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New Feature: Model Lesson Plans

Published on Sun, 06/15/2014

Starting with this model lesson for Kindergarten, launches a new feature. Periodically, we will post exemplary inquiry-based lessons using primary sources from the Library of Congress. Contact us with feedback or your own drafts or suggestions for lesson ideas." - Rich Cairn, Director, Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Program of the Collaborative for Educational Services

What Do Trains Do? Kindergarten Lesson Plan

Kwame Webster, Collaborative for Educational Services

Demonstrations and Approaches

image of an old train

Core academic subjects beyond reading and math often get pushed to the edges of the curriculum in the primary grades. Social studies and science can raise challenges because students typically lack contextual knowledge. Yet these subjects appeal strongly to some students. And even Kindergarten is not too early to begin scaffolding skills. The inquiry-based lesson, created by Jenn Murphy, New Hingham Regional Elementary School in Hampshire Regional School District: “What Do Trains Do?” equips teachers with tools to teach Kindergarteners to inquire about concepts of place and time, using often familiar imagery of trains and railroad tracks, and tying them to history, geography, and to their communities. In the lesson, maps of train tracks serve as a means to introduce the concept that primary source evidence can help us learn about our world and its past.

The robust collection of United State Railroad Maps from the Library of Congress spans 72 years from 1828 - 1900, allowing teachers to introduce aspects of time and history in the lesson. Most maps are quite detailed, allowing teachers to zoom in to students’ hometowns for recognition of place. Students learn to ask questions such as: Who made this map? What for? Why do we need trains? What do these maps tell us about trains? What do train tracks tell us about trains? The framework of the lesson connects Kindergarteners to higher levels of inquiry. Using selections from the large body of engaging children’s books about trains, the lesson provides students with background information that feeds inquiry and content creation. A combination of fiction and nonfiction texts allow teachers to help students to ask and answer questions about trains based on the stories. A visual organizer helps students to answer questions about trains and railroad tracks function, location, and description (era; steam or electric powered). From that foundation, students then begin to construct maps to feature the railroad tracks in their community. Students will know where to add railroad tracks on their maps by asking: What do maps show and what don’t they show? What information should be included on maps? This lesson provides a distinctive way to teach Social Studies standards to Kindergarteners that supports Common Core emphasis on primary sources and other informational texts. It also allows students to connect with their communities to engender personal scholarship.


Rich Cairn

Civics and Social Studies Curriculum and Instruction Specialist, Collaborative for Educational Services
Rich Cairn founded Emerging America in 2006, which features the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program at the Collaborative for Educational Services, and the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History program, "Forge of Innovation: The Springfield Armory and the Genesis of American Industry." The Accessing Inquiry clearinghouse, supported by the Library of Congress TPS program promotes full inclusion of students with disabilities and English Learners in civics and social studies education.