. Please join in on discussion taking place on this platform as frequently as you are able.

Site Visits : (Rides can be arranged from Peters Hall, or elsewhere, if needed. Contact me if a ride would be helpful!)

Visit at least 3 of 4 Outdoor Education centers and participate in a program/tour, focusing on underlying philosophy and methods and how those interact with the program structure and presentation.

Friday, January 8th 9am-2pm: Carpenter Nature Center
Meet at the visitor center at 9am, we’ll go as a group from there. Lunch discussion at the site, bring a bag lunch with you.
Address:12805 St Croix Trail S, Hastings, MN 55033

Saturday, January 9th 9:45am-12:30pm: Dodge Center
Meet at the Visitor center at 9:45am. Bring a bag lunch with you, as we will have a quick transition over to The Refuge after and will have a discussion in between locations.
Address: 365 Marie Ave W, St Paul, MN 55118

Saturday, January 9th 1-4pm The Refuge
Meet at the Visitor Center at 1pm, we’ll start and end there. After our time, we will head over to the Mall of America to have our discussion.
Address: 3815 American Blvd E, Bloomington, MN 55425

Saturday, January 9th 4:30pm-8pm Mall of America

Tuesday, January 12th 5:30-9pm Voyageur Outward Bound
Meet at the main building. Discussion will follow at Black Dog Cafe.
Address: 179 Robie Street East, Suite 295 St. Paul, MN 55107

Practice (2 credit option) Cost: $40.00
Friday, January 15th 6:30pm- Sunday, January 17th 4pm Camp St. Croix

Meet at the River Center (the main building). We’ll head over to our cabin/workspace from there. Items to bring: sleeping bag, winter outerwear including snow pants, extra socks, snack to share, supplies you might wish to utilize during the experience you’ll be leading. If you do not have access to a warm coat, hat, mittens, scarf, boots, and snow pants (or at least multiple layers of leggings or long underwear), please contact me and we’ll get you settled. You may also wish to bring a thermos for coffee.
Address: 532 County Rd F, Hudson, WI 54016

Participants will each prepare a 1-2 hr outdoor/non-formal learning experience for other participants over the course of the weekend. This experience should utilize skills and perspectives observed during site visits and encountered in our readings and discussions. The seminar Facebook group is a great place to start working out your plans for facilitating this experience.

Participants will write two 300-500 word reflection papers. (2 credit option will be 500-800 words, tying in practice). These papers need not be formal, they are simply a space to put to paper what is being learned and experienced. Journal entries, stream-of-consciousness, poetry, etc. are all acceptable ways to reflect.
One paper will tie together theory and observations concerning actual practice in OE organizations and programs.
One paper will reflect on possible ways to introduce OE to current work and practice.

Reading List

1 Credit Option:
An Introduction to Experiential Education. PDF available in Facebook Group.
Wurdinger, Scott and Steffen, Jeff. 2003. Developing Challenge Course Programs for Schools. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company. Chapters 1-3. PDF available in Facebook Group.
Bunting, Camille. 2006. Interdisciplinary teaching through outdoor education. Human Kinetics. Chapters 1-2. PDF available in Facebook group. 2015. Ecotherapy/Nature Therapy.
Katkar, Rachel. July 2015. Youth’s Right to Fail.
Nebbe, Linda Lloyd. 1991. Nature as a Guide: Using Nature in Counseling, Therapy, and Education. Educational Media Corporation. Chapters 1-4.
National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS):
American Camp Association:

Additional Readings for 2 credit option:
National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS): (at least 4 articles)
American Camp Association: (at least 4 articles)
Neill, James. May 2008. Enhancing Life Effectiveness: The Impacts of Outdoor Education Programs, Chapters 1 and 2. University of Western Sydney.
Warren, Karen, Ed. The Theory of Experiential Education. A Collection of Articles Addressing the Historical, Philosophical, Social, and Psychological Foundations of Experiential Education. Third Edition: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co. (at least 2 articles)
Muñoz, Sarah-Anne. 2009. Children in the Outdoors: A literature review. Sustainable Development Research Centre.
Hattie, John: Marsh, Herbert: Neil, James: Richards, Garry. Spring 1997. Adventure Education and Outward Bound: Out-of-class Experiences that Make a Lasting Difference. Review of Educational Research, 67, 43-87.

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