Follow the Light


Students will explore the purpose of lighthouses as a means of assisting navigation, and will demonstrate their ability to follow cardinal directions.

Coin Type(s)

  • Quarter

Coin Program(s)

  • 50 State Quarters


Students will explore the purpose of lighthouses as a means of assisting navigation, and will demonstrate their ability to follow cardinal directions.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Social Studies
  • Language Arts


  • 2nd
  • 3rd

Class Time

  • Sessions: Two
  • Session Length: 30-45 minutes
  • Total Length: 46-90 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Individual work

Background Knowledge

Students should have a basic knowledge of:

  • U.S. Geography
  • Map skills
  • Cardinal directions

Terms and Concepts

  • Lighthouse
  • Map
  • Cardinal directions
  • Compass rose


  • 1 overhead projector (optional)
  • 1 overhead transparency (or photocopy) of the Maine quarter reverse
  • 1 class map of the United States of America
  • 1 copy of an age-appropriate text that relates to lighthouses, such as:
    • The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde Hoyt Swift
    • Beacons of Light: Lighthouses by Gail Gibbons
    • Birdie's Lighthouse by Deborah Hopkinson-Smith
    • Littlest Lighthouse by Ruth Sexton Sargent
    • Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie by Connie Roop
  • Copies of the Lighting the Way worksheet
  • 1 overhead transparency (or photocopy) of the Lighting the Way worksheet


  • Make an overhead transparency (or photocopy) of the Maine quarter reverse.
  • Locate an appropriate text that relates to lighthouses. (See examples under "Materials.")
  • Make copies of the Lighting the Way worksheet (1 per student).
  • Make an overhead transparency (or photocopy) of the Lighting the Way worksheet.


Worksheets and files (PDF)

Lesson Steps

Session 1

  1. Describe the 50 State Quarters Program for background information, if necessary, using the example of your own state, if available. Then display the transparency or photocopy of the Maine quarter reverse. On a classroom map, have a pair of students locate Maine. Note its position in relation to your school's location.
  2. With the students, examine the design on this coin's reverse. Ask students to identify objects they recognize on the coin's reverse: a lighthouse, a rocky coastline, a ship, and seagulls. Provide graphics or physical examples to intorduce new vocabulary.  Ask students why they think these elements were chosen to represent Maine, referring to Maine's location on the classroom map where necessary.
  3. Explain to the students that the lighthouse on the coin is meant to be a rendition of a specific lighthouse, the Pemaquid Point Light, which is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Maine. This image is also representative of the more than 60 lighthouses that line the shores of Maine's rocky coast.
  4. Introduce students to a selected text about lighthouses.
  5. As a group, preview the text and illustrations to generate predictions about the story.
  6. Read the selected text to the class and see if their predictions were correct.
  7. Ask students to list any information that they have learned about lighthouses. (The basic information students should mention is that lighthouses exist in places that are difficult to navigate, and they help to guide sailors, particularly in the dark.)
  8. While conducting this discussion, guide students' thinking by asking how they think sailors can tell the lighthouses apart. Record all student responses.  Note: If not mentioned by students, explain that lighthouses are each painted differently so that sailors can tell them apart in the day time. To help sailors tell the differences between lighthouses at night, each has a different pattern of flashing light called its characteristic. To help in bad weather conditions, when sailors cannot see the light pattern clearly, each lighthouse also has a specific sound pattern emitted by a fog horn.

Session 2

  1. Ask students what resources they would use in order to find a specific location. (Students should list ideas such as maps, compasses, charts, and atlases.)
  2. Find the cardinal directions in your classroom and label north, south, east, and west on the walls.
  3. Explain that in this activity, students will follow directions on a map to find a variety of different lighthouses along the shoreline.
  4. Distribute the "Lighting the Way" worksheets to students.
  5. Review the directions as a class. Take time to review the compass rose as well.
  6. Have students work independently to complete their maps.
  7. Once complete, display an overhead version of the "Lighting the Way" worksheet.  Ask a student to read each set of directions aloud, and ask a different student to come to the overhead projector and follow the directions as they were read.

Differentiated Learning Options

  • When reviewing directional vocabulary, invite students to act out the movements detailed on the "Lighting the Way" worksheet.
  • Label the classroom's cardinal directions and have students take turns reading and physically following the worksheet's instructions.


Allow students to take the opportunity to research the location of concentrations of other lighthouses in the United States. Students can select and explore information about a lighthouse of particular interest to them, and use a media style of their choosing to present the details that they learned.


Use the worksheets and class participation to assess whether the students have met the lesson objectives.

Common Core Standards

This lesson plan is not associated with any Common Core Standards.

National Standards

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: All Language Arts Standards
Cluster: Literature
Grade(s): Grades K–12

  • Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.