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Take Your Class on the First Thanksgiving Virtual Field Trip

By Genia Connell on November 20, 2013
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

A mere mention of the words field trip in my classroom immediately causes an excited buzz of anticipation. I personally love field trips because moving outside of our classroom walls and into the real world provides my students with a higher level of engagement and a greater level of understanding than simply reading about the same place or engaging in a classroom activity ever could. Over the years, however, I’ve found that the traditional field trip has changed due to varying time and/or financial constraints faced by our schools and our families. Thanks to virtual field trip resources developed by Scholastic, my students are able to experience the excitement and engagement of visiting places we could never afford to see on our own, from the comfort of our classroom — no permission slip or admission fee required!

This week I am happy to share with you how I made Scholastic's Plimoth Plantation Virtual Field Trip as real and exciting for my class as any traditional field trip. The tips I share were used for this particular field trip, but can be used with any trip you take, real or virtual!

Watch the video below to see how my class prepared to take their first virtual field trip of the year, visiting Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower. Mobile users, please go to: http://bcove.me/up3x38oo




Tips for Taking a “Real” Virtual Field Trip 


1.  Determine Your Students’ Level of Background Knowledge

My students began a KWL using the Mayflower printable below. I was actually surprised by how limited my students' knowledge about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower was, however I was able to determine that while prior knowledge was minimal, their curiosity about the subject was tremendous.

Click the image above for a free Scholastic Mayflower Printable.


2. Make a Pre-Visit to Your Virtual Field Trip's Location

Use Google Earth

My class used Google Earth to locate Plimoth Plantation. Students loved exploring the other pop-up areas of interest like Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrim Monument. Their Aha! moments included seeing how close the Pilgrims were to the ocean, bringing a much better understanding of why fish and seafood were an important part of the Pilgrim and Wampanoag diets.  

google earth plimoth plantation


Visit Your Destination’s Website

During our computer lab time, students visited Plimoth.org to investigate what Plimoth Plantation had to offer if you actually visited there. Their Aha! moment was realizing a real field trip to Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower would have cost $19 per child and they were going for free!


3. Make Real-World Curriculum Connections

Science: Checkout the Weather

During a real-world center one week before the trip, my students used the Internet to find a 10-day forecast for Plymouth, Massachusetts. Using a sheet I created, they charted the expected weather for the day of our trip. Next, they found the expected weather for our school’s location and did a compare/contrast of the two. The Aha! moment of this activity was my students realizing that even though we are in the same time zone as Massachusetts, there was a large discrepancy between the sunrise/sunset times.


Geography: Determine the Distance

Using Google Maps, my students learned how to find directions between two places, choose a best route, and navigate their way to their destination — real world skills that adults use all the time. The Aha! moment of this activity was realizing that the shortest distance to Plimoth Plantation from Michigan was through Canada!


Writing: Write to Your Hosts

My students used scroll and parchment paper from Scholastic Printables to answer the letters we received from the Pilgrim and Wampanoag children via email. The most fun part for my third graders was trying to incorporate vocabulary found on the Scholastic site that I projected on our interactive whiteboard. 

Click on the images above to download the free Scholastic Printables.


Conduct Some Independent Research to Build Prior Knowledge

During center time, my students independently toured the Mayflower and took the journey with the Pilgrims through informative, interactive slide shows on the Scholastic site. They completed a packet I created to help them navigate through the information independently. 



4. Provide a Souvenir Ticket

It is always fun to leave a field trip with a souvenir, so I created the tickets below that I handed out to students right before we watched the virtual field trip. 

virtual ticket for virtual trip

Click on the image above for an editable ticket you can print and use in your classroom.


5. Change Your Setting

My students immediately knew something special was about to happen when they entered the classroom after lunch and all of their desks had been removed from the center of the room, leaving a large gathering space. Students were invited to have a seat in the “auditorium” to begin the field trip. You could also move to your school library or another space in your building where watching a video is possible.

6. Keep Your Students Engaged During the Trip

Before the trip began, I told my students to find at least five things they did not know before the trip. Instead of finding five, most students filled two whole pages of their notebooks with facts they found interesting. These facts were used to complete the KWL we started off the trip with.


7. Debrief Following the Trip

Whenever we return from a real field trip we always discuss what we learned, and a virtual field trip is no different. I often use this sheet, titled I Used to Think…Now I Think… that allows students to write about misconceptions they previously held along with what they learned to be true instead. I also enjoy watching their enthusiasm as they take part in the webquest, putting their newfound knowledge to use. 


Scholastic has provided so many free resources for their First Thanksgiving, teaching this as a whole unit would be a breeze. I tend to spread my activities out over the course of a week. If you do decide to share The First Thanksgiving with your class, be sure to check out Erin Klein's blog post, the free resources included with The First Thanksgiving unit, as well as Christy Crawford's post on the technical logistics of preparing for a virtual field trip.   

Scholastic also offers several author chats and other virtual field trips for your class to try including a great one to Ellis Island and the Smithsonian. Hopefully you will give one a try this year and bring the outside world into your classroom.

What tips do you have for a successful virtual (or real!) field trip? Please share in the comment section below.

For more great teaching ideas, follow me on Twitter and Pinterest.


Comments (3)

This is an excellent, well planned unit leading up to Thanksgiving. As a new teacher, your step-by-step guide is incredibly helpful. I will look into the Ellis Island virual field trip as well. Thank you!

Great information! I have used the Scholastic site many times, but I love your ideas. Thanks for sharing!

Thanks, Pam! I found doing a few "extras" leading up to the trip really helped build my kids anticipation for the virtual trip. Hope you can use a few of the ideas with your class!

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