Contributor: Samantha Penna. Lesson ID: 11991

Have you ever visited an island? It can be fun -- for a while. Staying on an island for the rest of your life in prison is not fun. How would you escape? Learn all about Alcatraz and plan your escape!


United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Primary (K-2)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Why do you think the Alcatraz Prison is out on an island?

The Alcatraz Prison is located over a mile-and-a-half off the coast of the San Francisco Bay in California.

The prison is located on Alcatraz Island. At first Alcatraz wasn't a prison, so read on to find out about the history of Alcatraz.


In 1775, Juan Manuel de Ayala, a Spanish explorer, named the island "La Isla de los Alcatraces." This means "The Island of Pelicans." The island was home to many birds and was considered to be a bird sanctuary. Here the birds could live peacefully.


Years later, in the year 1853, a fortress was built on the island. The fortress had tall walls that surrounded the island. Cannons were placed on these walls for protection. Below you can see a picture of an old cannon:

The first lighthouse on the western coast of California was built on Alcatraz Island. It was built in the year 1854. The lighthouse made the island more visible to passing ships so they would not crash into the land. Can you see the lighthouse? It is taller than all the other buildings:

Alcatraz lighthouse

In 1859, a citadel (fortress) was built on the island. The citadel was three stories tall and surrounded by a very deep moat. If you wanted to enter the citadel, you would need to cross over a drawbridge (just like one that would be in front of a castle). The tall walls surrounding the island and the citadel were used when the Civil War in America was taking place between the years 1861 and 1865.

Alcatraz citadel

Finally, in 1861, Alcatraz Island officially became a prison. No one has ever been able to escape Alcatraz. The cold, shark-infested waters around the prison made it impossible for prisoners to escape. There were fourteen escape attempts, but every single one failed.


Today, Alcatraz is a popular tourist attraction. Over one million people visit Alcatraz every year. During their visits, they get to tour the prison and listen to stories about the prisoners. Happily for the visitors, they are able to leave the island on a boat rather than staying as prisoners!


Now that you learned about the history of Alcatraz, share two important facts you learned about Alcatraz with your parent or teacher. After sharing your facts, move on to the Got It? section, where you will take a virtual tour of Alcatraz.

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