Planes, Trains, Boats, and Automobiles

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12123

Would you like to walk everywhere you go? What if you had lots of stuff to carry or had to get somewhere in an emergency? Learn about different ways to get around and decide which is most appropriate!


Social Studies

Social Studies
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Skill Sharpener

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • What is the easiest way to get from your house to the supermarket?
  • How would you get somewhere very far away, like another country?

Some people live close enough to a supermarket that they can walk or ride their bike.

Most people have to use some form of transportation to get there, though.

  • So, what’s the easiest way to get to your local supermarket — car, bus, train, or plane?

The twenty-first century has opened the door to a variety of different types of transportation. Each type of transportation was created with the purpose of getting people where they need to go faster and cheaper. In this lesson, you will take a look at cars, ships, trains, and planes. You will learn how fast they move and what role they play in our world today.

Create the following chart on a piece of paper:



As you read the following information, record facts you learn about each mode of transportation in the chart. Try to record at least three facts about each mode of transportation.

  • Does your family own a car?

Your family might even own more than one car.

  • Where have you traveled in your car?
  • What is the farthest you have traveled?

In 1908, Henry Ford unveiled the Model T car. While other cars had been invented, the Model T was the first car that was accessible to families across the United States. Ford thought there should be a car that was affordable for all. Today, many families own at least one car.

Cars can travel on land. They can travel from the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States in as little as 36 hours. Cars can travel over 100 miles per hour, but this speed is considered dangerous. The average person drives at 40-60 miles per hour. Cars are used by families to get to and from work, visit local stores, and travel to visit friends and family.

  • Have you ever been on a large boat or ship?
  • What was it like?

In the 1800s, the invention of the steam engine led to the invention of the steamboat. Cars had not been invented yet, and the steamboat provided a much faster mode of transportation for that time for people moving west. Also in the 1800s, companies began producing large ships made from steel and powered by steam engines.

These massive ships could travel across more than rivers; they could travel across entire oceans! People began using the ships to travel across the Atlantic Ocean. It would typically take several weeks to travel from England to New York City. Even today, it still takes about two weeks to cross the Atlantic Ocean by ship. The fastest ships can travel about 34.5 miles per hour.

Today, people still use boats to travel. Thousands of people take vacations on cruise ships every year.

Also, ships play an important role in international trade. Goods are often transported from one country to another using large ships, like the one shown below:


  • Have you ever been on a train?
  • What was it like?

Like ships, trains were invented during the 1800s, thanks to the steam engine. Trains also provided a much faster mode of travel for people moving west. While it would take months for Americans to move west by wagon, it would only take a few days by train.

Today, trains are still used to help people travel from one city to another. Trains are also used to transport goods produced and harvested within the United States, such as coal. Trains can travel up to 217 miles per hour, although most trains travel much slower than this.

  • If you have ever seen a train moving, what was it carrying?


  • Have you been on a plane?
  • What was it like?

Planes are the most recent mode of mass transportation that has been invented. The first plane flew successfully in 1903.

Planes have many purposes. They are the fastest mode of transportation. The average plane used to transport families can travel up to 600 miles per hour and can fly across entire oceans in just a few hours. The fastest planes can fly at up to 2,000 miles per hour! Most of these planes are used for military purposes.

Planes play an important role in the military. They are used for transporting troops, spying on enemy nations, and dropping bombs. Planes also play a role in international trade. Like ships, they can be used to transport goods from one country to another.


Take a look at the chart you have been working on and use it to help you answer the following questions:

  • Which mode of transportation can travel the fastest?
  • Which mode of transportation travels the slowest?
  • Which mode of transportation is most commonly used by families?
  • What role does transportation play in international trade and economics?
  • What role does transportation play in the military?
  • How does transportation make our lives better?

When you are ready, move on to the Got It? section to learn about transportation in major cities.

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