From preschoolers who love to play with toy trucks to high school students discovering all the jobs involved in logistics and freight transport, everyone can learn something from a good less on trucks. Scroll down to find lessons at different grade levels.
Preschool and Kindergarten
Read books about trucks:
Listen to a song about trucks and sing along!
Invite students to bring a toy truck from home to show, or collect toy trucks at garage sales or dime stores. Have students create art with their toy trucks:
- Drive the trucks through shallow trays of paint and then across paper, creating tracks of paint.
- Have each student roll or pat out a thin slab of Model Magic and run trucks across it to create texture. Model Magic can be painted or colored with markers as well.
- Alternatively, make trucks. Milk carton dump trucks are a lot of fun, or just glue simple shapes onto paper — rectangles plus circles for wheels.
Kids come to school with some old-fashioned ideas about trucks! Share this information with your students:
Trucks pick up raw materials, such as rice from a farm or milk from a dairy. They may also pick up things like containers of computer parts arriving by ship — not exactly raw materials, but the needed parts for manufacturing. Different kinds of trucks pick up different things:
A tanker truck carries liquids like gasoline or milk. It’s very important to keep these trucks clean and safe. Tanker trucks have round bodies.
A flatbed truck can carry big things, like containers used to transport things by ship. They have big flat surfaces. It’s important to make sure loads on flatbeds are very secure so they won’t fall off the truck.
A van is the rectangular part of the truck. A truck may have a cab (shown on the flatbed) that attaches to a van, or it may be all in one piece, in which case it’s called a straight truck. Vans are used to carry dry goods, like boxes of cereal, books, or toys.
A truck for bulk hauling, such as carrying rice or other grains, might have a walking floor, as you can see in the video below. This automatic floor can make it easier to load and unload bulk items, or very heavy things that would be hard for people to carry.
Trucks bring raw materials to a factory to be made into new products, or to a warehouse where they’re put into packages. A warehouse is a big building where things are stored, and a manufacturer, factory, or store might have its own warehouse. Often a warehouse is part of what’s called a “fulfillment house,” where raw materials or new products are packaged and sent on to customers or to stores.
People in fulfillment houses use computers to keep track of all the things they need to store, package, and send. Students have probably seen bar codes and scanners in stores. These are the tools warehouse and fulfillment house workers use to make sure all the items in the warehouse get to the right place.
Once the products are all packaged, they’re packed into more trucks — usually vans — to go to stores. The workers use computers to make sure everything goes into the right trucks and to the right stores.
Truck drivers might make short hauls, like driving products from the warehouse to a store in a nearby city, or they might make long hauls across several states. Long haul drivers have beds in the cabs of their trucks, and they take showers and eat at special places called truck stops, where they can rest and get diesel fuel for their trucks. Most truck drivers have computers in their cabs, too, which they can use for communication and entertainment.
When the trucks arrive at the store, workers unpack the truck and put the products onto the shelves. They may use the barcodes on the packages, and they may also put new labels onto the packages. Sometimes a small store will use a different computer system, so the barcodes put on the boxes in the warehouse or on the products by the manufacturers don’t work with their computers. Bigger stores usually use the same system from start to finish.
Printable version of this passage, with comprehension questions, in PDF form
Read and discuss the information, have students complete the comprehension questions, and then ask students to think of other kinds of trucks. This passage was about freight trucks, but students will also think of garbage trucks, fire trucks, dump trucks, and more.
Finish up by having students draw and label a picture that shows the most interesting thing they learned. Create a bulletin board or a class book. Alternatively, have students imagine a world without trucks and write about it.
Discuss the information in the passage above with students:
- Did students realize how much computers are now used in freight transportation? Truckers also often find their jobs by computer, with programs called “load boards.” There are also freight brokers who use computer programs to find the trucks and drivers (also called “carriers”) for customers who need things transported. Then manufacturers or farmers and stores can use computers to track the products between the factory or field and the store. Ask students if they think everyone needs to learn to use a computer now.
- Trucks use huge amounts of fossil fuel to carry goods from one place to another. According to government studies, trucks are responsible for about 20% of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. New laws require big trucks to become more fuel efficient by 2018. Challenge students to think of ways that fuel use could be reduced. Possibilities include everything from more efficient truck designs to using things made or grown locally.
- The whole field of freight and getting things from one place to another is called “logistics.” Check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook’s page on this field. Have students conduct internet research to find jobs in the field of logistics in your area, and then to find colleges offering training in logistics. As a class or in small groups, compile a list of the jobs in the field, the skills and talents required for this type of work, and the pros and cons of the jobs.
Give students a typical logistics job to plan:
- Have students imagine that they have a shipment of computer parts arriving from China or Japan.
- They’ll arrive first at a dock in Los Angeles, and the class is responsible for getting the components to a computer factory in Cleveland.
- Then the finished computers need to be shipped out to stores. One group of computers will be sent to a fulfillment house in Bentonville, Arkansas for “kitting” — they’ll be packed in special red boxes with some cool accessories for a Back to School promotion at a store in St. Louis.
- The accessories will be going to the fulfillment house from a factory in Toronto and a warehouse in Virginia.
- The red boxes are being made in Ft. Smith.
The class is responsible for getting the special computers in their snazzy boxes to St. Louis in time for the special Back to School promotion. Have students figure out how they’ll do it. They should consider the people they’ll need to hire, the trucks they’ll need, the information they’ll have to keep track of, and the schedule.
You could divide the class into teams and have each team present their plan, or have the class work together. Create flow charts once the plan is finalized.
We’re largely made of water, so it should be no surprise that much of human life revolves around water. Explore some of the ways water matters with these lesson plans.
Water to drink
Human beings cannot live without water, and finding clean, potable (safely drinkable) water is a challenge in many parts of the world.
- Learn about the water cycle.
- The American Water WorksAssociation has a presentation showing how water gets from the source to the faucet: “How Water Works”
- Check out the EPA’s drinking water page for games and activities related to ground water and drinking water for K-12. Lots of printouts!
Water for transportation
Rivers were highways long before cars were invented, and ships sailed the ocean long before planes were thought of. Boats used the cutting technology of their day – from steam engines to servo motors — before land or air vehicles did. It’s easy to overlook the importance of water transportation, but even today it’s extremely important for freight.
- Use our cookie geography lesson to see how human settlements grow up around rivers and other navigable bodies of water.
- Explore the science and geography of boats.
- Explore the Steamboat Arabia to get a clearer understanding of the importance of rivers and riverboats in the pioneer era.
- Learn about pirates and Vikings as examples of historical use of water for transportation.
Water for power
Water has supplied energy in many ways throughout history, and it still is an important source of power today.
- Learn about hydroelectric power with our Energy Engineering Lesson Plans.
- Long before hydroelectric power, water wheels drove mills. Check out the War Eagle Grist Mill for an eye-opening virtual field trip.
- Pearson has a nice steam engine animation.
Water for art
People need water for survival, and we’ve used water to get things done, but human beings also like and need to create beauty. See how water connects with culture:
- Cherokee water drums use interesting physical properties of water to create different sounds. The lesson plan at the link includes both science and music.
- Handel’s Water Music is a wonderful piece of music designed specifically to be listened to on a boat. Learn more about this as a good introduction to classical music.
- The Sea King’s Daughter and The Little Mermaid are a couple of watery fairy tales. The Selkie is a folktale and a ballad. Examine ways that the sea has inspired literature with these three stories.
- Chris Witcombe has an interesting lesson on Water in Art that looks at some of the many ways visual arts have used water as a symbol or inspiration. Note: this lesson includes many classical paintings, and the subjects are often nude. Review the lesson before you use it in your classroom to make sure it will be appropriate for your class and community. We’d use it with a projector in classes in which this was appropriate, and use it as an outline with different examples for those in which it was not.
Boats are in many ways central to the human experience, so why not try out some classroom activities centered on boats? We’ll look at science and social studies from this exciting perspective.
There aren’t any boating bulletin board sets available from the major school supply publishers right now, but sailboats are easy to make from simple shapes.The one below was made in MS Paint with a trapezoid and a couple of triangles. Let young students practice shapes by creating sailboats and give them a sea to sail on with a couple of shades of blue kraft paper.
Create some boats for your water table (we’ve successfully used a roasting pan for older students). Provide sturdy cardboard and aluminum foil, plus paper and pencils for taking notes (or spreadsheets for older students) and ask students to try these changes:
- Shape Ask students to make a flat boat like a raft first. Will it float? If so, use gram weights to determine how much the boat will carry before it sinks. Then have students try a second shape, perhaps like the boat above. Before students test the boat, ask them to predict whether their differently-shaped boat will carry more or less than the flat one. Make sure to note the results.
- Size Does the size of a boat affect how well it floats or how much it can carry? Compare the results of different sizes of boats made by students. Did students with larger boats have different results from those with smaller boats? If so, have other students try to replicate the results.
With younger students, the experiment might boil down to whether a flat cardboard raft will carry as much as a boat with sides they make from foil, and whether a bigger boat carries more than a smaller one. Older students should try multiple iterations to find the characteristics that make the most difference in carrying power for their boats. Check out our Think Like an Engineer post for inspiration on ways to approach problem solving lessons of this kind.
Explore the history of boating. Here are some online resources for the purpose:
- History of Ships thinkquest
- History World’s history of boats and ships
- Evolution of the Sailing Ship
While modern boats are not very different in different countries, boats in the past were quite different in different places. Have students choose different historic boats, such as the Viking longship, the Chinese junk, or the Algonquin birch bark canoe, to research and illustrate. Post the drawings along your classroom timeline, attaching each one to the right year with a length of string. You could also put the illustrations on a map, either your classroom wall map or Google Earth. Creating a Google Earth tour with the illustrations would be a great classroom technology project.
Combine this activity with the science activity by noting and testing the sizes and shapes of the boats students find in their research. Create a chart showing the results.
Set up the Tahina Expedition in your computer center, too. Karen and Frank Taylor are spending five years sailing around the world, posting lots of maps and photos. It’s a wonderful resource, and letting students explore it during free time will add a dimension to your boats unit. Students can follow the journey on the map, read the blog, or search for information on places and things they’ve always wondered about. You can also look just at the categories on boat maintenance and boating life if you want to stick close to the subject of boats. Let Frank’s experiences round out your students’ understanding of modern boating life, and plan an imaginary sail around the world for your class.
- About The Story Sailboat Blog and Us
- The Steamboat Arabia
- Sea Shanties
- Travel Classroom Theme
2012 is an Olympics year, so dust off your Olympics theme and jump (run, swim…) right in!
There are some ready-made decoratives:
- Teacher Created Resources Olympic Dream Straight Border
- Teacher Created Resources U.S. Olympic Games Bulletin Board
- Teacher Created Resources Medals Accents
- London 2012 Olympics Pictograms Poster Print (and other 2012 Olympics prints)
- Design Your Own Award Medals
- Teacher Created Resources Olympics Stickers
Olympics theme bulletin boards can always say, “Go for the Gold!”
The Olympics this year are in London. Learn more about this ancient city:
- Check out the London Icons Londoners chose as the most important icons for their city. Ask students to think about the icons of their own city; what images or places would they choose? With the idea of a city’s icons clear, divide students into groups to research the London icons listed.
- Visit the London Olympics website. How many of the icons from the previous activity can you find?
- Work on visual intelligence and reading charts with the Olympics schedule. Divide students into teams and have each team develop questions about the schedule such as, “Which is earlier, the medal events for the Modern Triathlon or the medal events for road cycling?” Swap questions (have each team keep their own answers!) and see which team can find the most correct answers in 15 minutes.
- London was inhabited by about 43 BC, and was called Londinium by about 100 AD. It was part of the Roman empire, and was in fact the center of Roman Britain. With the fall of the Roman Empire, London fell, too. After the Norman Conquest in 1066, London (then called Lunduntown) grew again to become a major city. In the 1300s, it became the capital when King Edward made it the center of his kingdom’s administration. Today, it is still the capital of England and is generally considered the largest European metropolitan area. Add these dates to your classroom timeline.
The Olympics were first recorded in 776 BC, when they consisted of just one race, and continued until 393 AD when they were abolished. The modern Olympic Games began in 1896. Add these dates to the classroom timeline as well. Determine which is older: London or the Olympics.
Create your own classroom Olympic games! There are 36 sports with their own icons on the 2012 Sports page. Choose some and replace them with classroom-suitable activities for your competition. Make teams and keep track of scores throughout your Classroom Olympics. In each competition, let one team serve as judges; rotate so each team gets a chance to judge. Let students be creative about substitutions. Here are our ideas:
- Archery: On-Target Adjectives Provide 10 simple sentences (“The boy sat at the desk,” “The girls have a dog”) in a Pocket Chart. Students add appropriate adjectives. Judge on the basis of the number of adjectives, the appropriateness and creativity of the choices, and the naturalness of the resulting sentences.
- Canoe Sprint: Cooperative Accomplishments Give teams tasks like preparing a bulletin board, getting the classroom ready for the end of the day, or passing out and picking up art supplies. Judge on even division of labor, smoothness of the process, and speed and success of completing the task.
- Diving: Division Drills Have students line up and solve division problems on the board in relay format. Judge on speed and accuracy, as well as sportsmanship.
- Rowing: Boat Building Project Have students create boats of paper and either get them across the classroom floor without touching directly them or across a wading pool filled with water, again without directly touching them. Students can paddle the water, blow on the boats, or use any other method that doesn’t require direct contact with the boat. Judge on speed, success at crossing the space, and creativity of the solution.
- Table Tennis We’d really play table tennis. Sportcraft Anywhere Table Tennis Set lets you play right on an ordinary table.
Choosing half a dozen activities that work on varied skills gives everyone a chance to play and to win.
Other Olympics lessons and activities:
For an election year, a patriotic theme is a natural. It’s also a fun way to introduce American History lessons, and a cheerful theme at any time. Read on for ideas for ways to use patriotic songs in art and English lessons.
There are plenty of ready-made decoratives:
- Stars and stripes border
- Patriotic Stars Border
- Patriotic Bunting Scalloped Trimmer
- Carson Dellosa Patriotic Topper features American landmarks.
- Songs of Freedom Bulletin Board Set has the first verses of the national anthem, “American the Beautiful,” “God Bless America,” and “America.”
- Hooray for the USA! Bulletin Board has lots of festive pieces.
- America From A to Z Alphabet Set is an over-the-board alphabet set with photos of American icons like the flag and the Statue of Liberty.
- Symbols Of America Mini Bulletin Board Set coordinates perfectly.
- Red white and blue starburst adds a third dimension.
Slogans can range from “Hooray for America!” to “Showing Our True Colors.”
Bring out some patriotic books:
- We the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States is inspiring and informative.
- A More Perfect Union: The Story of Our Constitution
- The United States of America: A State-by-State Guide is a great addition to regional studies.
- The Story of “the Star-Spangled Banner”
- Peter Spier’s The Star-Spangled Banner is a great favorite of ours. The illustrations really add depth of meaning to words that kids often don’t get.
- This Land Is Your Land is a beautifully illustrated picture book of Woody Guthrie’s quintessential American song.
You might have noticed quite a few patriotic songs aleady, but there are more, and they make a great way to do basic language arts instruction. Think of all the topics you can work on with some big charts of those songs:
- parts of speech
Have students think about, discuss, and then illustrate their favorite things about their country. Challenge each student to find a line from one of the patriotic songs you’ve sung that fits his or her picture. Then create a class book of patriotic songs illustrated with student artwork.
“The Emperor’s Nightingale” is a story by Hans Christian Andersen, a Danish author, set in China. In the story, the Emperor of China discovers a nightingale, a bird which sings so beautifully that its song restores the ailing Emperor’s health. The Emperor of Japan sends a mechanical singing bird to the Emperor of China, and his court prefers the artificial bird to the real bird — until the Emperor of China falls ill again. The nightingale come back, sings the Emperor back to health, and asks the Emperor to keep it secret. When the servants arrive in the morning, they are amazed to find the Emperor well.
There are several online versions of the story:
There are some excellent picture books of the story as well:
- The Nightingaleby Pikko Vainio
- The Nightingale by Jerry Pinkney out of print, but check your library or buy used — great illustrations)
- The Nightingale by Stephen Mitchell
Once you’ve read the story, choose some of the worksheetsand activities linked below in online resources to make sure students have completely understood the story.
- Hear a simplified version of the story read and illustrated at Speakaboos, along with discussion questions and worksheets.
- Watch parts of the opera at the PBS website.
- Listen to some of Stravinsky’s music for the ballet inspired by the story:
- The Barnum Museum has a PDF of activities to go with their play based on The Nightingale. It includes map work for the continent of Asia and particularly for China.
- The Midland Art Center has a collection of worksheets for their production of “The Emporer and the Nightingale.”
- Rag & Bone theater also has a study guide. It looks at concepts of leadership, as well as the puppets the theater uses.
- Usborne has a worksheet suitable for ESL as well as for elementary students.
- Penguin has a reproducible guide as well, designed to go with The Emperor and the Nightingale (Penguin Young Readers, Level 4).
- Nightingales from the BBC gives excellent background on the birds.
Continue with one or more of the lesson plans below.
Write a poem.
Malvina Reynolds wrote a song based on the story. Have students read the lyrics and discuss how the verses connect with the story. Is Reynolds retelling the story or using the story to make a different point?
Ask students to think about the points that come up in reading and thinking about “The Emperor’s Nightingale.” Divide students into groups and have each group choose a point to write about. Challenge students to write their own verses.
Create a mechanical bird.
The mechanical nightingale was a sort of robot. Use our Robot Lesson Plans to explore the idea of robots further.
In the story, the artificial bird sings only one song, while the real bird sang many, and a fisherman muses that the artificial bird’s song is missing something. Discuss whether there are times when an artifical version of something is not as good as a real one.
The Emperor likes the fact that the artificial bird can sing the same song over and over without getting tired, and also that the artificial bird was covered with jewels. The real bird said that she would rather stay in the forest, so the arrival of the artificial bird gave her the chance to return to her home. Discuss times when an artificial version of something might be better.
Have students design a mechanical bird (a robot bird?) by drawing or creating a model. Will the students choose to make their bird a golden, jewelled bird?This is, for the Emporer, an advantage to the artificial bird, and the students may agree. Ask students to decorate their birds and label the parts to show how they would work, if the bird were in fact mechanical.
Of course, now it would be very easy to make an artifical singing bird. Just add a recordable sound chip to student models to get the full effect.
Andersen was Danish, and didn’t visit China or Japan. Why did he choose to set this story in Asia? Many 19th century European artists, including writers, were fascinated by Asia, seeing it as the embodiment of mystery and wonder. Andersen might have chosen China as the setting for his story in order to make it more romantic. The practice of creating works of art emphasizing the mysteriousness of the East came to be known as “Orientalism.”
Older students might find it interesting to study the controversy surrounding Orientalism and whether it is a racist approach to Asia, but younger students might be comfortable with the idea that people enjoy thinking about far away places.
Have students prepare a Venn diagram comparing China and Japan during the 19th century. Try some of these resources:
- BBC photos of China
- Harvard photos of China
- Xianfeng Emperor of China (other emperors of China are also included)
- an essay comparing China and Japan
- Columbia University Asian history resources
- stereoviews of 19th century Japan
19th century China
19th century Japan
Another example students might enjoy is Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado, a British light opera from the same time period which has the Emperor of Japan as a character.
Challenge students to illustrate the story as realistically as possible.