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Follow the Light

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Students will explore the purpose of lighthouses as a means of assisting navigation, and will demonstrate their ability to follow cardinal directions.

Coin Type(s)

  • Quarter

Coin Program(s)

  • 50 State Quarters


Students will explore the purpose of lighthouses as a means of assisting navigation, and will demonstrate their ability to follow cardinal directions.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies


  • Second grade
  • Third grade

Class Time

Sessions: Two
Session Length: 30-45 minutes
Total Length: 46-90 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Individual work

Background Knowledge

Students should have a basic knowledge of:

  • U.S. Geography
  • Map skills
  • Cardinal directions

Terms and Concepts

  • Lighthouse
  • Map
  • Cardinal directions
  • Compass rose


  • 1 overhead projector (optional)
  • 1 overhead transparency (or photocopy) of the Maine quarter reverse
  • 1 class map of the United States of America
  • 1 copy of an age-appropriate text that relates to lighthouses, such as:
    • The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde Hoyt Swift
    • Beacons of Light: Lighthouses by Gail Gibbons
    • Birdie’s Lighthouse by Deborah Hopkinson-Smith
    • Littlest Lighthouse by Ruth Sexton Sargent
    • Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie by Connie Roop
  • Copies of the Lighting the Way worksheet
  • 1 overhead transparency (or photocopy) of the Lighting the Way worksheet


  • Make an overhead transparency (or photocopy) of the Maine quarter reverse.
  • Locate an appropriate text that relates to lighthouses. (See examples under “Materials.”)
  • Make copies of the Lighting the Way worksheet (1 per student).
  • Make an overhead transparency (or photocopy) of the Lighting the Way worksheet.

Worksheets and Files

Lesson plan, worksheet(s), and rubric (if any) at

Session 1

  1. Describe the 50 State Quarters® Program for background information, if necessary, using the example of your own state, if available. Then display the transparency or photocopy of the Maine quarter reverse. On a classroom map, have a pair of students locate Maine. Note its position in relation to your school’s location.
  2. With the students, examine the design on this coin’s reverse. Ask students to identify objects they recognize on the coin’s reverse: a lighthouse, a rocky coastline, a ship, and seagulls. Provide graphics or physical examples to intorduce new vocabulary.  Ask students why they think these elements were chosen to represent Maine, referring to Maine’s location on the classroom map where necessary.
  3. Explain to the students that the lighthouse on the coin is meant to be a rendition of a specific lighthouse, the Pemaquid Point Light, which is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Maine. This image is also representative of the more than 60 lighthouses that line the shores of Maine’s rocky coast.
  4. Introduce students to a selected text about lighthouses.
  5. As a group, preview the text and illustrations to generate predictions about the story.
  6. Read the selected text to the class and see if their predictions were correct.
  7. Ask students to list any information that they have learned about lighthouses. (The basic information students should mention is that lighthouses exist in places that are difficult to navigate, and they help to guide sailors, particularly in the dark.)
  8. While conducting this discussion, guide students’ thinking by asking how they think sailors can tell the lighthouses apart. Record all student responses.  Note: If not mentioned by students, explain that lighthouses are each painted differently so that sailors can tell them apart in the day time. To help sailors tell the differences between lighthouses at night, each has a different pattern of flashing light called its characteristic. To help in bad weather conditions, when sailors cannot see the light pattern clearly, each lighthouse also has a specific sound pattern emitted by a fog horn.

Session 2

  1. Ask students what resources they would use in order to find a specific location. (Students should list ideas such as maps, compasses, charts, and atlases.)
  2. Find the cardinal directions in your classroom and label north, south, east, and west on the walls.
  3. Explain that in this activity, students will follow directions on a map to find a variety of different lighthouses along the shoreline.
  4. Distribute the “Lighting the Way” worksheets to students.
  5. Review the directions as a class. Take time to review the compass rose as well.
  6. Have students work independently to complete their maps.
  7. Once complete, display an overhead version of the “Lighting the Way” worksheet.  Ask a student to read each set of directions aloud, and ask a different student to come to the overhead projector and follow the directions as they were read.

Differentiated Learning Options

  • When reviewing directional vocabulary, invite students to act out the movements detailed on the “Lighting the Way” worksheet.
  • Label the classroom’s cardinal directions and have students take turns reading and physically following the worksheet’s instructions.


Allow students to take the opportunity to research the location of concentrations of other lighthouses in the United States. Students can select and explore information about a lighthouse of particular interest to them, and use a media style of their choosing to present the details that they learned.

Use the worksheets and class participation to assess whether the students have met the lesson objectives.

There are no related resources for this lesson plan.

This lesson plan is not associated with any Common Core Standards.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: All Language Arts Standards
Cluster: Literature
Grade(s): Grades K–12

  • Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience. 

Discipline: Social Studies
Domain: All Thematic Standards
Cluster: Time, Continuity, and Change
Grade(s): Grades K–12

Teachers should:

  • assist learners to understand that historical knowledge and the concept of time are socially influenced constructions that lead historians to be selective in the questions they seek to answer and the evidence they use
  • help learners apply key concepts such as time, chronology, causality, change, conflict, and complexity to explain, analyze, and show connections among patterns of historical change and continuity
  • enable learners to identify and describe significant historical periods and patterns of change within and across cultures, including but not limited to, the development of ancient cultures and civilizations, the emergence of religious belief systems, the rise of nation-states, and social, economic, and political revolutions
  • guide learners in using such processes of critical historical inquiry to reconstruct and interpret the past, such as using a variety of sources and checking their credibility, validating and weighing evidence for claims, searching for causality, and distinguishing between events and developments that are significant and those that are inconsequential
  • provide learners with opportunities to investigate, interpret, and analyze multiple historical and contemporary viewpoints within and across cultures related to important events, recurring dilemmas, and persistent issues, while employing empathy, skepticism, and critical judgment; and enable learners to apply ideas, theories, and modes of historical inquiry to analyze historical and contemporary developments, and to inform and evaluate actions concerning public policy issues.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: All Language Arts Standards
Cluster: Use of Spoken, Written, and Visual Language
Grade(s): Grades K–12

  • Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: All Language Arts Standards
Cluster: Applying Strategies to Text
Grade(s): Grades K–12

  • Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound–letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: All Language Arts Standards
Cluster: Effective Communication
Grade(s): Grades K–12

  • Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

Discipline: Social Studies
Domain: All Thematic Standards
Cluster: People, Places, and Environment
Grade(s): Grades K–12

Teachers should:

  • Enable learners to use, interpret, and distinguish various representations of Earth such as maps, globes, and photographs, and to use appropriate geographic tools
  • Encourage learners to construct, use, and refine maps and mental maps, calculate distance, scale, area, and density, and organize information about people, places, regions, and environments in a spatial context
  • Help learners to locate, distinguish, and describe the relationships among varying regional and global patterns of physical systems such as landforms, climate, and natural resources, and explain changes in the physical systems
  • Guide learners in exploring characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth’s surface
  • Have learners describe how people create places that reflect culture, human needs, current values and ideals, and government policies
  • Provide opportunities for learners to examine, interpret, and analyze interactions of human beings and their physical environments, and to observe and analyze social and economic effects of environmental changes, both positive and negative
  • Challenge learners to consider, compare, and evaluate existing uses of resources and land in communities, regions, countries, and the world
  • Direct learners to explore ways in which Earth’s physical features have changed over time, and describe and assess ways historical events have influenced and been influenced by physical and human geographic features