A car theme works for any grade level, from the cutest cartoon car for little kids to examinations of physics and engineering for advanced science students. You can use the concept of a race, of revving up or tuning up skills, or of a road trip along the information superhighway.
Race tracks or maps make excellent ways to chart progress toward goals. A big road map with flags can show progress, from the number of kids who have memorized their multiplication tables to the steps you’ve completed toward your National History Day projects. TCR has a great behavior management with traffic signs:
Bulletin board sayings for a car theme might include
- “Race to Success”
- “Rev Up Your Writing” (or reading or whatever needs revving in your classroom),
- “We’re in the Driver’s Seat”
- “We’re Winners!”
- “Going the Extra Mile”
- “Zoom into…” third grade or what have you
- “Join the Race”
- “Taking the High Road”
- “Start Your Engines!”
- “On the Road Again”
- “On the Road to…” your goal or subject.
Learning Resources MiniMotors Counters can bring the whole transportation theme into the class, or you can pick out just the cars for color sorting. There are six different types of vehicles, from cars and trucks to boats and planes, in six different colors for counting, sorting, and pattern work.
The Toymaker’s Race Car is a simple printable toy car to make. Kids can make their own to use as manipulatives or for a following directions lesson.
Once you’ve got the room decorated, try out a few road-related instructional ideas:
- Work on standards about communities by building a paper city around the walls at floor level. Brainstorm about the kinds of buildings people living in a city would need, the kinds of green space or other open space you need, the transportation options, and all the other issues appropriate for your grade, and plan a model city. Or recreate the town where you live. You can do both, and then compare the two and write up a proposal to improve your town. Send it to your mayor or city council. This project can be simple or sophisticated, depending on the ages of your students and the standards you want to address.
- Use recyclables to build cars. Juice boxes, cans, and milk cartons can make great car bodies, and jar lids can be wheels. A lot of choices of materials will up the creativity quotient. Work with the class ahead of time to develop a rubric for this project. In Arkansas history lessons, we’ve done this with wagons, and the requirement was that the wagon had to make it all the way down the sidewalk (or it could be a hall) with a potato pioneer in place. Build convertibles with the same rules. Lots of issues about force and motion come up in this lesson.
- Introduce force and motion at the simplest level by exploring ways things can move:
- Keep on with physical science and bring math in too, by having speed trials with the cars you made. You can also use toy cars. I like to let the students vary the conditions as they choose, leaving a very free atmosphere for exploration, but you can also tailor the experiments to a particular point you want to make. Either way, this PDF file gives a great form for collecting and analyzing data.
- Ideas for building an air-powered car.
- Mapping is a natural connection for this theme. Compare road maps with political and topographical maps, plan a road trip, or study the interstate highway system.
- The word “racecar” happens to be a palindrome. Kick off your vocabulary study by finding all the other palindromes you can.
- Arkansas roads have a place in our history. The stretch from Winslow to Ft. Smith was considered the worst part of the entire Butterfield Trail. The Good Roads Movement (started by cyclists) was an important part of the 1920s tourist trade. Read here about the roads and highways of Arkansas in The Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
- Gather ’round and sing Woody Guthrie’s “Take You Riding in my Car.” Find the lyrics here. See Bill Wolfe’s YouTube performance of the song here.