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Planes and Trains and Automobiles and Study Skills!

Celebrate National Transportation Month -- "transport" students to a dozen activities that provide practice in reading maps, schedules, timetables, and more. Included: Four study skills teaching master activities for students!

Map reading and table/chart reading are two essential -- and practical! -- skills. (Today, in the age of information and digested data, those skills are more important than ever!) Yet those skills are often neglected by busy teachers

May -- National Transportation Month -- is the perfect time to provide your students with practice in those skills. And the Internet is the perfect resource to use!

The Web abounds with airline and bus route maps, ferry schedules, interactive maps.

The activities that follow -- four of which include reproducible teaching masters -- employ a wide variety of transportation-related Internet resources. But Interent access is not required! In many cases, teachers can copy and post or distribute the Internet resource indicated in the activity.


At the turn of the century, the sight of a "horseless carriage" was a huge spectacle Today, more than 175 million Americans are licensed to drive. And more than 50 million "horseless carriages" are produced worldwide each year!

Build a timeline. The Classic American Automobiles Web page (part of the Classic Cars Picture Archive on VintageWeb) includes many gorgeous photos of vintage cars. Students could use a collection of those photographs to create a pictorial timeline of U.S.-made cars. Another idea: Students can use the information found on the Auto History Web site to build a timeline of interesting automotive facts.

Writing directions for others to follow. Writing good directions for others to follow is not an easy task! Challenge students to write the best directions they can between two spots of local interest. (For example. You might ask them to write directions between their school and your local city or town hall.) Then the real fun begins! Invite students to use MapQuest reference tool. For anyplace in the United States, just plug into the search engine a starting point (street address, city, state, and zip code) and a destination (with the same information), and let Infoseek do the work. Infoseek provides a map showing the fastest route between the two locations and detailed directions. Students can match their directions in the activity above with the results from Infoseek to see how skilled they are at giving good directions!


For centuries, people dreamed of flying. The ancient civilizations are full of stories of winged gods, horses, and men. In the 1500s, Leonardo da Vinci sketched the first known flying machine. But it wasn't until 1903 that two brothers -- Wilbur and Orville Wright -- flew the first engine-powered biplane. The flight, piloted by Orville, lasted 12 seconds and traveled 120 feet!

Air travel has improved dramatically since that first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina!

Today, air travel remains one of the safest ways to get from place to place. Last year, U.S. air carriers took off from airports more than 8,157,000 times! Forty-two of those flights resulted ended in accidents, three of which included fatalities. (Invite students to use those numbers to figure out what percentage of flights ended in accidents and fatal accidents.)

Create a map. Provide students with a blank map of the United States. (If you don't have one, you might print out a simple U.S. outline map created by Education World.) Invite students to draw a red dot on the map to show the location of each of the cities that Southwest Airlines flies to. You can find the Southwest Airlines City Information on the company's Web site. (For an Answer key, refer to the Southwest Airlines Route Map.)

Read an airport map. For this activity, students in grades 2-8 will need to have access to the Internet or a paper copy of the map of Memphis International Airport. In addition they will need a copy of Teaching Master 1, which is linked to this story. Students should use the map to answer the questions on the teaching master.
(Answer key: 1. 23 gates, 2. more gates, 3. Terminal B, 4. Terminal A, 5. 7, 6. Gate C22, 7. Gate B6, 8. 2, 9. Gate A13, 10. Terminal B. BONUS: Many people think the number 13 is an unlucky number; some people who are superstitious might not want to board a plane at a gate with the number 13.)

Make a graph. Use the Safety Record of U.S. Airlines statistics for this activity. (Students can access the data on the Web site or you can print out copies.) Depending on the grade level you teach, invite students to round off the stats and create bar graphs or line graphs to illustrate the growth in number of passengers carried, aircraft miles flown, or number of departures. Their graphs should show statistics from last year and each tenth year before that date. Challenge activity: Create a comparative bar graph. Side by side bars of different colors should show the number of accidents and the number of those accidents that included fatalities for each of the years above.


For more than 100 years, trains were the fastest way to travel from place to place in the United States. Trains, literally, brought Americans together!

Many Americans still prefer the comfort and pace of train travel to travel on airplanes or buses. Traveling by train is a great way to see America, they say.

Today, if all the world's train tracks were laid out end to end, they'd stretch more than 800,000 miles. How many trips to the moon does that equate to? How many times around the world would those tracks stretch?

Plan a train trip. Invite students to plan a train trip to a U.S. destination of their choice. For this trip, students will be traveling on Amtrak so the destination should be one served by Amtrak (or one that comes close to an Amtrak station). Students can take a look at a map of Amtrak's routes across the United States for help in planning. (You might print out a copy of the map, which is in pdf format.) Then students will need to access Amtrak's trip planner. How long will the trip take on the train? Invite students to take another look at the Amtrak route map to see which cities they'll be traveling through enroute to their destination. If they were to get off the train in some of those cities, what sights might they be able to see?


Ferries come in all shapes and sizes. The largest ferry in North America runs each day on the Washington State Ferry route between Seattle and Bainbridge Island. That ferry, the Tacoma, is 460 feet long and has a capacity of 2,500 passengers and 218 cars!

Read a map. (For grades 3 and up.) For this activity students will need Internet access or a copy of the Washington State Ferry map. They'll also need a copy of Teaching Master 2. Students will use the simple ferry map to answer the questions on the Teaching Master.
(Answer key: 1. Kingston, 2. Keystone, 3. Lopez, 4. to the west, 5. to the north, 6. Port Townsend, 7. the trip from Seattle to Bremerton, 8. Tacoma, 9. Vashon, 10. Southworth.)

Read a schedule. Create questions for students based on the timetable and the fare information included online in the Nantucket Ferry Schedule.


In 1820, the first "bus" was introduced in New York City. That, of course, was long before -- about 100 years before! -- buses as we know them appeared on the scene! Those first buses, called omnibuses (from the latin word meaning "for all"), were pulled by horses. The first Omnibuses carried 12 passengers.

Today, millions of people across the U.S. travel each day by bus. Included among those bus riders are more than 22 million U.S. students who ride to school on school buses. Many more people ride buses -- including commuter buses, city buses, and sightseeing buses.

Read a bus schedule. For this activity, for grades 2 and up, students will need Internet access or a paper copy of the Heartland Express bus schedule. They'll also need a copy of Teaching Master 4. Students will use the schedule to answer the questions on the teaching master.
(Answer key: 1. 8:36, 2. 8:54, 3. 5:22, 4. eleven trips, 5. 4:06, 6. 9:36, 7. 25 cents, 8. 5:22, 9. no (it's a Monday-Friday schedule only), 10. 14 minutes.)

Read a bus route map. Create questions based on the Greyhound Route Map. The U.S. route map is divided into ten panels. Create a question for each of the panels based on your students' abilities. For younger students or for a simpler map, you might use the Fort Collins (Colorado) City Bus Map or Fort Collins (Colorado) Route 16 Map.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2007 Education World

Originally published 05/18/1998
Links last updated 12/04/2007