Throughout our history, we humans have wanted to go from one place to another, and to take things from one place to another, so a lot of our ingenuity has gone into transportation.
We have a number of relevant classroom themes and lesson plan collections already posted:
- Car classroom themes
- Trucks lesson plans
- Hot air balloons
- Airplane classroom theme
- Travel classroom theme
- Hiking classroom theme
- Boats lesson plans
- How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World
- Oh, the Places You’ll Go
What if you want to have a more general transportation theme? Of course, you can mix and match ideas from the different themes. However, we have some fun ideas for general transportation themes.
Carson-Dellosa has a new Signpost Job Assignment Bulletin Board Set that could make a great starting point for your transpotation theme. Write different locations and their distance from your classroom (easy to find — just Google “How far from Sydney to Miami?” or wherever you are) on the arms of the signpost, or write goals like, “Memorizing the Multiplication Tables” and “Confident reading.”
North Star makes a general Transportation Bulletin Board Set with lots of different vehicles. Post them for a fun decorative board, or arrange them in a line across the board to create a graph. Then have students research different characteristics of the vehicles and fill out the graph. Some questions to answer:
- Where would you find this vehicle?
- How fast does it go?
- What kind of power does it use?
- What does it carry?
- Is it used for work or play?
- What jobs is it associated with?
- How many students have seen one of these?
Do the same thing with pictures of various forms of transportation cut from magazines, if you like to include students in the process.
Slogans for a transportation theme:
- Here we go!
- Let’s go!
- Look at us go!
- Moving on!
There are cute printables around for younger grades:
- DLTK has quite a few, including games and worksheets.
- Shapes, Etc. has a nice school bus idea; for young students, the school bus my be the most exciting form of transportation they know.
- Print a cute transportation mini poster in French
- Alphabet cards to print
- Preschool transportation printables
Once you’ve introduced the various vehicles, play a game to introduce map work. This can be done with the whole class, if you have a projector hooked up to your computer, or it can make a great pair activity for the computer lab. It’s simple enough to use at the beginning of the semester to get used to the technology, but conceptually complex enough for students of all ages.
- Go to the Random Global Point Generator.
- Have two students each generate a random point (choose “Select Whole Earth”). Each time, click on “See it on map” to find the point on Google maps.
- Decide as a class what form of transportation would be the best choice between the two points. Require good reasons, to an age-appropriate degree.
- Finish up with a paragraph writing assignment. Depending on the ages of the students, you might have students write about their favorite vehicle and why they like it, a story about traveling between the two points of their choice, or about the criteria that emerged (convenience, environmental impact, fun?) during the class discussion.
You can also add transportation cutouts or word cards to your classroom timeline or classroom map. Again, this is simple enough to use as an introduction to these classroom elements, but it can bring up higher level concepts as students research questions like, “Which came first, the taxi cab or the tractor?”
We also like to use things like toy cars or boats to explore movement:
We like this theme to introduce students to some of the the main areas of the classroom. You’ll notice that the activities listed above can introduce all these classroom areas:
- computer center
- math area (use the graph or Learning Resources MiniMotors Counters)
- writing area
- science area
This makes a great theme to start off the school year!
“What comes next?” is a deceptively simple question. Identifying a series and predicting what comes next is a critical thinking skill that lets us test comprehension of a wide range of math concepts — and one which we use as adults in reading, planning, and decision making as well.
Use craft sticks and chart stickers to create “What Comes Next?” games or centers customized for your classroom, or have students make “What Comes Next?” puzzles for each other.
It’s very easy. Use stickers on one side of a craft stick to establish a pattern. End with a question mark. Turn the stick over and add the next item in the series so the puzzle will be self-checking.
Here we have groups of pink stickers in simple patterns: one sticker, two stickers, one sticker, two stickers… Other sticks show [one, two, one, one, two] and [one, two, three,one, two, three], and so on.
You can use chart stickers to match your current classroom theme, or put all your leftover chart stickers into a box and pull it out for this project.
Use numbers of items, colors, right and left facing stickers, different items, or any concept or pattern you’re working on in class.
Stickers make this fun for younger students, but you can also create puzzles with numbers or expressions. Have students work out puzzles for one another. The steps are simple:
- Decide on an action that can be taken on any number. This could be “add 3″ or “multiply by 2 and add 1″ or “subtract the preceding number” or “multiply by the final digit of the preceding number” — anything at all.
- Choose a beginning number and write it on the left of the stick.
- Apply the action to that number to create the next number in the sequence. Repeat this step several times.
- End with a question mark.
- Flip the stick and write the next number in the sequence. You could also give the rule, such as “n-3,” and write that on the back (answer side) of the stick.
When students have completed their puzzle sticks, have them trade and work to figure out one another’s puzzles. Add an element of competition by allowing students to keep the puzzle sticks they solve and return those that stump them.
Alternatively, keep the puzzle sticks in a pencil cup, pocket chart, or shoe box for fast finishers to solve — and let them create more, too.
File folder centers can really help you differentiate instruction, allowing extra practice for those who need it and also allowing fast finishers to move on to additional activities that will challenge them.
You can use books like those from Scholastic’s Mini File-Folder Centers in Color series to create centers. Just cut and paste — no copying or coloring needed. Carson-Dellosa, whose copy and color center games books provided hours of occupation for so many of us back in the day, even has ready made centers in a box, such as Science File Folder Games: Skill-Building Center Activities for Science. They also have new cut and paste books like Colorful File Folder Games. These centers are available for PK through elementary in practically every subject. Our Princess and the Pea unit works well for centers, too.
You can also make your own, though. Here are some basic recipes for creating file folder centers from leftover classroom decoratives.
Worksheet style centers
Janie Blagg made this one, decorating it with bits cut from the header of her bulletin board (we never throw away those headers!) and then she laminated it. As long as kids use erasable markers, they can erase the answers and you can reuse the same sheets for years.
Pick and Put centers
Myra Grayson showed us how to make these, and I can’t count how many we’ve made since then! The central idea is to put pockets with items to be sorted, plus pockets to sort the things into. In this example, little ones sort clock faces saying 12:00 from those with other times, as a first step toward time telling (it fits with a Cinderella theme).
We like it for any kind of true/false question, sorting into groups like living/nonliving or plant/animal/mineral. We’ve used it to sort things true about Native Americans, European American settlers, and both.
As you can see in the example below, you don’t have to use pockets (though we love Peel and Stick Book Pockets for the convenience). The center below hasn’t yet been glued into its file folder, but we’ve used die cut frog cutouts for Fact and Opinion and then written facts and opinions on the backs of little frog mini accents. We adhered the paper to the folder and added the clear pocket full of statements.
For the example below, we used cutouts for the sorting files, leaving the edges unglued so kids can tuck the slips into place. This center compares words like “mandible” with words like “animal” and “beetle,” focusing on the different spelling patterns for the same English sound. We wrote words on paper slips, leaving off the endings so kids can sort them according to the spellings. We were working with an insect theme here, so we’ve got D.J.Inkers’ Ladybugs Cut-Outs, but anything will work. We actually cut the storage pocket (the red pocket where the word slips are stored when the center is not in use) from paper, since we didn’t have a library pocket on hand.
Mini timeline centers are versatile, and they make make great use of those leftover border strips. For this one, we used a fiesta themed border and wrote events from Mexican history on craft sticks. We taped the border down with double-sided tape just along the bottom and laminated the folder. Then we used a craft knife to slice open the top only of the border, creating a long pocket. One strip of an ordinary bulletin board border will make a two-pocket file folder center like this one.
Students arrange the sticks in the pockets created by the border. We put the dates on the back of the sticks to make it self-checking.
We’ve used this for history stuff involving dates, of course, but also for steps in a process, events in a book, the alphabet — anything that needs to be put in order.
Okay, now invite your friends over for an evening of file folder center creation. Have them bring all the leftover decoratives from their classroom closets so you can swap and get a good assortment of goodies, put on a fun movie, and make a party of it!
When we study about communities, there are three things we can mean by the word “community.” Usually we study all of them.
A community is a place.
- Learn to read the name of the town where you live, find it on the map, and identify your own neighborhoods, the location of the school, and other places that are important to your students.
- Use chart paper to list the places and buildings that are important for a community, including places to live and work, sources of electricity and water, means of transportation, sources of food and other necessities, opprtunities for learning and entertainment, and any other ideas that your students consider important. Make frequent references to your own community.
- Build a community. You can make houses from origami that will stand up, by following directions from the Victoria and Albert Museum. If you have older students in your class, are very patient, or are teaching an art class, check out this amazing page of patterns for origamic architecture buildings. As always with origami, these projects provide practice with math concepts, folding, listening, following directions, and visual-spatial skills.
- Check out our posts on Skyline Lesson Plans and Car Classroom Theme Ideas for more ideas about studying physical communities.
A community is a group of people.
- When you study communities, you can learn about the people who live and work in communities. Younger students can learn about community helpers and safety while older students learn about career options.
- There are so many ready-made materials for this topic at preschool and primary levels that making your own lessons on this subject is a little like reinventing the wheel. The theme book shown here is from The Mailbox, but there are plenty more. Chances are your favorite company has one. There are also flannel board sets, puzzles, puppets, dress-up sets, bulletin board sets, picture books, and much more. Most focus on the traditional basic set of community helpers: firefighters, police officers, mail carriers, and their ilk. Some also show businesspeople, judges, bakers, doctors, and other workers.
- FirstSchool has a lesson about police officers, including a PDF template of a police officer’s hat and badge for younger students to use in dramatic play.
- Here is a lesson about mail carriers, with special reference to their annual food drive.
- Make a center using community helper figures from borders or the headers of bulletin boards.
Here we used pictures and words on index cards to make a matching game. Just keep the header from the bulletin board set you use for community helpers. Cut out the figures of the workers and the labels.
Glue the figure and the labels onto index cards, leaving a bit of space. You’ll cut them apart, so kids can match the labels to the pictures for literacy and social studies practice.
Cut the edges in different patterns to make them self-checking. Put them into an envelope or box for your centers area.
A community can also be an abstract idea.
When we talk about a community, we can be talking about a society, a set of agreed-upon rules and customs, a feeling of mutual support or kinship among people who may not be close to one another in physical terms.
- With thanks to Ozarque for alerting me to this resource, “Sticking Together: Differences and Similarities” is a lesson plan on community building through storytelling. This is a PDF file. The lesson involves having students get into groups and talk about experiences in their lives when they felt like part of a community or about other community-related experiences. There is a reproducible sheet for structuring listening within the group, and a guide to working from the stories to a practical plan to increase a sense of community in the classroom. This is a good lesson for teens, and a nice one for developing a sense of community in the classroom.
- One of the central issues in studying about communities in this sense is rules. As a class, brainstorm a list of rules and write them up where everyone can see them.
- An interesting take on rules is You Can’t Say You Can’t Play, by Vivian Gussin Paley. While this book is not about rules but about inclusion and exclusion, it looks at the results of a school’s decision to focus on one particular rule: namely, excluding people from groups was forbidden. Here is a brief article about the book. Other single rules that classrooms have used include The Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) or “Treat yourself, your school, and one another with respect.” At the other extreme is The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator’s Rules For Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child, by Ron Clark, which offers 55 rules of widely varying levels of seriousness and importance. As a class — as a community — try to make a list of the smallest number of really necessary rules. Challenge students to follow the rules for a week and then revisit the list. Are there some that can be removed or some that need to be added?
Talking about community is a good way to start off the school year, and can also help get an unruly class back on track.
Wild animals, zoo animals, African animals, jungle animals — all popular classroom themes.
One of the advantages to these themes is that there are plenty of ready-made decoratives.
I say, if making bulletin boards is your art form and your creative outlet, then good for you — go ahead and make them. Yours will be the envy of the school. Otherwise, forget it. Your time is worth more than the 45 cents an hour you’ll save, and you have better things to do.
So I’ll show you a few of my favorites:
- CTP’s “We’re Wild About” is happy and fun. They also have some serious stuff, like Food Chains and Webs and Adaptations.
- TCR’s “Wild About Learning” is nice for younger classrooms, or when you want a break from primary colors.
- Carson-Dellosa’s “Wild Animals of the Serengeti” gives a realistic option. There are stickers and banners to match.
Slogans for a zoo or wild animal bulletin board are super easy; you can be “Wild About…” fourth grade or math or books or whatever it might be.
Once you’ve got your bulletin boards up, check out some helpful links:
- Jan Brett’s rhythm band uses recyclables to make rhythm instruments with images of lions, elephants, giraffes, and more. Use this as an activity for following directions, coloring, and environmental awareness (the “reuse” section of “reduce, reuse, recycle”), and end up with lots of great rhythm instruments to use all year.
- Focus on monkeys in one corner, labeling it, say, “Monkeying Around With Math,” and then let another corner be for “Lion-Hearted Readers,” another for giraffes with “Stretching for Skills,” and so on. That way, you can change out student work or specific topics, without redoing the boards or centers as frequently.
- Pictures, video, and audio clips for lots of animals are available at Jungle Walk. Set these up as a computer center, use them as background sounds for the first day of school to make an intriguing multisensory experience of your classroom, or gain inspiration for research projects.
Get some zoo books onto your library table:
- Dear Zoo is a fun pop-up book that takes kids through an attempt to get a suitable pet from the zoo. The wonderful fantasy of a zoo that will send people animals combines with the reality of how bad zoo animals would generally be as pets to make a terrific concept book. This is a lift the flap book. I find that it makes a great read-aloud.
- Good Night, Gorilla is an almost wordless book that shows a sleepy zookeeper losing his keys to a gorilla, who lets all the zoo animals go free. They pad along behind the zookeeper as he goes home, but his wife takes them all back to bed. The illustrations make this a very funny story. Check out our lesson plans for it.
- If Anything Ever Goes Wrong at the Zoo is one more book about animals leaving the zoo and coming to human homes. In this book, a little girl assures the zookeepers that she’ll be glad to look after the animals if anything ever goes wrong at the zoo. When the zoo takes her up on her offer — well, you can imagine the rest. In fact, it would be fun to have older students imagine what might happen if zoo animals came to their house, and draw pictures of ostriches in the kitchen and seals in the bathtub. The contrast between the realistic pictures of the animals and their improbable placement in a house is part of the fun of this book.
- Zoo by Gail Gibbons is filled with information, as her books always are. This one goes into things like the conservation efforts of zoos, as well as the lives of the animals in the zoo.
- Tom Paxton’s Going to the Zoo is the picture book version of the popular children’s song that begins, “Daddy’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow…” Sing along with the video:
- It’s a Zoo Out There! Animals A to Z–27 Unison Songs for Young Singers (Book & CD) for some more singing.
Enchanted Learning has a very easy idea for making a jungly vine for the classroom. This would be a great thing to have young students do that first day for some getting-to-know-you time.
Another unusual getting-to-know -you activity comes from the San Diego Zoo’s Wildlife Wizard program. This is a hefty PDA file with lots of information and activities. One of our favorites uses a card for every student, with a hole punched and strung with yarn so kids can wear them around their necks. Use scented oils (find cinnamon, peppermint, and almond in the grocery store, herbal oils at the health food store, and floral oils at the craft store) to make a spot on each card. Students must use the scents to sort themselves into groups. This helps kids get the idea of how monkeys and other animals use scent information.
Mrs. Flanagan’s kindergarten site shares pictures of a lot of neat zoo-themed centers.
Bringing some toy animals into the classroom is an essential for early childhood and lower elementary zoo themes. A zoo puppet set is a great addition to the classroom. Figures like 12 Little Zoo Animals or Learning Resources Jungle Animal Counters, Set of 60 let you add a zoo feeling to your math practice, sorting, and other basic skills work. The Playmobil Zoo Set makes a wonderful addition to the imaginative play corner, or set it up as a center.
Watch our zoo album video to prepare for a zoo field trip, real or imaginary:
Let’s read Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The title links you to a simple, traditional telling of the story, with pictures.
In the story, a little girl named Goldilocks goes into the house of a bear family and tastes their porridge (which they have left cooling while they went for a walk), tries out their chairs, and sleeps in their beds. In each case, she finds one of the choices “just right!” At the end, the bears come home and find Goldilocks asleep. She awakens, is frightened, and leaps out the window and runs home.
There are plenty of good picture book versions out there:
- Jan Brett has a classic version of the story. She also has postcards with illustrations from the story that you can email. What a nice way to introduce the unit to your students!
- We like her new polar bear version, The Three Snow Bears
- Jim Aylesworth did a nice retro look.
- James Marshall always has a different twist.
- Caralyn Buehner has a fun goofy one.
- Paul Galdone can always be counted upon for a classic story.
Once you’ve read the story, it’s time to make sure everyone understood it.
- Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to develop discussion questions for the story. (In case this isn’t usual in your neck of the woods, that means questions requiring different levels of understanding to answer.) The link takes you to an explanation of Bloom’s Taxonomy with example questions for “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
- Jim Aylesworth offers some discussion questions for use when you have read several different picture book versions of the story. One of the questions I find interesting was this: should the bears wear clothes?
- Kendra Sisk has a fun way to use a graphic organizer to structure the class retelling of the story.
- EFL Playhouse has a jazz chant version of the tale which can be learned and used in acting out the story.
- Simple masks help in acting out the story.
- Zoom has a reader’s theater version.
- This is a great time to bring out your Three Bear Family math manipulatives to sort by size and weight.
- Jan Brett has coloring page of the three bears (plus Hedgie). Put some copies in a file folder with crayons for kids who need an absorbing and quiet few minutes alone.
- The automatic Goldilocks story generator could be a fun computer center.
- Snapdragon’s Goldilocks story is another good computer option. Young kids can read the story online, and have the option of clicking on the dialog lines to hear them spoken (in Welsh accents). The story is followed by an interactive word-recognition game, with the option to “play again” at the end. If you prefer American English, though, Noggin has a computer cartoon version of the story. There are no words to read, but there is a coloring page to print out, and a sequencing picture puzzle.
- Put a big stack of decorating magazines, a pair of scissors, construction paper, and glue together in a box. Let kids cut out three chairs and glue them in size order on a sheet of paper. Punch holes and make a class book.
- Instead of a center, use the decorating magazine idea above to work on vocabulary. Kids could choose three chairs where one is “too baroque” and another is “too minimalist,” or one is “too angular” and another is “too rounded.” Challenge students to use adjectives from their vocabulary frontier zone, and make a bulletin board display of the results.
- “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” is great for practicing the use of “too” as in “too big” or “too small” with ESL students.
- Also in the computer centers, you can hear the story of Goldilocks in different regional varieties of English. This could be a good opportunity to discuss the idea that English is spoken all over the world, and sounds different in different places. If you’re interested in linguistic diversity, you might also like a sign language version of the story.
- Rick Walton has a collection of as many different versions of the story as possible — good, bad, and ridiculous. This could provide inspiration for students to write their own versions.
- The “Goldilocks Rules” help kids choose a book that is neither too hard nor too easy. My quick rule of thumb: read one page, and if there are four or more unknown words, the book is too hard. The rules at this site are much more in-depth, and would make a good start to a discussion of how kids can choose books for their own reading over the summer.
- The natural math connection for this story is size. If your class is beyond that, consider bringing in ratio. For example, if the three bears were polar bears, the Papa Bear would likely be twice the size of the Mama Bear. If you are using picture books, you can measure the various larger and smaller things in the pictures and calculate their relative sizes.
- Here is an online demonstration called “Goldilocks and the Three Similar Triangles.” It has nothing to do with the story, but it is very cool.
- The Three Bear Family math manipulatives don’t necessarily have much to do with the story, either, but my basic principle for theme units is this: use the natural, sensible connections, but also stretch the point a little to include things that were on your to-do list anyway. So I say use those bears for any math practice the students still need.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears is one of the most beloved fairy tales for young children. It also has one of the naughtiest heroines around. While small children don’t necessarily grasp the misbehavior of Jack with his magic beans and can readily forgive Little Red Riding Hood for her careless lollygagging, they know that Goldilocks had no business making free with the bears’ house.
Take advantage of the clarity of the moral issue here:
- Have students write a letter from Goldilocks, apologizing for her behavior.
- Make a list of the things Goldilocks did, compared with the things she should have done. This can be an excellent grammar lesson for ESL or for kids who get confused about verb forms in their writing. I like a Pocket Chart for this.Have students write groups of sentences like these: “Goldilocks went into the bears’ house. She should not have gone into the bears’ house. She should have waited for them to invite her in.” Take it a step further by having students write a paragraph beginning, “If I were Goldilocks, I would have…”
- Use a Kidzone lesson plan to guide students to rewrite the story from the point of view of a crime reporter.
- Use a Beacon lesson plan (which includes the PDF file “Bop-a-Roo Goldilocks”) to study pitch. Actually, that lesson plan has you, the teacher, perform a jazzy rap sort of thing while the kids accompany you on the glockenspiel. If you are not up for that, just consider that pitch is in the science and the music frameworks, and use the story to study it more simply. Papa Bear has a big growly voice with a low pitch, Mama Bear has a medium voice with a medium pitch, and Baby Bear has a little voice with a high pitch. On the second or third reading of the story, have students use instruments or voices to make appropriate pitches for each bear as he or she comes up in the story. Practice the high, medium, and low voices of the bears. Read the story with the wrong voices, making the Baby Bear have a low growly voice and the Papa Bear have a high squeaky one, and let the kids correct you. You know they love that.
- Kididdles has a nice setting of the story to music. There is a midi file and lyrics, so you can sing this with the class.
- Here is a bear-themed lesson on head and chest voice. It uses Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, but there is no reason it couldn’t use “The Three Bears” instead.
- Bears do not actually live in family groups. Hardly any creatures do. Have students research how bears really live (as individuals, except for the brief time that cubs live with their mothers) and which animals actually live in nuclear family groups (humans, swans, marmosets, a few other birds and lizards).
- The Goldilocks Zone is a term used to describe places that can support life as we know it. Try an experiment about atmospheric gasses that clarifies this idea. Here is the teacher guide for it.
- The Toymaker has finger puppets for this story to download, and she also has a science quandary. Since the Papa Bear had the biggest bowl of porridge and the Baby Bear had the smallest, shouldn’t the Papa Bear’s porridge be the hottest and the Baby Bear’s the coldest? Test the hypothesis with bowls of porridge, or beakers of water.