Lesson Plan

Innovation in Transportation

Lesson Plan Image
Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
30 Minutes
State Standards:
HP 1; HP 1 (3-4)-1; HP 2; HP 2-2; HP 2 (3-4)-3; HP 3; HP 3-1;
Additional Standards:
D2.Eco.3.3-5; D2.Eco.4.3-5; E 1 (3-4) –1; E 2 (K-2) – 2; D2.Geo.1.3-5; D2.Geo.2.3-5; D2.Geo.8.3-5; D2.His.1.3-5; D2.His.16.3-5

Essential Question

How did the modes of transportation in Rhode Island change over time?


1) Students will compare and contrast different modes of transportation.

2) Students will create a timeline to place modes of transportation used in Rhode Island during the 1800s and early 1900s in chronological order.


About These Materials:  

Rhode Island is a state with an extensive history, as it is part of the original thirteen colonies owned by England and played a crucial role in the development of America as a nation. Rhode Island was extremely influential in the United States Industrial Revolution; English immigrant Samuel Slater built a mill that made cotton thread along the Blackstone River Valley area of Rhode Island. With the funding from Moses Brown, this idea began a shift from agriculture to industry throughout parts of New England. Numerous other investors developed mill complexes that dotted Rhode Island’s rivers and utilized water power in new ways. Canals created a new mode of transportation while dams allowed human control of the rivers. This created major changes in how people moved over land and also how people were able to obtain goods and other basic needs. One of those investors was Captain Wilbur Kelly, whose influence in and around the area of Ashton will be the focus of this unit.  


The Rhode Island Historical Society, in partnership with Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, developed academic lessons that can be used on-site at the grounds of the Kelly House and the Ashton Mill complex as well as in the classroom if unavailable to go to the site itself. The project consisted of conducting archival research, reading secondary sources, and local educators creating interactive lessons for students which focus on historical context, ELA strategies, and STEM education. This unit provides a well-rounded learning experience for students at the upper elementary level. It intends to showcase a narrative of Rhode Islanders who used the Blackstone River Valley for commercial purposes. Educators could teach this unit during an exploration of famous Rhode Islanders, the Industrial Revolution, or the study of environment and geography in Rhode Island. 


View this set of videos for an overview of the history of the Wilbur Kelly and Ashton Mills. 

See this timeline of the history of the property from before European contact to the present. 

See this video by the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park about canal construction. 

How to Use These Materials 

The lessons do not need to be completed as a whole or in any particular order. A teacher may decide to teach the lesson on “The Rhode Island System” in the classroom before a class visit to the Kelly House, visit the Kelly House to walk the property and see what they have learned, run the “Testing the Water Quality of the Blackstone River” lesson while at the property, and follow up in the classroom with the “Project Zap” lesson. A teacher may decide to take pieces of one lesson and combine it with another. The lessons are for teachers to use as is fitting for their curriculum. There are endless possibilities. The lessons below give tips for running the lesson at the Kelly House Museum and property and in the classroom. Some of the lessons have additional suggested extension activities to deepen the lesson further. 



  • white 8 ½ x 11 inch construction paper (for paper timeline only - not needed for digital timeline) 

  • 3 x 3 in. sticky notes (for paper timeline only - not needed for digital timeline) 


This presentation is intended to help students through a guided discussion about transportation innovations during the Industrial Revolution

Download Innovation in Transportation Powerpoint

This document is an answer key for the presentation

Download Answer Key Innovation in Transportation Presentation

Lesson Hook/Preview

This lesson will have students identify various modes of transportation used from the 1800s into the 1900s. Students will compare and contrast the advantages and disadvantages of each method of travel. They will place the transportation innovations in chronological order on a timeline. 


  1. Have students open Google Classroom and access their Innovation in Transportation slides. 


  1. The teacher will ask the students, “How did you get to school today?” Students will record their answer on slide 2. 

Discuss possible responses, such as walking, riding a bike, driving in a car, and taking the bus.  


  1. Have students brainstorm other modes of transportation on their word web using slide 3. 


  1. Listen to Alice Hadfield (Timperley) tell about her life in the early 1900s and list the methods of transportation she used to travel from one place to another. 


  1. Students will examine five different modes of transportation: a canal barge, train, automobile, horse-drawn carriage, and bicycle. 


  1. Students will select each image to read more about the vehicle, identify its date first used in Rhode Island, and record the advantages and disadvantages of each.  

  • It is recommended that the teacher models this for the students using one of the five methods of transportation before they explore the remaining methods and complete the slides independently.   

  • As an alternative, the teacher may have students work in groups to focus on an assigned method of transportation. Each group will share their findings as the teacher acts as the class recorder. Students will complete slides 7-11 as group presentations take place. 


  1. List the dates of each method of travel in order from earliest to latest. 


  1. Complete a digital or paper timeline using the directions below.  

Digital Timeline Instructions: 

Directions: Follow the steps below to complete the transportation timeline on the next slide. 

  • Label the tick marks along the timeline from 1800 and up until the year 1900. 

  • In each callout box, write the date that the transportation invention was first used in Rhode Island. Name the mode of transportation.   

  • Create a summary sentence describing how it operated. (The first one has been done for you as an example.) 

  • Slide the completed callout box onto the timeline. Place the point of the callout box on the line according to the date of the mode of transportation. For example, if a vehicle was first used in 1865, place the point of the callout box directly in between 1860 and 1870. 

  • Alternate the position of the entries. The first one starts BELOW the line. The next one should be placed ABOVE the line, and so on. 

Paper Timeline Instructions: 

  • Distribute white 8 ½ x 11-inch construction paper to the students. 

  • Holding the paper horizontally, use a ruler to draw a line across the center of the paper. 

  • Mark off 1-inch segments using tick marks across the line. See below. 

  • Label the tick marks along the timeline starting from 1800, increasing by tens up to 1900.  

  • Alternate the position of the entries starting BELOW the line with the first entry and then ABOVE the line for the next entry. 

  • Using 3 x 3 in. sticky notes, write the date that the transportation invention was first used in Rhode Island. Name the mode of transportation. Create a summary 
    sentence describing how it operated. Illustrate a small example of the mode of transportation described. 

  • Attach each sticky note to the timeline. Draw a line from the sticky note to the timeline according to the date of the mode of transportation. 

  • Label the timeline as “Transportation Timeline.” 

  1. Read about the invention of the electric streetcar (trolley) and determine its year first used in Rhode Island. Explain the location on the timeline in which you would place this additional method of transportation. 


Barge: a flat-bottomed boat mainly used for transporting goods on canals and rivers 

Canal: a man-made long ditch that becomes a waterway for boats to use 

Spade: a digging tool with a long handle and a rectangular-shaped blade  

Timeline: a graphic display that shows events in chronological order 

Ton: 2,000 pounds 

Transportation: the action of bringing goods or people from one place to another 

Turnpike: a road in which people were charged a fee for travel 

Assessment Materials

The evolution of transportation during the 1800s and 1900s shows how new technologies impacted the way in which people traveled.  Placing these innovations in chronological order allows students to visualize the change over time.

  1. How did the inventions in transportation change over time in terms of their speed, design, and technology? 

  1. If you were to live during the 1800s or early 1900s, which method of transportation would you prefer to use when traveling from place to place? Why? 

  1. If we were to extend the timeline, what modern methods of transportation would you add to the timeline today? 

  1. What innovations in transportation do you think we will have in the future? 


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Last updated: January 4, 2024