Travel the World in the Comfort of Your Own Classroom!
- Grades: 3–5
Good teachers strive to make their teaching come alive! Providing students with authentic learning experiences is something I work hard to do in my classroom on a daily basis. Social studies is a particular subject area that lends itself to great opportunities for this type of real-world learning. My United States Region Tour is a perfect way for me to take my students to places they may never visit in real life and to provide them with unforgettable learning experiences through online field trips, by playing "pretend" in our classroom, and even by allowing them to taste the delicious cuisine of the different states we visit. Come join me as I take you on an exciting year-long journey, and learn how you can implement a similar activity in your own classroom even if regions are not part of your curriculum!
READ ON to watch a VIDEO of our region tour, download printables, and see tons of exciting photos as we travel in the comfort of our own classroom!
Watch a Video of the Region Tour
What Is the Region Tour?
In our district, third graders are expected to learn about the regions of the United States. For that reason, we adopted the Social Studies Alive! program and use the Social Studies Alive! Regions of Our Country textbook. The authors of this textbook chose nine interesting and important cities or landmarks to highlight in each region. Each tour stop has a single page dedicated to it in the textbook, and each tour stop is presented through the lens of the four social sciences — economics, geography, political science, and history. Students listen to a “tour guide” on a CD that is included with the program as they travel.
Where Do We Travel in Each Region?
Students visit all five of the regions in the United States during the school year. Nine cities or landmarks are selected as great places for students to visit, but I also add my own tour stops when I feel it is necessary.
1. THE NORTHEAST
Here we pretend to travel on a train. We visit West Quoddy Head in Maine; Mount Washington in New Hampshire; Plymouth, Massachusetts; Boston, Massachusetts; the Hershey Chocolate Factory in Pennsylvania; Independence Hall in Philadelphia; Washington D.C.; and New York City.
2. THE SOUTHEAST
Here we travel first by fishing boat to see the Florida Everglades National Park, the J.F.K. Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Disney World in Orlando, Florida. We then take a bus tour of Appalachia. We finally board the Natchez Steamboat to make stops in Memphis, Tennessee; Nashville, Tennessee; the French Quarter in New Orleans; an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico; Natchez, Mississippi; and Montgomery, Alabama.
3. THE MIDWEST
We pretend to travel on crop dusters in this region. We make stops in St Louis, Missouri; a farm town in Iowa; Dodge City, Kansas; Mount Rushmore in South Dakota; the Soo Locks and Ford Motor Company in Michigan; O'Hare International Airport and Wrigley Field in Chicago; and the Mall of America in Minnesota.
4. THE SOUTHWEST
In this region we pretend to travel on a big rig. We visit Monument Valley, home of the original Navajo Indian reservation; Phoenix, Arizona; Hoover Dam; the Grand Canyon; Carlsbad Cavern National Park in New Mexico; El Paso, Texas; the Alamo; the capitol building in Austin, Texas; and Oklahoma, where we take part in a land rush activity.
5. THE WEST
We pretend to travel by bus and on an airplane in this region. We first visit Lolo Pass, a stop on the trail of famous explorers Lewis and Clark. We then travel to Yellowstone National Park; Leadville, Colorado; California's Central Valley; Disneyland; the Columbia River Gorge; and Anchorage, Alaska. In Honolulu, Hawaii, we celebrate the end of our region tour with a Hawaiian luau.
Do You Need the Social Studies Alive! Textbook?
Definitely not! If you want to create your own region tour, you could easily pick important and interesting places in each region and find valuable information on your own. The Internet makes this fairly easy for teachers. You could create a PowerPoint slide show with pictures from each tour stop and be the tour guide yourself as you teach students about each new place. Creating informational sheets for your tour stops would be a great idea so that students can reference the facts when writing travel journals after each place they visit.
How Does the Region Tour Work?
In each region students visit nine different places. On traveling days, students pretend to travel by train, bus, boat, crop duster, or airplane, depending on what region we are in. They listen to a tour guide on the CD tell them about one or two tour stops at a time. Students follow along in their textbooks. I also create a PowerPoint slide show to go along with each region that includes more pictures than the one photo students can see in the textbook. The slide show is projected on a screen in our classroom as we travel.
Tour Stop Activities
While some tour stops are just "drive-bys" where students learn facts about the important place and move on, we choose to stop at some places so that students can take part in a hands-on activity or celebration. Below are a few examples of some of the exciting activities students experience at certain tour stops.
Students act as factory workers in Hershey, Pennsylvania. At the Hershey Chocolate Factory, they wrap Hershey's kisses on an assembly line, watch an online tour of the factory, and even make peanut blossom cookies with the Hershey's Kisses.
In Plymouth, MA, students act as Pilgrims on the Mayflower. Before they depart the boat, they must work together to decide what form of government they want in their new country. This activity leads students to understand the importance of the Mayflower Compact.
In New Orleans, students celebrate Mardi Gras by making King Cake, eating chicken gumbo, and learning about the history and traditions of this famous festival.
During a visit to Dodge City, Kansas, students learn about cattle drives. They pretend to work at a cowboy employment agency where they create "Help Wanted" signs advertising the many jobs that are necessary for a successful cattle drive.
One of our main stops in the Southwest is the Hoover Dam. Students must act as construction managers who are presenting plans for the building of the dam. They must address the challenges of drying so much cement, what shape to make the dam, and what to do with the water when building the dam. Students work in groups to present solutions to these problems.
After each tour stop, students write travel journals about what they saw or what they learned at the important place. The travel journals are a great way to connect writing skills with social studies, as the students are expected to give a narrative account of their experience at each tour stop. They are also asked to draw a picture that looks like a photograph taken at the tour stop. They can use the pictures in the textbook or from the slide show I create to go along with each region.
Souvenir Scrapbook Pages
At each region tour stop, students are given a souvenir that will help them remember the place they visited. The souvenirs are often pictures that I find on the Internet and print out for the students, real brochures from the places we visit, or anything that makes sense depending on the tour stop. I just make sure that it is something that can eventually be glued onto their scrapbook pages. I have had a great deal of success contacting visitor centers or the actual tour stop (e.g., Mall of America) to request that they send us brochures or other souvenirs that I can give to the students. At the end of each region tour, the students use construction paper and decorative hole punches to design creative scrapbook pages on which they display the souvenirs they collected along the way.
Region Tour Binders
Students keep all of their travel journals and scrapbook pages in a region tour binder. I collect the binder after each region tour is complete and use the region tour rubric below to assess each student's work.
You can download all of the resources — including printables I created for the Region Tour binders — and find additional information and pictures from our United States Region Tour on my classroom Web site. To get to the Region Tour page from my Web site, choose Teacher Resources in the left hand navigation and then scroll down to the United States Region Tour links.
How Can You Use Technology to Enhance the Region Tour?
While special hats, authentic foods, and makeshift vehicles for each region are ways to make the learning come alive for your students during the region tour, the best way to really make them feel like they are truly visiting the places is to take advantage of the virtual opportunities that await your students on the Internet. For almost every region tour stop, there is an accompanying Web site that we visit to find more information, take an online tour, see more photos, watch demonstrations, etc.
Below are some of my favorite online activities for specific tour stops.
In Plymouth, Massachusetts, we visit the Scholastic Web site to take a virtual tour of the Mayflower.
In Hershey, Pennsylvania, we take an online video tour of the Hershey Chocolate Factory.
When visiting the JFK Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, we go to the NASA Kids' Web site. It is filled with great information and fun games.
After visiting Jamestown, Virginia, and learning about the hardships John Smith and his followers faced trying to make their new life in the colony, students play an interactive online Jamestown Survival game to see if they can do a better job than John Smith as the colony's leader.
During our stop at the Mall of America, students visit the mall's Web site to help them plan a shopping spree and check out the exciting attractions such as Nickelodeon Universe, Lego Land, Underwater Adventures, the Camp Snoopy amusement park, and many more.
What If Regions Are Not Part of Your Curriculum?
While my activities are specifically designed for a United States Region Tour, the idea of traveling to the different places your students are learning about can be easily adapted to fit your specific curriculum. For instance, if you are teaching about different countries, your own state, American History, Native American tribes, etc., you can still pretend to travel to the different cities, states, or battle sites that you are studying. The fourth grade teachers in my building teach students about the state of Michigan. Instead of traveling to different states, their students pretend to travel to different cities and landmarks within our state. A fifth grade teacher friend of mine does an entire unit on Native Americans. On multiple days, she turns her classroom into a different Native American campground and has her students eat food and do activities related to the different tribes they are studying. Her students keep travel journals about their experiences and create a scrapbook to display the souvenirs they receive from each tribe.
Optional Extensions to Enhance the Region Tour
Reading Takes Us Places
Once students become familiar with the regions and begin traveling to different states and cities on the region tour, I create the bulletin board you see below. As students come across specific cities or states in the U.S. as they are reading books from the classroom library, they pinpoint them on the map using the colored tack that is designated for them on the map key. This is a great way to connect reading workshop to social studies!
In the past, we have taken part in a project called Postcard Geography. When you sign up for this project, you receive postcards from schools across the country. Each time we receive a new postcard, we add a pin to a huge United States map in our hallway and then update our graph that keeps track of how many postcards we receive from each region. We also create a class postcard about our city of Troy and send it to the other schools participating in the project. Another option is to ask students to have their family and/or friends send postcards from the various places that they live and pinpoint those on a large map.
For more information about the Region Tour, you can visit my class Web site! Post any questions you may have below!