Virtual Lit

Google Lit Trips: Bringing Travel Tales to Life

Since Homer sent Odysseus on his epic journey, the road trip has served as a traditional setting for narratives of all kinds. Jerome Burg, a long-time English teacher, and technology integration coordinator is always looking for ways to bring pupils closer to the action while teaching literature’s great trip tales, such as in this case. Burg believes he has discovered a way to put students “right in the back seat” of a journey unfolding by mixing literary road trips with interactive technology and satellite imagery provided by Google Earth, among other things.

Burg founded the website Google Lit Trips to share his creative method of teaching literature at Granada High School in Livermore, California, with other educators. His award-winning website allows visitors to download “light excursions” that have already been created. Google Earth was used to generate each trip, and the KMZ file was saved to the computer as a multimedia interactive experience. (Even though they may appear complicated, KMZ files used by Google Earth are relatively simple to produce and manage.) Following in Burg’s footsteps, teachers and students are constructing their virtual literary journeys and sharing them with the internet community as a result of his inspiration.

Prepare Yourself for a Trip

If you want to follow a Google lighted trip, you should first download the free Google Earth software. It is recommended that you spend a few minutes getting acquainted with the program’s numerous tools before attempting to explore around the world. (Hint: Enter your house address in the search field in the upper left of the screen, then sit back and watch as the three-dimensional globe viewer zooms in on your rooftop.) After that, you’ll “fly” to your school’s location. Alternatively, zoom out to see the view from space, or concentrate in close to see the soccer pitch). Check out this Google Earth lesson for more information on how to use the application.

Image of What Lit Trips Have to Offer

Jerome Burg provided the image for this post.
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Take, for example, the trip Burg was recently designed to assist high school readers in exploring the modern novel The Kite Runner to get a sense of the learning possibilities of a lit trip. (From Google Lit Trips, select the link for grades 9-12 at the top of the page, then select the link for The Kite Runner.) Readers can virtually accompany the character Amir on his journey back to his home country of Afghanistan to, as he puts it, “make things good again” with a family he knew as a child through the use of the interactive file.

After opening the KMZ file, pupils will see satellite footage of the world in the 3-D viewer, and the image will rotate before coming to rest in Afghanistan. Burg has labeled significant locations in the novel with “placemarks,” which are color-coded to correspond to various chapters in the book. Additionally, the sidebar on the left side of the screen arranges all of the geographic information according to the chapter. Students can zoom in for a closer look or tilt the view to observe the terrain or buildings in 3-D using the simple Google Earth features that are accessible to everyone. They will be able to practically fly from one location to another as they follow Amir on his journey from California to Afghanistan and back again on his quest.

Students can access supplemental information by selecting a placemark and clicking on it in a pop-up window that appears. Another display window features a photograph of a bazaar beside a text from the novel that describes a musty marketplace. Another provides an overview of the cultural history of the Pashtun people as well as connections to other resources on Shia and Sunni Muslim beliefs. Most pop-ups include images such as photos, maps, drawings, or text, but they also incorporate questions to compel pupils to think about the content they are reading.

Exploring the placemarks entails active engagement, which Burg compares to the use of manipulatives for hands-on learning in math when teaching children about geometry. As Burg describes, “rather than sitting at a desk while the teacher recounts the story to them,” the method “puts the youngsters right in the heart of the story” Students can also create their placemarks, indicating important sites or links that help them better comprehend the subject matter.

Image of the beginning of one’s journey

Jerome Burg provided the image for this post.
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Simply follow these simple instructions to begin using a ready-made Google lit tour or building your own custom-designed Google Earth files for place-based literature studies.

If this is your first time conducting a study of this nature, you may wish to start with a pre-made illuminated excursion. Search the Google Lit Trips library by grade level to select a title that is appropriate for the reading level of your pupils’ classmates. Before showing your students how to follow the journey online, you should take the time to explore the journey yourself to become familiar with the placemarks and other resources.

If you want to build your literary journey, pick a book or story that has a strong feeling of place in its narrative. A good story for a lit trip doesn’t have to require a long journey to be effective. Burg believes that even a poem that is centered on a specific location, such as “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” can be effective.

The Google Lit Trips website has tutorials that walk you through the process of adding placemarks and inserting multimedia information. You can get started by clicking on Getting Started at the top of the home page and watching the instructional movies that demonstrate how to use this resource. When planning a literary excursion, consider the material that will assist your pupils in visualizing areas they have never visited before.

Include references that will help people have a deeper understanding of the story’s historical, cultural, and geographical setting in real-world terms. You may embed just about anything you find on the internet, from song lyrics to news broadcast footage, into your website. Using Lit Trip Tips, Burg has produced a page that contains more thorough instructions on everything from formatting placemark descriptions to adding route paths. (From the home page, select Downloads and Other Resources, and then select Lit Trip Tips. )

With the historical novel My Brother Sam Is Dead as the centerpiece, Carol LaRow created a Google Lit Trip for middle school students that they can do on their own. (To get there, go to the Google Lit Trips page, click on the link for grades 6-8, and then select My Brother Sam Is Dead from the drop-down menu that appears. Throughout the lesson, the educational-technology consultant has incorporated a plethora of visual material, including maps detailing the routes taken by patriots and British soldiers, photographs of colonial-era structures that are still surviving, and paintings representing major battles. There are also discussion questions that students contributed to the creation of.

Using the sidebar on the left of the 3-D Google Earth viewer, you can navigate around LaRow’s literary journey. If you open the folder for chapters 1-5, for example, you will see all of the placemarks associated with those chapters, which are ordered according to the plot’s chronological progression. After clicking on “Boston-British March,” the 3-D viewer displays a map of the soldiers’ path through Boston and Britain. When you click on the following marker, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” a picture of the legendary patriot on horseback appears, and the 3-D viewer zooms in on the city of Boston.

For younger readers, Georgia teacher Michelle Wilkes and technology specialist Diane Barfield collaborated on a Google Lit Trip for the book The Yellow Balloon, which is available on Google Play. (From the home page, select the tab for grades K-5 from the drop-down menu. Please continue reading to access the Yellow Balloon website.) This is a picture book with only a few words, which is perfect for Wilkes’ first-grade students. The literary excursion assisted her students with locating instances of physical features listed in the novel, ranging from volcanoes to jungles to large cities, as detailed in the book. Student suggestions for locations and meanings to put on the map were gathered during a class activity. Wilkes claims that the practice helped her children have a greater understanding of the world while also expanding their vocabulary.

A Conversation That Is Getting Longer

Combining Google Earth with literary study helps teachers to come up with exercises for their pupils that are both very innovative and engaging for them. As opposed to instructing students to use this great tool solely to write a plot synopsis, Burg recommends guiding them toward activities that would elicit higher-order inquiries and more critical thinking. A teacher could, for example, use the literary trip for The Grapes of Wrath to set the stage for a conversation about current immigration difficulties in the students’ classroom. This would enable students to make connections between the text and themes that are relevant to their own lives.

One of the most effective strategies to increase student knowledge is to have them construct their literary excursions. The collection already contains some student examples, such as a literary journey for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants undertaken by two seventh students). It can be found by selecting grades 6-8 from the drop-down menu at the top of the home page.)

During reading a work, students can look for key locations or information that they can incorporate onto their map. For example, to research a novel in which a natural disaster plays a significant role, students might look into unusual weather patterns or utilize Google Earth to peep inside the crater of a volcano. They can annotate links to sites that they have researched, which will help them to improve their information literacy skills. Students can also use placemarks to ask questions, which helps to create an environment conducive to lively classroom discussions.

New discussions about best practices for technology-rich literary studies are arising as teachers from around the world begin to share ideas for making the most of this valuable resource. Teachers from all around the world are sharing their perspectives on lit-trippin’ through podcasts, screencasts, conference connections, and video interviews on the Google Lit Trips site, which is constantly increasing.