Boats Lesson Plans

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.

Trend has a sailing bulletin board set available. The “All Hands on Deck” Classroom jobs set would go with it very well.

Finish up with a nautical border.



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.

Social Studies

Explore the history of boating. Here are some online resources for the purpose:

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(s) 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 spent 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.

Other resources:

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