Take a (virtual) field trip to Alcatraz

Beth Orticelli

Editor's note: Leave it to Beth O, our Storyworks Jr. advisor and second-grade teacher, to blow our minds once again with her ultra-creative teaching strategies. This time she takes her students on a virtual field trip to Alcatraz, and delivers yet another jaw-dropping and riveting language-arts lesson. We absolutely love what Beth came up with—and it's so easy for any teacher to try. So, please do, and share your feedback in the Comments area below. 


My second graders were thrilled to watch the Video Read-Aloud that accompanies the nonfiction article about Alcatraz! Normally, if there's a video with an article, I show it later. But with the content of this article being so mature, I thought it would be best for them to see the video first, as an introduction. They're so used to princess-type fairy tales and talking animals, so an article that discusses criminal escapes brought them into another world. They were so excited to discuss a real-life drama and their theories of possible escape success or failure.



After the video, we did some close-reading of the article, and used the Pause and Think questions as discussion topics at their tables. While taking turns, students had to contribute to their discussions with: "I would like to add on", "The text said that..." "I respectfully disagree with _______, because......" or "for example"....

These are all great text discussions "sentence starters" that I like to incorporate into my classroom.


Finally, after they felt like experts on Alcatraz, I projected Google Earth on to my giant whiteboard, and asked the kids if they wanted to "go" to California right now and see Alcatraz for themselves. (We live outside of Chicago.) You would have thought I was taking them to Disneyland! They were literally screaming with excitement. They felt like they were traveling through the sky, with the way that Google Earth starts out with a global view, and then zooms into California. From the incredible close-up pictures we were able to see in 3-D, they were coming up with amazing thoughts. They noticed the giant cliffs surrounding the prison, which would make it even more difficult to escape. Even seeing huge birds in the water reminded them that wildlife does exist at Alcatraz and that the ocean was rough for prisoners trying to break free!



I highly recommend this approach when you want your students to truly understand the setting of a story—and a real field trip is not in the cards!




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