Lesson Plan

Pre-Visit Activity: Wharves of the World

Derby Wharf
Illustration of a bustling, vibrant Derby Wharf.

Fred Freeman

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Grade Level:
Third Grade-Fifth Grade
Commerce and Industry, Economics, Entrepreneurs, Geography, Government, Hispanic or Latino American History and Culture, History, Maritime History, Science and Technology, Social Studies, Transportation, War of 1812
30-60 minutes
Group Size:
Up to 36
National/State Standards:
Grade 3 Concepts and Skills
History and Geography 2, 3
Economics 9
Learning Standards 3.9, 3.13 
Grade 5 Concepts and Skills
Economics 12, 13, 14
Learning Standards 5.11, 5.33


In “Wharves of the World,” students imagine the vibrant, bustling atmosphere in Salem at the turn of the 19th century when Salem and its people were tied to global trade.  Students use close observation to examine an illustration that depicts the wharves, warehouses, vessels, shipyards and the exchange of goods and ideas that that characterized the area.  The lesson, aimed at grades 3-5, will take 30-60 minutes to complete. 


Students will be able to:

  • Describe how the wharves and the surrounding area once looked.
  • List the types of work and activities that took place on the wharves.
  • Explain the importance of maritime commerce in the development of the nation.


Of all the dozens of wharves lining the harbor during Salem's Golden Age of Sail, Derby Wharf was the center of activity. As such, it was crowded with ships arriving from or leaving for exotic ports; the many warehouses and stores held desirable treasures; merchants, shoppers, sailors, curious children and foreigners walked amid the bustle. There was noise from conversations, construction, and animals, as well as smells from the coffee, pepper and tea being unloaded on the dock. It could be a place of happiness when a ship returned from a long voyage with a profitable cargo, or one of sadness when informed of the death of a loved one at sea.



Illustration of Derby Wharf by Fred Freeman. Salem's wharves were a rich and vital scene especially when a merchant ship arrived.



1. Informal teacher observation of the activity in progress.

2. Informal checking for understanding during classroom discussion.



Park Connections

The purpose of Salem Maritime National Historic Site is to promote the maritime history of New England and the United States, and preserve part of the historic waterfront in Salem, Massachusetts. Together, this collection of wharves and buildings tell the story of the development of colonial port towns, the importance of international trade to the early economy of the United States, and the connection between maritime trade and growing industrialization.




1. Assign a writing assignment. Here are several ideas for writing activities:

  • Choose a person and write in the first person as if you are that person. Imagine that you are "inside" the person, writing about that person's life, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Choose an object in the photo and write in the first person as if you were that object.
  • Choose two people in the scene. What do you imagine they are saying to each other? Write a conversation between the two people.
  • Interview person(s) depicted in the illustration. Develop questions for the interview. Invite other students to play the roles of the people in the illustration you have chosen.
  • Who is not in the illustration? Why are they left out? Write a story from the point of view of the person missing.
  • Write a diary entry for a person in the illustration.

 2. Ask students to consider how the wharves connected Salem to the world. How has the trading and shipping experience changed, and what has remained the same? Research the various export and import products of Salem over time (Pre-Revolution, post-Revolution, Industrial Revolution). Find out why shipping left Salem.



Last updated: February 26, 2015