Where in the world is California? It is always amazing (amusing?) to me where my students THINK they live. A first pre-assessment I give is to have students draw California and label anything they know: cities, oceans, streets, etc. For some reason, it is not uncommon for many of them to label Las Vegas or another state! This is a very eye-opening and informative way for me to see what they know and still need to know! Some know to label Sacramento as the capital, while others include Target or their house!
After sharing their maps, I collect and save them until the end of the year, when we repeat this exercise. (Luckily, by then their maps are more accurate and detailed!) Since 3rd grade focuses on local history and our city, students have a pretty good sense of our immediate area. I introduce the greater California areas by sharing photos of the four main regions: coast, desert, mountains, and Central Valley. My husband LOVES taking road trips, so I have many photos of the various regions! You're welcome to use any of these pictures below to show your classes.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Kings Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon National Park
I've also compiled a photo file with 36 gorgeous photos and facts about each region. You can purchase your copy here or by clicking on the photo below. These are great to use as visual vocabulary, especially for your English learners or if your students have not traveled much outside their own area.
After introducing the regions, we begin to delve deeper. Students are divided into regions groups to do more research. Along with our Social Studies text, some of the books we love to use are: Mojave (desert) and Sierra (mountains) by Diane Siebert, A Day's Work by Eve Bunting (Central Valley), Redwoods by Jason Chin (mountains) and Celebrating California by Marion Dane Bauer. I have not found any appropriately leveled books for the coast yet. There are many gorgeous books with pictures of the coast, but there's not enough meaty information about the LAND. If you know of any titles, please let me know!! After groups gather information, they present their facts to the class while students take notes on a graphic organizer. You can download a copy of the organizer here.
A picture book I use as a writing frame throughout the year is The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. It has a lovely poetic rhythm and can be used in any subject to assess student knowledge. Once students have their notes on each region, they write their own book, The Important Thing About California Regions and illustrate. This is a terrific way to assess if they understood the main facts about California geography! This has been a top seller in my TpT store. You can get the book template & rubric here.