The Coast Mappers (Taylor Morrison)

Teacher's Guide Authors: Teresa Neilson, 3rd grade teacher, Heckethorn Elementary School, Clark County School District and Pearl Nagoshi, 5th grade teacher, Heckethorn Elementary School, Clark County School District


This teacher's guide is for the book The Coast Mappers by Taylor Morrison. Additional teacher's Guides are available for Patty Reed's Doll, Sallie Fox, Sarah, Plain and Tall, and other exploration children's books.


Book Overview: This text relates the phenomenal, ingenious, hazardous, and arduous work of George Davidson, a topographer named Harrison, and Richard Cutts of the U.S. Coast Survey and different crews, from 1850-1859, in mapping the West Coast from Canada to Mexico, to ensure safer passages for ships along the western United States coast.

Lewis and Clark had already explored the Columbia River to the Pacific Coast in the early 1800's, and the California Gold Rush had begun in 1848. With the influx of people into the western United States, and with industry at the forefront, and so many ships being lost along the oft rugged western coastline, the United States government was ready to have it surveyed and correctly mapped. Alexander Bache was chosen to select the surveyor to do this. He chose George Davidson.

Through seemingly insurmountable odds from carrying cast iron equipment up high embankments to detailed measurements using the stars, George Davidson perseveres in mapping the west coastline. He and his companions often endanger their lives to get the job done, but done it gets, thereby saving many seafaring lives and much cargo. Over the years, he becomes well-known in his field. However, there is no mention of any monetary bonus for all that he did.

Author Taylor Morrison, is also the illustrator of this colorful and exquisitely detailed children's book. It is clear to the reader, that he has taken painstaking efforts to build a bridge from the adult surveying world to that of the elementary realm.

Book Themes: Perseverance, creative problem-solving, asking "how can we?" vs. "can't"

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Vocabulary Cards
      • The students will work with a partner and look over the Wikipedia article on surveying and write surveying vocabulary words on a sheet of paper. The students will then share their 2 words which the teacher wil write on the board. The class will then select 10 surveying vocabulary words to write on the index cards.
      • The students will divide each of the index cards into fourths, using pencil lines and a straight edge. The students will write the vocabulary word in the center of the card. The following will fill each fourth of the card: the definition, the part of speech, a sentence and a corresponding picture. For the more difficult pictures such as those of the equipment, students may go onto the Internet to find, print, cut and paste the picture onto their index card.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 5.1.3-use of high frequency Greek and Latin words
        • 5.1.4-use of dictionaries and glossaries to find word origins, pronunciations, meanings
    • KWL+Action Chart (The action will be done at the end of the unit)
      • Using mural paper, each of the students will create a KWL+A chart in a writing journal. K=what do you know, W-what do you want to know, L=what have you learned after doing this activity and A=what action will take with this new knowledge that you now have. (e.g. Share with family/friends? Do research on a person/topic? Create a short skit/puppet show? Write and record a related story w/ sound effects of the iPod?)
      • Standards Addressed
        • 5.2.1-pre-reading strategies--access prior knowledge, set a purpose, make predictions
        • 5.1.12-build vocabulary by expanding knowledge of word meaning
    • Language Arts Writing Process
      • The teacher will read orally to the students the book “The Coast Mappers” by Taylor Morrison. Discuss the events of the book with the class. The students use a thinking map to brain storm what they learned about “Coast Mappers.” The students will use the writing process to write a descriptive writing about the book. Each student will read their descriptive writing into a iTalk. Speakers will be attached to the iPod and students will listen to the descriptive writing piece whole group. Students will respond to the descriptive writing in their literature response journal.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (3)6.1 Students will use the writing process to complete a prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.
        • (3)6.3 Students will generate possible ideas for future writing through group activities such as brainstorming and discussion.
        • (3)10.1 Students will speak and listen attentively in conversation and group discussion.
    • Research Project
      • The students will choose a famous explorer to research. For example: Lewis and Clark, John Wesley Powell, George Davidson. Students will formulate questions that they answer while researching their famous explorer. Students will go the library and check out books at least two books about their topic. The students will then use at least two online data bases to research their famous explorer. Students will compile the research information and write a report about their famous explore. Students will present their report in a small group of 4 or 5 students. Students will respond in their writer’s notebook about what they learned from the reports share.
      • Database examples:
        • Grolier Online Kids- OR
        • Gala Database-
        • EBSCO-
      • Other database sites: Yaholigans , Wikipeda, Brain pop, Britannica Online School Edition, Kids Search, and Go
      • Standards Addressed
        • (3) 11.1 Students will formulate questions to investigate topics.
        • (3)11.2 Students will use a variety of library resources, media and technology to find information on a topic.
  • Mathematics
    • Coast Mapping in the Classroom
      • The teacher will have available supplies such as twine, small lead weights, pencils, unlined/lined paper, graph paper, colored pencils; meter sticks, yardsticks, rulers, measuring tapes.
      • The room will be mapped out to have green mural paper for islands, blue for the ocean, a rope for the coastline and small and large orange cones which will stick out of the ocean as ship hazards. Furniture can be moved to one side or out of the room.
      • here will be two students holding a white mural paper to depict the fog. Their job is to creep into different areas, thereby momentarily stopping the work of the teams until the fog leaves.
      • The class will have some knowledge of finding the measurements of triangles (c2=a2 +b2). However, this is not a prerequisite for this activity. Since we are working in a small area, the students just need to know the lengths of the twine they are using that go across the ocean to the islands and back.
      • The students will work in teams of four: 1) a go-fer to get any materials for the team, 2) a mapper/recorder to sketch the “coastline” and record the measurements, 3 & 4) as surveyors to figure out how to get the measurements of the coastline.
      • After 30 minutes, the class will share what worked/did not work, their thoughts. The students will write their reactions to the activity in their Math Journals. They will identify which role they played.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF (5) A.1-select, modify, develop, apply, and justify strategies to solve a variety of mathematical concepts
        • CEF (5)A.2-apply previous experience and knowledge to new problem-solving situations

    • From Shore to Base Camp
      • The class will do this activity outside. They will take turns being surveyors carrying their equipment from the shore, up the hills, to the base site.The teacher will have the following supplies ready: 10 filled one gallon size water jugs, 5 filled 2 1/2 gallon water jugs. The students will work in teams of 3. The students will devise the best strategy for carrying the water jugs from the shore (edge of the grassy area), up the hill (the slide) under close supervision and to their base camp site (along the rope bridge and over to the shaded awning).
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF (5) A.3 determine an efficient strategy, verify, interpret, and evaluate results with respect to the original problem
        • CEF (5) A.4-try more than one strategy, verify, interpret, and evaluate results
    • Measuring the Perimeter of the Room
      • Working with a partner the students will choose either customary or metric to measure the perimeter and area of the classroom. Students will record their measurements in their math notebook and illustrate the layout of the classroom labeling the perimeter and area. Students will then meet in a small group of four and share their findings.
        Extension: Students will measure the area and perimeter of two rooms in their house and illustrate their findings using customary or metric measurement.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF (3)3.1-Students will estimate and use measuring devices with standard and non-standard units to measure area.
        • CEF (3)3.6-Students will select the appropriate units of measure
        • CEF (3)3.7-Students will identify perimeter and area of regular and irregular figures by counting units
    • Coastal Shapes
      • Coast Mappers needed to define the shape of the coast on maps to help them find the distance and direction between points that were many miles apart. It was important for the mappers to know how to draw horizontal, vertical and oblique lines. This activity will teach the student how to identify the difference between the horizontal, vertical and oblique lines.
      • The students hold their arms out to their side and make the shape of a horizontal, vertical and oblique line. The class will then take a walk out to the playground and identify different horizontal, vertical and oblique lines on the playground. As students will look around outside and record at least five items that have the various lines. The teacher may need to encourage the students to noticing the play ground equipment, fences, buildings, the horizon, mountains, sidewalks, etc. Students will then return to the classroom and illustrate the objects recorded. Label the horizontal, vertical and oblique lines of each object. Students will then share their finding in a small group.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF (3)4.7 Students will identify, draw, and describe horizontal, vertical and oblique lines.
        • CEF (3)8.1 Students will discuss and exchange ideas about mathematics as part of learning.
    • Social Studies
      • Chautauqua
        • The students will use technology, books, magazines, and interviews to research and do a presentation of someone (actual or generic) from the 1800's. Some of the possibilities are: gold rusher, doctor, woman, surveyor from the US Coast Survey, Makah chief, printer of the coast maps, George Davidson, Richart Cutts, Alexander Bache.
        • Standards Addressed
          • CEF (5)4.3-ask a historical question and identify resources to be used in research
          • CEF (5)4.4-organize historical information from a variety of sources
    • Cartography
      • The students will use the world map to review lines of latitude, longitude, prime meridian, the location of Greenwich, England, the map key, compass rose, distances.
      • The students will use the US map to view the west coast line, noting lines of latitude, longitude, map key, distances
      • The students will view various oceanographic maps showing undersea mountains, drops, and bars
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF (5) 3.2-identify the purposes and characteristics of different maps and globes
        • CEF (5) 3.6-answer spatial questions about a map using basic geographic vocabulary
    • Compass Rose
      • The students will draw their own compass rose in their science notebook. Each student will be given a map of the United States and the class will discuss whole group how to locate the state of Nevada. Students will then identify which states are North, South, East, and West of Nevada and record the boarding states. With a partner the students will choose three other states and identify which states boarder North, South, East and West of the state. Students will share with a small group their findings.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF(3)3.1-Students will identify and use the cardinal directions North, South, East, W on a compass rose to locate places on a map.
    • Geography
      • The students will construct a simple map of the pod, court yard, or playground including title, symbols, and directions on the map. Using grid paper students will work with a partner to design a map an area of the school. Identify North, South East, and West on the map and draw distinguishing feature of the area.
      • Standards
        • CEF-(3)3.4 Students will construct a simple map, including title, symbols, and directions
  • Science
    • Shoe Box Ocean Mapping
      • The teacher will have shoe boxes with both lids and bottoms covered with plain paper.
      • Each shoe box lid will have a grid on it. Across the top of the grid will be the numbers 1-8+, while down each side, will be the alphabets A-G.
      • The sides of each shoe box bottom will have lateral lines denoting height in 1/4" increments
      • The lid of each shoe box will have holes big enough for the skewer sticks to go through, but not big enough for peeking.
      • Inside of the bottom box will have 3-4 2" or larger pebbles, glued to the bottom.
      • The students will work in groups of 3-4. Using a skewer with the sharp tip cut off, the students will poke about the closed shoe boxes and try to determine the location, shape, height of each of the pebbles.
      • The students will write their experiences in their Science Journals.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF (5) 1.7-use models to explain how something works
        • CEF (5) 1.10-cooperate and contribute ideas within a group
  • Science
    • Plant Study
      • The students will use native plants to our desert region to observe and illustrate in their Science Journals.
      • The students will label the plant parts and use adjectives to describe the texture, smell, and sight of the plants. They will include of what those sense remind them and how they think those plants could have been used by the Native Americans in our area for food, clothing, homes.
      • The students will make a plant usage chart with the names of the Native American groups on the left side of the chart and at the top of the chart, food, clothing, and other. This can be done in conjunction with a Museum without Walls speaker who always brings many artifacts, and with a library Native American display.
      • The students will then compare and contrast their charts with plants of the Pacific Northwest and how the Native Americans there utilized them.
        Standards Addressed
        • CEF (5) 1.5-create and use labeled illustrations, graphs, and charts to convey ideas, record observations, and make predictions
        • CEF (5)4.5-explain that living things get what they need from their environments
  • Science
    • Earth’s Composition and Structure
      • Students will identify the properties of a rock. The students will each choose a rock from the teacher’s rock collection. In their science notebook students will illustrate and color their rock. Each student will list 5 characteristics of the rock. For example: color, size, shape, texture. The students will meet with their science team and share their findings.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF-E2C-Students will understand that earth materials include rocks, soil, and water.
    • Earth Composition and Structure
      • The coast mappers had to observe the stars to help them identify the location of Point Conception. This activity will help the students understand that there are features in the sky which display patterns.
      • The students will research features in the sky on one of the following data bases EBSCO Host-General Science Collection or the Gale Database-Science Resource Center. The students will locate three features in the sky and list in their science notebook five facts about each feature.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF-E5C-Students understand that features on the earth’s surface are constantly changed by a combination of slow and rapid processes.
Historical Overview of Book Themes

For thousands of years many American Indians explored their land and drew maps on rock or in caves called petroglyphs, which recorded where they had traveled and also showed others where to travel of hunt for food. European explorers began to travel to the American West and found maps that the Indians have made. The Miguel’s Map is one of the first Indian maps written in pen and ink. The map showed the location of the surrounding Indian villages called pueblos. Some Spanish began to explore the America West. Mapping was still not very advanced and information was given in small amounts of just guessing. A famous Spanish Explorer Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca began to change the skills of map making. In the 1530’s Francisco Vasquez de Coronado was in search of the legendary Seven Cities of Gold, he spent years traveling and mapping the area to locate the famous Golden City. Gaspar de Portola explored northern California, and in 1776 the Spanish explores provided information for the maps of the America West. European explorers began to leave the East of the Americas and explore out west. Some maps were made by guessing and consequently wrong information was shared. Alexander Mackenzie a British explorer began to change the map making world by providing additional mapmaking information for mapmakers. He later published a book called Voyage from Montreal. In the 1803 the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory which doubled the United States in size. The Mississippi River was on the horizon and President Thomas Jefferson asked Captain Meriwether Lewis to explore the river. The Lewis and Clark expedition put the wilderness on the map. These explorers made friends with the Indian tribes and maps were drawn in the sand to show the location of the connecting rivers and streams. Later that year Lewis and Clark met Toussaint Charbonneau and Sacagawea, his wife, who helped as guides in the area. On their journey they met Indian chiefs who drew maps on animal hides or elk skin. These maps were followed to the now famous Snake Skin River and the Columbia River. Clark spent much of his time mapmaking, note taking, and drawing pictures of the land. This information was used to make some of the first maps for the American Northwest published in the 1800’s. Finding the source of the Mississippi River was a challenge taken on by the explorer Zebulon Montgomery Pike. He was able to calculate the distance using the various land forms.
The US Coast Survey office needed America’s Pacific Coast mapped. Many scientists faced great danger in order to record the necessary data needed to map the coast. They had to sail across stormy waters and traveling to remote areas to get the measurements needed. There were encounters with the Nootka and the Makah Indians which made the travel even more difficult. The surveyors used telescopes, chronometers, and star maps to help determine the exact location of Point Conception. When mapping Cape Disappointment the topographer used plane table, and a stadia rod to map the area. Before the use of GPS and the era of aerial photography the science of cartography was born and brought to life by the men willing to risk their lives and to sail unknown waters and map uncharted coastline of the America’s Pacific.

Additional Resources


Note: This teacher's guide was developed as part of one of the Clark County School District's Teaching American History grants. In this grant module, teachers focused on using children's historical literature to teach cross-curricular concepts relating to 19th century westward movement. For more information about this blog, related teacher's guides, or the grant module, please contact Dr. Christy Keeler.


Mike T. said...

This guide tackles a story rich with ideas and activity extension for teachers to use. The guide does not disappoint in the activities it offers. It’s language arts lessons give students a broad range of activities that will enhance the students understanding of the topic. One way to extend the research project is to have the students report by creating a Foldable, or Digital Storytelling. One activity I found particularly interesting was the From Shore to Base Camp, a great way to get out of the classroom and have the students simulate problems Davidson would have faced. The hard work that was put into the lesson is also evident in the math, science, and social studies activities. The US Coast Survey is not a topic that is well known, and I am sure that by following this guide, the students would have a deep understanding of the brave men who tackled this difficult venture.

mike kuennen said...

Out of all the picture books that we read for the class, this was my favorite one. I was amazed by the amount of information that I learned. I must admit I was mad when I read that he (George Davidson) was let go without any reason after serving faithfully and professionally for all those years. I have never heard of George Davidson and it is shame because I believe that he should be mentioned along with Lewis and Clark and the other great explorers. It is for the following reason: he explored our earth a different way, he and his fellow workers created maps and charts of areas that were hazardous to all who dared to travel in these areas. This being the case I found all your activities to appropriate and they were ones I would like to try involving this book. I especially liked your lesson involving having the students perform research on other explorers. The three explorers you picked were great choices. I would certainly be excited to hear about all the information the students learned about these explorers. An extension for this activity would be for the students to create PowerPoint slide shows of the information that they learned and discovered. The other lesson I found to be intriguing was the “From Shore to Base Camp”. The concept of having the students work together in order to “carry” their gear is one that should give the students an idea how hard it would be to carry heavy and valuable items in very difficult terrain. I thought you both did a great job on this Teacher’s Guide.

Christy G. Keeler, Ph.D. said...

agree with the previous reviewers that you have taken an incredibly rich children's book and made it even richer with the activities you propose. I am particularly pleased with the hands-on focus of your activities. Using simulation, students engage in many modalities simultaneously and inevitably learn. Great work, Teresa and Pearl!

Be sure when you have students record their voices/stories that you are having them engage in the process with a learning goal in mind. Be careful not to "use technology for technology's sake." If recording will help motivate students, that's enough of a reason, but you may also consider the benefits of having students practice public speaking beginning with the recording devices.

julia beavers said...

I totally agree with the other posts. This is a very useful action packed lesson plan. I had never heard of a Foldable as Mike had mentioned. Good addition though to add a digital storytelling component to this as well as many other lessons. I also liked the classroom mapping that was mentioned for the Math portion of the lesson. After just having completed all of our CRT testing, the kids are in such a high need of something fun that they can learn from. I had taken a graphing class last year through Pathlore and it was so much fun. It was fun to see all of the different things you could have your students graph, and they can really get into it and make it their own. Great Job!!