Review by Vanessa Aranda, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2018

Google Lit Trips

Google Earth-powered tours explore how stories and geography connect

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • English Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
K–12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (3 Reviews)

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Pros: Adds depth and perspective to readings. Students can create their own tours.

Cons: Using tours effectively takes some legwork and technical know-how.

Bottom Line: With some initial fiddling, this can be a good option to increase student interest in -- and add depth to -- literary study.

Given some of the technical quirks of Google Lit Trips, teachers will want to start by reviewing and demonstrating the site on the projector as a whole class. After the intro, students and teachers can use Google Lit Trips to explore the cultural and geographic setting of a literary work. For high school students and above, the option to create a Lit Trip and submit it to the site offers students not only opportunities for creativity and independence, but also an extra extrinsic incentive: possible publication.

If letting students wander alone is too big of a jump too soon, smaller tasks in guided groups can make the experience a bit less daunting. Each location in a Google Lit Trip is a springboard for potential research, which can be assigned independently or to small groups. Collaborative groups can visit Google Lit Trips at certain key point during their reading, and discuss the pop-up material (video clips, photos, tutorials, questions) at each location. Alternatively, the class can be divided into small groups by location, with each group presenting that location, its materials, and extra research when the class's reading catches up to that point. If these activities really take off, why not create a class Lit Trip? Students can be assigned different stops corresponding to a book's geographical journey, conduct research and gather media and extra materials related to that stop, and then work together to build the Lit Trip.

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Google Lit Trips lets teachers and students use Google Earth to explore the real-world locations of more than 100 titles ranging from fiction to nonfiction and from kindergarten through college levels. To get started, users select a title and then receive a downloadable ZIP file or direct link via email. (It's a little odd but it works, and there's a video tutorial and downloadable guide to help.) Users then open that file in Google Earth; note that the Lit Trip is usefully saved in Google Earth's My Places for easy access later. In terms of the Lit Trips themselves, each follows a unique route depending on the book or narrative selected. Users advance the trip, zooming into locations either in the order provided or by clicking each location in the sidebar. Once zoomed in, users see a pop-up video, photo, tutorial, informative text, or question(s) about that geographical region or place in the storyline. Beyond the book-based Lit Trips, there's also the Our Own Stories section, with user-created and contributed Lit Trips based on personal narratives, as well as the Literary Locations section, which features sites of literary interest, such as Cannery Row or authors' homes. Advanced users who get familiar with the tool have the option to create their own Lit Trip and submit it for possible publication.

Getting started with Google Lit Trips will take some commitment. Teachers will need a device that supports Google Earth and a general comfort with it. They'll also need to learn how to get and use a Lit Trip itself, which involves a less-than-intuitive process of requesting a Lit Trip, receiving it via email, downloading it, and then adding it to Google Earth. This could feel cumbersome at first, but it's worth it. Subsequent go-rounds are much easier.

In terms of the Lit Trips themselves, they're a cool spin on studying books and narratives; the melding of stories and geography will be unique and inviting to students, and Google Earth is just a fun tool in itself. Lit Trips centralizes the landscape and cultural context of stories in a novel way that students will understand.

However, due to the range of what's in a Lit Trip -- everything from higher-order thinking questions to lengthy informative paragraphs to simple photos and texts -- teachers will need to vet Lit Trips and devise some differentiation strategies. Moreover, while the library of books on offer is commendable, it’s not impressively extensive. What's impressive, however, is the ability for students and teachers to create and contribute their own Lit Trips to fill the gaps. This last feature does mean that the Lit Trips themselves can range in quality. Fortunately, student-created Lit Trips are clearly labeled.

Overall Rating

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

Engagement varies depending on the number of stops and the interactive materials at each stop. Teacher-created activities can help increase student interest in specific trips.

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. The focus on geography offers a compelling new context for literary study. 

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
Vanessa Aranda Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Allison H. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Mount Pleasant Area School District
Mount Pleasant, United States
Helps to further engage students in knowledge pertaining to characters and setting
This is a great resource for literature. In my 8th grade classroom many of the students have a limited knowledge of geography as it pertains to the literature they are reading. In most cases this app lets them explore the setting and click on links to extend their knowledge of the area being referred to in the setting of a novel. The only disadvantage is the amount of information for each novel in not consistent, so if it a novel students chose independently some students may have more information ...
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