Review by Kirstin Sobotka, Common Sense Education | Updated June 2015

Google Lit Trips

Free virtual sightseeing tours let kids explore literary settings

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts

Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Teachers say (3 Reviews)

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Pros: Cool Google Earth-based tours let kids explore literature in the real world.

Cons: Using tours effectively takes some legwork and technical know-how; some of these user-generated tours are much richer than others.

Bottom Line: A good starting point for extending students' engagement with the classroom’s most-used literary texts.

Elementary teachers could use the tours for whole-class activities, letting one student at a time tap through the steps of a tour to reveal the info on each stop. For older kids, teachers could more readily find their way through the site and explore on their own. For older elementary students, use one of the tours as part of a station rotation activity, and create discussion questions or complementary activities to make the tour just one piece of a larger activity to further engage students. Also, research the hyperlinks that some tours offer to provide extended-learning class openers or closers. Let middle school and high school students use Google Earth to create their own lit trip for novels or informational texts not listed on the site, and consider submitting those tours to the site's Special Projects section. 

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Google Lit Trips lets teachers and students use Google Earth to explore the real-world locations of more than 100 modern and classic works of fiction. Each "trip" is a free, downloadable file (created by a teacher) that teachers and students can use with Google Earth to explore a journey or the plot from a famous novel, short story, or poem. Each clickable "stop" on the tour connects to the story itself (like info about the plot and characters) or offers further context (like historical background or geographical insights) or an opportunity for further discussion (like a conversation starter or invitation to further research). Stops can contain text, audio, images, and video.

Users can watch a tutorial and download the starting guide prior to use to get a sense of all the features available (there are tons), but the site map and navigation bar along the top of the screen may be enough guidance without that support. Text levels range from kindergarten to college, and users can also explore the site's Special Projects section. Special projects include Lit Tours that visit world "literary locations" like famous literary festivals (such as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival), iconic bookstores (like Paris's Shakespeare and Company), and notable authors' homes (like the Emily Dickinson Museum). You can also explore GLT Personal Journeys, which are user-generated trips that teachers and students have created to illustrate a journey they've taken or hope to take with a literary theme.

The spirit of Google Lit Trips is great: This free resource was created by a teacher for other teachers, and it's a super-cool way to bring literature to life through the familiar lens of Google Maps and Google Earth. 

Keep in mind that there's a huge range of resources here, so teachers should spend some quality time exploring the different tours and figuring out how they'll work best in their classrooms. The content can be a little uneven: Some tours feature detailed content and thought-provoking questions, while others feature just a few images or audio clips. Though there are some solid teacher resources on the site, it's up to you to come up with the best way to use these resources to support your students' work with each of the texts on offer. That being said, the site's developers make it clear that this is an enrichment tool meant to supplement the text, not replace it: These tours "don't circumvent the need to actually do the writing," they write. Teachers should plan to read, play, explore, and then plan accordingly.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Depending on the trip, students could be reeled into the story by exploring images, videos, and historical anecdotes associated to their text. Some tours offer less than 10 stops with just corresponding images.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Students can learn about the author, plot, characters, and setting as well as related historical facts through a range of media, including images, videos, and contributor notes. There's also an occasional discussion question.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Some trips offer audio/visual elements and even hyperlinks to extend concepts. Trips include contributors' emails for contact purposes.

Common Sense Reviewer
Kirstin Sobotka Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

(See all 3 reviews) (3 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Cara B. , Other
RCS MIddle School
Ravena, NY
Travel Through Literature with Google Lit Trips
This resource will grab students attention and bring the book to life. One of the downfalls I found is using Google Lit Trips for a story set is back in history. The path students take and actual locations show how they look today, not back during the time the story took place. Some students will have a hard time picturing how the setting would have looked in the past. The resource itself is easy to use and contain common core questions to incorporate into your discussion or activity. This is a great background activity at the start of the story; or culminating activity for the end of a book.
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