Activity Overview

Starting a unit or lesson with the key terms aids in overall comprehension and retention. In this activity, students will create a storyboard that defines and illustrates key terms related to the Transcontinental Railroad. It is helpful for students to preview vocabulary and important terms when studying history to help give them context.

Examples of Terms Related to the Transcontinental Railroad

ballast: Gravel or rocks used to hold ties in place and to provide good drainage.

continent: One of the earth's seven major areas of land. The continents are: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.

couple: To hook two train cars together.

end o track: The railhead, or end of the tracks.

engineer: A driver of a train. Also, a person who designs and directs construction of a railroad.

fishplate: A flat piece of metal used to connect two rails end-to-end.

flatcar: A railroad car without any sides.

gandy dancer: A man who aligns the rails; also called a track liner.

gang: a crew of railroad workers.

gorges: Narrow spaces between rocky cliffs

grade: Ground that has been leveled and smoothed for a railroad

graders: Workers who level out roadways or other surfaces

granite: A hard stone that is created as a result of volcanic activity

hogger: The engineer, or driver of a train; also called a hoagie, or hoghead.

immigrants: People who settle permanently in a country where they were not born.

iron car: A flat car pulled over rails by men or animals, used to carry iron rails, tools, and supplies

Iron Horse: The Native Americans' name for a locomotive.

ironmen: The men who lay the rails onto the ties.

locomotive: An engine that pulls or pushes railroad cars that is powered by either steam, electricity or diesel fuel.

maul: A hammer for driving spikes.

pioneer: A person who aligns the ties.

rail: An iron bar forming a train track.

roadbed: The ground upon which the rails, ties and ballast rest.

settlers: People who make their homes in a new area.

siding: A set of tracks running alongside the main tracks.

spike: A large nail for securing the rails to the ties.

surveyor: A person who measures the land to determine the route for the railroad by measuring angles and distances with special instruments.

tamper: A person who packs down the ballast

telegraph: An instrument that uses electrical signals, in the form of coded signals, to quickly communicate over large distances.

territories: Regions that are claimed by and are run by a country.

thrusting bolt: A pin used to secure a fishplate to a rail.

ties: Pieces of wood that support the rail to which the rails are fastened.

Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Use This Assignment With My Students", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)

Due Date:

Objective: Create a spider map that defines and illustrates key vocabulary and terms related to the Transcontinental Railroad.

Student Instructions:

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. In the title boxes, identify the terms you have chosen.
  3. In the description boxes, write the definition or description of the term.
  4. Create an illustration for each term using appropriate scenes, characters, and items.

Requirements: Must have 3 terms, correct definitions or descriptions, and appropriate illustrations for each that demonstrate your understanding of the words.

Lesson Plan Reference

Grade Level 6-8

Difficulty Level 2 (Reinforcing / Developing)

Type of Assignment Individual

Type of Activity: Visual Vocabulary Boards

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/L/9-10/3] Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening
  • [ELA-Literacy/L/9-10/4] Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 9-10 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies
  • [ELA-Literacy/L/9-10/6] Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression


(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

Define and illustrate each of the key terms.
7 Points
4 Points
1 Points
The vocabulary words are correctly defined.
The meaning of the vocabulary words can be understood but it is somewhat unclear.
The vocabulary word is not clearly defined
The storyboard illustrations clearly depict the meaning of the vocabulary words.
The illustrations relate to the meaning of the vocabulary words but it they are difficult to understand.
The illustrations do not clearly relate to the meaning of the vocabulary words.
Evidence of Effort
Work is well written and carefully thought out.
Work shows some evidence of effort.
Work shows little evidence of any effort.

More Storyboard That Activities

Transcontinental Railroad

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