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Postcards from California

A Unit on Geography, Social Studies, History


California’s Resources


Regina Nunley


Thematic Unit: California Postcards





            The geographic regions of our home state of California will be the focus of this 4th grade unit for 7 weeks. Students will examine patterns that influence population density in each region.  Social studies, science and math curriculum will be integrated to produce a class wall map of California identifying the four distinctive regions of the state as a final product of the unit. 

            Students will work in groups doing on-line and library research to compile data, facts, and anecdotes to produce a travel-guide magazine and post cards of their assigned region to advertise the appeal of the region they are assigned.  Individual work will consist of in-class activities, class discussion contributions, journal reflections, and weekly homework assignments.  This unit will strengthen students’ utilization of various methods to gather, analyze, publish and present factual data.  Integration of these skills will give students real-world experience for future research papers, projects, and projects. 


Unit Learning Goals: Content and Process



           I.    The learner will identify characteristics of the 4 major regions of California such as geography, climate, landforms and waterways.

          II.    The learner will survey maps, charts, and pictures to describe land use.

         III.   The learner will compare major cities in each region and record, analyze and report on aspects of population, use of land, and commerce.

        IV.   The learner will verify major facts about California, such as its land size, populations of major cities, and transportation routes.

         V.   The learner will connect how California landforms, waterways, and vegetation affect population density and use of land.


        VI.  The learner will demonstrate collaborative research skills to produce 3 graded products.

       VII. The learner will produce individual notes, charts, and reflections.


California Content Standard Connections:

History-Social Science

4.1 Students demonstrate an understanding of the physical and human geographic features that define places and regions in California.

  1. Identify the state capital and describe the various regions of California, including how their characteristics and physical environments (e.g., water, landforms, vegetation, climate) affect human activity.
  2. Identify the locations of the Pacific Ocean, rivers, valleys, and mountain passes and explain their effects on the growth of towns.
  3. Use maps, charts, and pictures to describe how communities in California vary in land use, vegetation, wildlife, climate, population density, architecture, services, and transportation.



Earth Science

5. Waves, wind, water, and ice shape and reshape Earth's land surface.

a.       Students know some changes in the earth are due to slow processes, such as erosion, and some changes are due to rapid processes, such as landslides, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.

b.       Students know moving water erodes landforms, reshaping the land by taking it away from   some places and depositing it as pebbles, sand, silt, and mud in other places (weathering, transport, and deposition).

Mathematics - Statistics, Data Analysis, and Probability

1.0 Students organize, represent, and interpret numerical and categorical data and clearly communicate their findings:

1.1 Formulate survey questions; systematically collect and represent data on a number line; and coordinate graphs, tables, and charts.



Mathematical Reasoning


1.0 Students make decisions about how to approach problems:


1.1 Analyze problems by identifying relationships, distinguishing relevant from irrelevant information, sequencing and prioritizing information, and observing patterns.



Instructional Overview


            Many people know very little about the state in which they reside.  California’s climate, resources, and diverse population make an attractive home for many.  As a study in social science, children will learn aspects about the state that may have influenced their own parents to relocate here. In third grade, children are taught about geography; in 4th grade that knowledge is used as a scaffold to learn about California and its unique geography.  In this unit, the children will have various experiences that will allow them to construct knowledge about very common aspects of life, and apply them to understanding why so many people visit or call California home.

            The unit will open with hands on concrete demonstration of the region’s resources.  Each work group of 5 students will examine a kit of specific artifacts to symbolize each region.  As they experience and record data and thoughts from each kit, and go on to the other 3, I would be assessing prior knowledge.  Later that week, as a homework assignment, I would provide each child with a KWL chart to formulate at least 2 K’s and W,s for each region, which the class will use to form an inclusive chart the next day’s lesson.  We would spend about 3 days the first week laying groundwork for the differences of each region, by seeing a film, doing some internet research at my history/language arts learning center, and library time.  At the learning center, specific websites for each region will be noted for students to do research on each region.  Students will be given various opportunities weekly to work in the learning center- on a sign up basis.

            My first lesson the second week would be a direct instruction lesson about California geography and landforms.  After a brief discussion of what we experienced the previous week’s lessons, I will provide handouts with important vocabulary and definitions, terms, and research resources for each group.  Each student would be given a project booklet outlining what will be expected for completing all the projects.  I will set up additional time after school and Saturday for students to meet with each other, or with me- to work on the unit.  Inside the project booklet- a parent letter explaining (in Spanish and English) the unit will be included – a tear off will be included to make certain they understand there will be a take-home components, and to enlist their help.  I will teach research skills – how to take notes – and set up a sign up sheet for computer time –so each group will have a fair share of time to work.  The students will be required weekly to write reflections on prompts related to the unit that I will provide.  I will collect and review journals at specified times.  I will also have each member come speak to me individually about how the group is working together.

            Lessons during week 3 would include data collection and creating graphs to show data on population, commerce, and tourism.  We would review charts and maps listing populations of different California cities – the class would be given hand outs to write notes on as well.  We would discuss how data might be collected – and pick a few cities in California to compare population, land area, waterways, mountains, and recreational areas. 

            Week four would be focused on analyzing compiled information.  At this point, each group should have a good amount of data about their region, and some comparative graphs. Each group will work on what they want to include in their magazine, and contribute to the class map.  The students will also be given the rubric for each project, to help them narrow down or embellish the data and background they have found in their research. During a class period, each group will share some of the information they have found so far and receive peer feedback– and to form a subgroup from each work group to put together our class map of California regions.  Each group will be given 15-20 minutes each day to work on their magazine and put together information to send to the subgroup.  I will spend 10 minutes daily with one or two groups, sitting in and facilitating their group process.

            Week five’s lessons are preparing the children for final completion of their projects to be presented in small groups the following week.  As the children are formatting and proofreading their work, I will have minilessons with each group on editing, phrasing, punctuation, and layout.  I will pass out the individual post card creative component, which each student will do and turn in before their magazine presentation.  Both components have a written product due.  One is a group magazine, the other will be a short post-card write up placed on back of their 8x10 “postcard.”  Weeks 5 and 6 I will spend a few evenings, and some time on Saturday, to help my students.  Parents will be welcome to join us – in fact about week 4, a letter will be sent home to remind the parents of the class presentations, and to contact or come by to see me if they would like to help in the classroom.

Week 6 I will teach a lesson on presentation.  I will have a hand out on how to I will have taught a lesson on presenting and would have allowed each group to present informally one aspect of their full presentation.  The class would critique on a form and give feedback – which I will give to each group to use to improve their final presentation during week 7.

Week 7 the group magazine and presentation are due.  We will put together our class map before we present, possibly that Monday.

Assessment Tools During California Postcards Unit


            During this unit there is a lot of group activity work.  As hands – on proponent of learning, I cannot give letter or objective grades for most of that work. Students will be given a packet explaining the types of assessment tools and expectations throughout the unit.  The most important one during group work will be informal assessment, which I will do by joining groups each session, asking open ended and probing questions about lessons, research gathered, and feedback being incorporated into practice by the students – for this I will rely on anecdotal notes taken to provide a more holistic picture of each child’s progress.  I will give a content, and participation point for journal entries- each prompt I give will be graded for 0-2 points – for what each child responds to, and whether they made a connection with the material and activity for the lesson.

            I send homework to reinforce content, and provide individual assessment opportunities on conceptual knowledge and understanding, and also to determine which students might need remediation.  Homework will be graded on a point system, with each task completed, and correctness given 0-2 points each.  During week 4 I noted a point system for the Language Arts /Writing assignment, which identifies specific areas for assessment.  I will also use the sign in sheet process to use the computers as a point/assessed opportunity- each child will be provided with opportunities, and must have a specific (at least 5) research sheets with sources filled out and turned in at a certain point (about week 5). I will be cross-checking what I find in their journals to see if they are using the research time, or not.

            The postcard, magazine, and individual paper components of this unit will all be assessed using a rubric.  I include the postcard rubric in the next page.

The individual postcard creative component is an 8X10 two sided project to be completed on the card stock paper I provide.  Student will be instructed to do all their planning on regular paper First. Student must take some of the information they have gathered for their group project to create a postcard celebrating the sights, sounds, favorite places, and regional and geographical highlights of their region.  Student is not limited to items they researched for class, as long as they are unique to their region.  Use of visuals, either drawn, cut from magazines, or from internet.  Stress to not plagiarize the write up on the back side of their postcard- it must be in their own words.  Points will be given for neatness, originality, inclusive of specific points in the rubric below.
Postcard Project Rubric

Scale                                      Required Components                Reflection Components




Beyond Average Performance

1 Clearly States at least 5 facts about region.

2 Includes 1 graph about region

3 Names at least 3 cities/towns in region

4 Provides 1 interesting unknown fact about region

5 Colorful, neat, well planned artwork on postcard

6 Turned in on time


Reflections for each component of post card should be found in journal. 


One point for each mention of how student pulled info out to use for postcard project from group work.



Good Performance


1 Clearly States at least 3 facts about region.

2 Includes 1 graph about region

3 Names at least 2 cities/towns in region

4 Colorful, neat, artwork on postcard

5 Turned in on time


Reflections for each component of post card should be found in journal. 


One point for each mention of how student pulled info out to use for postcard project from group work.



Adequate Performance


1 Clearly States at least 1 fact about region.

2 Includes 1 graph about region

3 Names at least 1 city/town in region

4 Colorful, neat, artwork on postcard

5 Turned in on time



Reflections for each component of post card should be found in journal. 


One point for each mention of how student pulled info out to use for postcard project from group work.



Unacceptable Performance

Anything less than above- including Turning in Late

Speak with Teacher




California Postcards Unit -Week 1 – Lesson 1

Domain – History/Social Studies



  • Students will describe at least 3 characteristics of each geographical regions
  • Students will compare and contrast major elements of the geographic regions
  • Students will identify at least 1 human use for each regions resources


Materials: Plastic Boxes for each region containing artifacts:

  • Coastal Region – sand, sea shells, seaweed, a jar of ocean water, pebbles or stones from the beach, plastic sea creatures, pelican feathers, a chunk of shale, post cards from several Southern California beaches, toy boats, a snorkel
  • Central Valley – different types of dirt in containers, packages of fruit and vegetable seeds, a zip lock bag of leaves from various fruit and plants grown in the Valley, plastic fruit and vegetables, mini farm equipment –toys, plastic farm animals, a jar of fertilizer, yard gloves and a hat.
  • Mountains – rocks of appropriate composition found in our Sierras, containers of dirt, container, plastic snakes, insects, coyotes, bears and other animals found in mountains, post cards of places like Big Bear, and Mt. Shasta, a zip locked bag of Chaparral, some mountain flowers
  • Desert – rocks of appropriate composition found in our deserts, containers of dirt, cactus in a container, plastic snakes, insects, other animals found in deserts, post cards of places like Mojave, and Death Valley, and Joshua Tree, a zip locked bag of tumble week, some desert  flowers


  • Student Journaling books, Pencils, Pictures of each region, Library books on California Geographical Regions, Magazines like ‘Sunset”, Project Booklet – parent form/tear off


Time: 45 minutes



  • Each work group of 5 students will work collaboratively, to describe and record what they find in their boxes.  Students will interact with all of their senses (except taste) and to record their experiences in their writing journals
  • Each group will have about 5-10 minutes to interact with the items, make notes in their journals, and move to the next box.


Procedures: Teacher will provide direct instruction consisting of an overhead and pictorial lesson on the four regions.  We will discuss each regions physical make up, water availability, populations, and some major cities in each region.  Students will be able to compare and contrast each region and identify from pictures shown in class which region is shown.  


Assessment: Teacher will give a prompt for journaling about what they learned and give a point for each entry throughout project based on the students’ ability to express in a reflection a concept learned each lesson. 


Extension: Each child will use a KWL chart to formulate at least 2 K’s and W,s for each region, which the class will use to form an inclusive chart the next day’s lesson.





California Postcards Unit -Week 2 – Lesson 1

Domain: Earth Sciences



Students will be able to describe erosion techniques.

Students will be able to identify the effect of ice on land.

Students will be able to identify the effect of wind on land.

Students will be able to identify the effect of water on landforms.




Long box lids, sand, water, containers or cups, newspaper, spoons, paper, and pencils.

Aluminum foil, Modeling Clay, Ice Cubes


Time: 45 minutes


Activity:  Students will work in groups with teacher modeling first activity at one of the tables. The rest of the activities will be done by the students.  Teacher will walk around class scaffolding knowledge and asking questions to focus students’ observations. For each set of activities, students will observe the outcomes and note what happens in their science journal.


1 – Sand Dunes-Teacher will place sand in a pile and blow gently from one side. Teacher will ask each work group to have a volunteer do the same. 


2- Windblown Deposits: Students will place the box lid on the center of the paper. Then remove the lid from the sand and place it inside the box lid near the center. Blow gently on the sand, increase the strength of your breath until sand is being thrown from the lid. Continue blowing for 5 to 10 seconds at this rate.


3-Water Weight Erosion: Find a spot of bare dry earth. Pour a cupful of water on it. Repeat on the same spot, but this time hold the cup from as high a distance as possible. Observe and note changes when you poured your first cupful of water. Also note how the second cupful from a greater height affected the earth.


4- Glaciers and Erosion: Taking a 12 inch square piece of aluminum foil formed into a box shape with edges about 2 inches high that was put it in a freezer overnight. Remove the block. Rub over some clay. Note how the block of ice felt. Note what happened when you rubbed it over clay.


5-Glacial Erosion: Press the ice cube lightly on the flat surface of the modeling clay. Move it back and forth several times. Note what happens to the clay and to the ice.  Place a small pile on the surface of the clay. Place the ice cube over the sand on the clay. Let it sit one minute. Pick up the ice cube and look at the surface that had been on the sand. Note what you see. Place the ice cube back in the same position and move ice back and forth on the sandy surface of the clay a few times. Remove the ice cube and gently wipe the excess sand off the surface of the clay. Describe the surface of the clay when it was rubbed by the sand and ice.


6-Landslides: Build a sand castle. After you have it shaped firmly, pour some water on it. Pour the water slowly and gently. Keep pouring until the sand can absorb no more water. Note what happened at first. Note final result.


Assessment: I will give a prompt for journaling about what they learned for each experiment.  I will read their journals at various intervals throughout the unit.  I will give a point for each entry based on the students’ ability to express at least one idea they understood about each experiment  


Extension: A vocabulary list of terms and definitions will be given out.  Each child will need to write a sentence describing each term based on what they saw in class today.  They may use their journal notes. 


Remediation: During independent work time – I will work independently with my English learners and children who have shown me in past they need additional help.  I will use mostly visual representations of each erosion form.  We will do the extension together.

References: Adapted from ERIC Lesson Plan #:AELP-PHY0016

California Postcards Unit -Week 3 – Lesson 1

Domain: Math – Statistics, Data Analysis, and Probability


Objectives: Students will be able to:

1.  Define and explain the following terms:  bar graph, line graph, picture graph, pie graph,

     vertical axis, horizontal axis

2.       Interpret data from a graph

3.       Create a graph from given data


Materials: One sheet of poster board (18x24) with an X and Y axis; strips of different color construction paper 2"x 12"; scissors for each group.


Activity Procedures:

1.  Groups of 5 students will be assigned roles. (Leader, timekeeper, recorder, checker, reporter)


2.  Teacher instructs the groups to predict how many shoe eyelets are in the classroom without looking at the other students' shoes. Teacher will remind the students there are 12 eyelets in running shoes, and high tops and boots have approx. 24-and some have 0.

3. Teacher will ask a volunteer to reiterate what the assignment is asking for.

4. Teacher will ask students to make predictions of how many eyelets are in the classroom.

5. Students will look at the shoes and count the eyelets of each member of "their group only".

6. Paper monitors will give each group a strip of construction paper (colored). One inch on the strip will be equal to 100 eyelets. After the groups have gathered and discussed their data they will cut the strip to the length equal to their prediction.

7.       A member of each group will bring their strip of paper up to the poster board and glue the strip to the board.

Time: 1hour


Guided Instruction:

Teacher will ask each group to give their count of their own group. Total these figures to come up with the actual sum of eyelets in the classroom. Teacher will ask the groups what methods they used to come with their predictions.


Teacher will take data from board- using overhead – show class how to represent the data in a pie chart, bar graph, line graph, and picture graph.  Teacher will provide a handout with the type of graph, definition and components, and space for the students to add notes.


Teacher will end lesson with a recap and brief discussion on how we will use these skills to analyze data on the internet at the learning centers – to create graphs of California population for our projects. Later on in the week, the students will be given data about 2 cities in each geographical region, and compile, analyze and prepare data for charting.  Each group will work together to create at least 2 charts showing data compiled.


Independent Practice:


For a weekend homework project, each student will be given a sheet to gather data around their neighborhood.  I would like them to identify common items, and then give me a rationale for why they picked the data sources.  This will lead into a discussion next week on how to do research and analyze sources.





I will have each group hand in their findings- along with a copy of the charts they completed. I will give up to 10 points for each aspect of the group activity.  The homework activity will be given up to 5 points for their rationale, and the reasonable approach they took to gather data and record.

California Postcards Unit -Week 4 – Lesson 1 & 2

Domain: Language Arts/Writing



  • The student will analyze a research article
  • The student will create a graphic organizer to visually plot ideas
  • The student will utilize peer feedback to improve interpretation of data and information
  • The student will apply writing, organizer and feedback skills to write a mini-research paper from a prompt



  • Copies of old magazines
  • Students writing journals, and pens or colored pencils and markers
  • Various types of graphic organizers
  • Overheads and markers


Time: 45 minutes -2x this week




Directed Instruction: Students will read aloud a short article from a magazine.  The article will be on a current event.  Class will work together to identify key points and discuss structure and method writer presented the information to audience. I will discuss audience, and how to write ‘to’ them.  Students will create a graphic organizer of article – points and support data.  Students will walk teacher through drawing a small graph of any numerical data given. Some students will be called on to interpret the data – others will be called on to link the article information to the data.  I will encourage peer feedback during both processes – then we as a class will review the process for understanding. 


Independent Practice: Pairs of students will work on new topics which will be passed out, and repeat the process – this time the topics will be related to our class project.  Students will not get the region they are currently working on.  Details they need to complete this assignment will be given with the article. Blank graphic organizers will also be provided.  Students will be asked to write a concise 1 page paper (over weekend-begun in class today) reporting what their article says- citing data, and facts.  During this class time, students may discuss with any other students of their choosing.


Assessment: Points will be assigned for the following:


0-6 points – List at least 3 key points and a supporting statement from the article for each

0-9 points – An opening paragraph with a statement on the purpose of the article, author of article, where it was published, date and volume (if applicable).  At least 3 well written paragraphs with one key point per paragraph.  Good punctuation, no spelling errors.

0-4 points for a clear, tight conclusion.

0-1 point for neat handwriting

Total of 15 points for assignment


Extension: Assignment will be started in classroom, and completed at home.


Remediation: My students will additional needs will sit with me at a group table to discuss and write, while the other children are working on the independent practice here.  I will send a sheet home explaining the assignment for their parent/guardian.




California Postcards Unit -Week 5 – Lesson 1-3

Domain- History, Social Science, Language Arts




  • The Learner will identify 2 distinctions of each geographical region in California
  • The Learner will classify regions top commercial uses – at least 2
  • The Learner will record and compare populations and job categories in each region
  • The Learner will propose why each area has different appeal to human settlement based on analysis of data on resources and personal preferences
  • The Learner will design a rough draft of map depicting the region for their project



  • Laminated pictures of each region for the project group assigned
  • Data on each reg ions agricultural, business, residential, and entertainment economics
  • Pictures and/or tourist guide books from each regions most well known cities/towns
  • Old Magazines with pictures of each region
  • Butcher paper for each table
  • Scissors, Tape, Colored Markers, rulers, curve/circular drawing materials,
  • Graphic organizer sheets (concept maps)
  • Homework packet for Postcards assignment –white heavy stock paper (3 sheets), assignment sheet, and example/template.


Time: 1hour – 3X this week


Procedures: I will instruct the children to review the materials carefully before starting. I will suggest they divide up the tasks to make sure they have each step covered of the lessons for the week.  I will take a picture out of one of the sets, and ask the group who is assigned this region to give me some information about the population, commercial resources, climate, and any other interesting information to begin to develop a concept map.  On an overhead, I will show students how to begin pulling together data and charts to make their 4 page magazine, by using a concept map.  Each group can begin planning their magazine lay-out on the butcher paper- using cut outs from magazines, markers, ect. 


Independent Instruction: Groups will work for majority of class lesson time to create their magazine mock up and compile information to be given to the group representative to do our class map after presentations of the individual groups’ magazines.


Assessment: In class work will be informally assessed via teacher observations, and journal notes on the experience. All children will be given points for collaborating with their group and the take home assignment (Postcard) will be graded on a rubric. The final magazine, and map contributions will also be graded on a rubric-which was given out in project handbook at beginning of unit.


Extension: I will pass out the Postcard assignment, which students will do at home for an independent grade.  All of the research they have done so far will give them ample information to make an 8X10 postcard on heavy paper, which is provided with the packet for them to take home.  Detailed instructions for student and parent are included.  The students will have to take the notes home they have so far to complete the assignment.  A rubric (attached) will be included.


Remediation: Has been done on a one-on-one basis throughout project.  At this point, students check in with me by signing up on a space on board daily.