Building Quinzees With Your Class

I absolutely love to play in the snow. Chances are, so do your students! Now that the polar vortex seems to be over (knock on wood), it’s a great time to get outside and let those kids burn off some steam! I highly recommend adding quinzee building to the list of winter activities you do outside.

A quinzee (sometimes spelt quinzhee)  is a temporary shelter made from hollowing out a pile of snow. When it’s done, it resembled a snow cave. Building a quinzee through school usually happens in an outdoor education setting, but I believe the activity has several cross-curricular applications:


Team Building

Constructing a quinzee can be a great way to have kids work collaboratively. They need to work together to move snow around with a tarp, and alternate roles of digging out snow, snow removal, and hunting for sticks. They’ll also be making several decisions as a group like picking a site, determining how big to build, and where to put the door. There’s added communication challenges too: they need to talk amongst each other to express if they are tired, claustrophobic, cold, or bored. Plus it’s pretty tricky to hear clearly when there’s a foot of snow in between people: the students inside the quinzee will need to be constantly listening for the voices of the students outside the quinzee (and vice versa). I recommend students working in groups of 3-5.


Social Studies

The obvious connection here is with First Peoples history. The word quinzee has Athabaskan origin, and was used as temporary shelter in winter (and is still used for winter camping, and can be used as a survival shelter). In grade 3 one of the big ideas is on people from diverse cultures can have commonalities, so if you’re going in this direction you can connect quinzees to Finnish lumitalos. You can also contrast a quinzee with an igloo, which is an Inuit structure made from ice blocks. Beyond specific content, overarching ideas emphasized in BC’s curriculum such as First Peoples Principles of Learning (learning is experiential and recognized the roles of indigenous knowledge), and Aboriginal Worldviews and Perspectives (experiential learning, engagement with the land, nature and outdoors) can be incorporated through quinzee building.

Photo 2015-01-06, 11 53 14 AM


As an exercise science geek, I get a little too excited about thermoregulation physiology (Anatomy & Physiology 12 is in our new curriculum!), but it’s far more likely you’re looking for elementary connections. Starting in grade 3 one of the ‘big ideas’ is that living things interact with the environment, in grade 5 the big idea shifts towards how organs can help with survival, and in grade 7 both survival needs and a changing climate are within teachable content. Have you checked out the Snow Smarter inquiry lesson for grades 3-6? Why not extend the lesson by going outside and making observations about how snow changes throughout the quinzee building process?!


Flexible Learning Environments

If you’re struggling to leave your walled in fortress of the classroom, remember: “Learning can happen anywhere, not just in classrooms”. Obviously, quinzees have to be constructed in the snowy cold (well, hopefully not too cold) outdoors. Since they can be constructed in the school yard, you will still have access to amenities like bathrooms, and a warm classroom, which may make it a great opportunities for you to embrace flexible learning environments in winter time.


If your classroom management is on point, and your students are eager and prepared, I believe students as young as grade 3 could construct quinzees.


Free Resources?!

Last but not least, I have created my first Teachers Pay Teachers resource, and it’s absolutely FREE! It includes a Teacher Info Package (including lesson plans, equipment lists, etc.), Prompts & Questions, a slide show lesson, and several pictures of the quinzee building process. Please check it out, and send me some feedback: Building a Quinzee: A Snow Shelter How-To

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