Ships of Discovery
Level W

About the Book 

Text Type: Nonfiction/Informational
Page Count: 20
Word Count: 2,171

Book Summary
Ships of Discovery is an informational book about the types of boats that explorers built and used when discovering new lands. Ships and conquests of Polynesian, Viking, European, and Chinese explorers are explained. The author also describes the people who set out to sea as well as their motivations for going. Illustrations and maps support the text.

Book and lesson also available at levels T and Y.

About the Lesson

Targeted Reading Strategy

  • Summarize


  • Use the reading strategy of summarizing to understand nonfiction text
  • Identify details to compare and contrast ships
  • Identify adjectives and the nouns they describe
  • Identify and create compound words


  • Book -- Ships of Discovery (copy for each student)
  • Chalkboard or dry erase board
  • Sticky notes
  • Compare and contrast, adjectives, compound words worksheets
  • Discussion cards

      Indicates an opportunity for students to mark in the book. (All activities may be demonstrated by projecting book on interactive whiteboard or completed with paper and pencil if books are reused.)


  • Content words: bountiful, caravels, catamaran, clipper ships, galleons, hull, knarrs, knots, primitive, scurvy, tiers, triremes

Before Reading 

Build Background

  • Ask students if they have ever been to a marina or another place to look at boats. Have them describe the types of boats or ships they saw. Encourage discussion about the different shapes and designs of boats.
  • Ask volunteers to tell how and why they think ships were invented.

Preview the Book

Introduce the Book

  • Give students their copy of the book. Guide them to the front and back covers and read the title. Have students discuss what they see on the covers. Encourage them to offer ideas as to what kind of book it is and what it might be about.
  • Ask students if they think this book is fiction or nonfiction and to explain their reasoning.
  • Show students the title page. Talk about the information on the page (title of book, author's name, illustrator's name).
  • Ask students to turn to the table of contents. Remind them that the table of contents provides an overview of what the book is about. Ask students what they expect to read about in the book based on what they see in the table of contents. (Accept all answers that students can justify.)

Introduce the Strategy: Summarize

  • Explain to students that one way to understand what they are reading is to stop now and then during reading to summarize in their mind what they are reading about in the book.
  • Model how to summarize.
    Think-aloud: As I read this book, I am going to stop every now and then to remind myself about the ships I have read about so far. This helps me remember what I'm reading and makes me think about new information. When I finish reading the book, I should be able to tell, in my own words, some of the information about ships that I have read about.
  • As students read, encourage them to use other reading strategies in addition to the targeted strategy presented in this section. For tips on additional reading strategies, click here.

Introduce the Comprehension Skill: Compare and contrast

  • Explain that one way an author helps readers understand information in a book is to tell how topics in the book are alike and different.
  • Have students look at the illustrations on pages 3 and 4.
  • Model how to compare and contrast using illustrations.
    Think-aloud: These illustrations show two different types of boats. They are alike in some ways and different in some ways. One way they are alike is that they both float on water. One way they are different is that the boat on page 3 has large sails, while the boats on page 4 do not.
  • Model how to compare and contrast information using a Venn diagram. Draw a Venn diagram on the board. Label the left circle Page 3 and the right circle Page 4. Explain that information relating to the boat on page 3 is written in the left side of the left circle (sails). Information that relates to the boats on page 4 is written in the right side of the right circle (no sails). Explain that in the middle where both circles overlap, information is written about what the boats on pages 3 and 4 have in common (float).
  • Have students identify other similarities and differences between the boats on pages 3 and 4. Record these on the Venn diagram.

Introduce the Vocabulary

  • As you preview the book, ask students to talk about what they see in the illustrations. Write the following vocabulary words on the board: caravels, catamaran, clipper ships, galleons, and knarrs. Ask volunteers to predict the types of ships by looking at the illustrations and thinking about the clues the names might provide.
  • Reinforce new vocabulary by incorporating it into the discussion of the illustrations. For example, on page 9, you might say: It looks as though the catamaran on this page was made by connecting two canoes.
  • Model the strategies students can use to work out words they don't know. For example, point to the term clipper ships on page 19. Model using the familiar word part clip to read a new word with which they may be unfamiliar. Ask students what it means to clip along at a high speed. Then read to students the sentence with the term clipper ships and ask if the word makes more sense.
  • For additional tips on teaching word-attack strategies, click here.

Set the Purpose

  • Have students read the book to learn more about the different types of ships of discovery. Remind them to stop after reading after each section to review, in their own words, what they have learned.

During Reading 

Student Reading

  • Guide the reading: Give students their book and have them put a sticky note on page 8. Tell them to read to the end of this page. Have students reread the pages if they finish before everyone else.
  • When they have finished reading, ask students what words they had trouble with. Then have them point out the ships or boats they knew about and tell how the information they already knew helped them understand what they read. Have a student choose one of the boats and summarize what he or she learned.
  • Model summarizing.
    Think-aloud: As I read, I paused to summarize in my mind what I learned about each type of boat. For example, I read that canoes were made by hollowing out tree trunks. They were sturdy boats, but they couldn't carry very much. I'll keep reading to learn more interesting facts about other types of boats. While I read, I'll summarize what I've read to help me remember the new information.
  • Check for understanding: Have students put a sticky note on page 10. Tell them to read to the end of this page. Invite them to share the important information about the Polynesians and their ships. Ask students to write a brief summary of the section on a separate piece of paper. Have them share what they wrote.
  • Have students work with a partner to compare and contrast Greek and Polynesian ships and write the information on a Venn diagram on a separate piece of paper. Discuss their responses aloud as you create a Venn diagram on the board.
  • Have students read the remainder of the book. Remind them to think about the details in the book so they can summarize the information after they read.

      Have students make a question mark in their book beside any word they do not understand or cannot pronounce. Encourage them to use the strategies they have learned to read each word and figure out its meaning.

After Reading 

  • Ask students what words, if any, they marked in their book. Use this opportunity to model how they can read these words using decoding strategies and context clues.

Reflect on the Reading Strategy

  • Ask students to explain how the strategy of summarizing helped them understand the book.
  • Think-aloud: I know that summarizing keeps me actively involved in what I'm reading and helps me understand and remember what I've read. I know that I will remember more about different kinds of ships because I summarized the information in my own words as I read the book.
  • Independent practice: Have students write a summary of pages 11 and 12 ("The Vikings") on a separate sheet of paper. If time allows, invite students to read their completed summaries aloud.

Reflect on the Comprehension Skill

  • Discussion: Review with students the similarities and differences between Greek and Polynesian ships. Add any new information to the Venn diagram on the board. Review how the information is organized in the Venn diagram.
  • Check for understanding: Have students provide examples of how Viking ships and Chinese ships are alike and different. Record this information on a new Venn diagram on the board.
  • Independent practice: Introduce, explain, and have students complete the compare and contrast worksheet. If time allows, discuss their responses aloud.
  • Enduring understanding: In this book, you learned about many different types of ships. You learned about different countries and their motivations to create bigger, better vessels. Now that you know this information, why is it important to know about the evolution of ships to fully understand the history of discovery?

Build Skills 

Grammar and Mechanics: Adjectives

  • Review or explain that adjectives are words that describe nouns or pronouns. An adjective tells which one, how many, or what kind.
  • Write the following sentences on the board. Ask students to count the number of adjectives in each sentence.
    People created oars to move in deep water.
    These large ships helped people explore distant places.
    The Viking longships were speedy and efficient.
  • Have individual students come to the board and circle the adjectives in each sentence (deep, large, distant, Viking, speedy, and efficient). Then have different volunteers underline the noun that each adjective describes (water, ships, places, and longships). Discuss how sometimes writers use two or three adjectives to describe one noun (for instance, Viking, speedy, and efficient all describe longships).
  • Explain that an adjective doesn't always precede the noun or pronoun it modifies, as seen in the last sentence (speedy and efficient).
  • Point to the circled adjective in the first sentence (deep). Ask students to determine whether the adjective tells which one, how many, or what kind (it describes what kind of water). Repeat the exercise with the other two sentences.
  • Tell students that some adjectives are hyphenated and that they are called compound adjectives. Write the following sentence on the board: Caravels had a triangular-shaped sail on the rear mast. Have a volunteer come to the board and underline the compound adjective (triangular-shaped). Have another volunteer underline the noun that the adjective describes (sail).

      Have students use the inside back cover of their book to write adjective along with the definition of the term (a word describing a noun or pronoun that tells which one, how many, or what kind) to help them remember the terminology.

      Check for understanding: Give students highlighters and have them work in pairs to reread the last paragraph on page 13. Have them highlight all of the adjectives they find. Discuss their findings as a group, identifying the noun that each adjective describes and whether the adjective is telling which one, how many, or what kind (three tells how many; faster, safer, small, swift, sturdy, easier, square, and triangular-shaped tell what kind; other, front, middle, main, and rear tell which one).

  • Independent practice: Introduce, explain, and have students complete the adjectives worksheet. Discuss their answers as a group once everyone has finished.

Word Work: Compound words

  • Write the word warships on the board. Ask students which two words were joined together in the word warships (war and ships). Explain that this word is called a compound word. A compound word contains two words that together create one word meaning. Explain that the definitions of the two separate words can help students figure out the meaning of the bigger word (a ship that is used in war).
  • Write the words waterways, flat-bottomed, and North America on the board. Tell students that these are examples of different types of compound words. Each example has two parts that make up one word meaning; however, some compound words are separated by hyphens, some are joined, and some are separate.
  • Have students turn to page 13 in the book. Read the following sentence: Shipbuilders searched for ways to build faster and safer ships. Have students identify the compound word in the sentence (shipbuilders). Ask students to identify the two separate words that make up the compound word (ship and builders). Ask a volunteer to use the definitions of the two smaller words to figure out the meaning of the bigger word (people who build ships).
  • Check for understanding: Have students turn to page 19 in the book. Read the first paragraph aloud while students follow along. Ask them to identify three compound words (homelands, clipper ships, and thirty-five). Ask students to identify the two separate words that make up each compound word (home and lands, clipper and ships, thirty- and five). Discuss the definition of each word, using the smaller words to figure out the meaning.
  • Independent practice: Introduce, explain, and have students complete the compound words worksheet. When students finish, discuss their answers aloud.

Build Fluency 

Independent Reading

  • Allow students to read their book independently or with a partner. Encourage repeated timed readings of a specific section of the book.

Home Connection

  • Give students their book to take home to read with parents, caregivers, siblings, or friends. Have students create a Venn diagram and compare and contrast something at home (two foods, two people, and so on).

Extend the Reading 

Informational Writing Connection
Provide print and Internet sources for students to research one of the following ships: Greek triremes, Viking longships, or Spanish galleons. Have them write an informational report on their chosen ship, including at least three paragraphs and two illustrations. Require an error-free final copy to be read aloud to a partner of their choice. Display their work on a bulletin board titled Ships of Discovery or bind the pages into a class book.

Visit Writing A-Z for a lesson and leveled materials on expository report writing.

Social Studies Connection
Give students copies of a world map and have them find each location that was mentioned in the book (Egypt, North America, Greece, Pacific Islands, Northern Europe, Spain, China, and Europe). Have them identify each location with a different color, and then label each location with the type of ship used. Encourage students to add illustrations to their maps if time allows. Post their maps on the bulletin board alongside their finished writing assignments.

Skill Review
Discussion cards covering comprehension skills and strategies not explicitly taught with the book are provided as an extension activity. The following is a list of some ways these cards can be used with students:

  • Use as discussion starters for literature circles.
  • Have students choose one or more cards and write a response, either as an essay or a journal entry.
  • Distribute before reading the book and have students use one of the questions as a purpose for reading.
  • Cut apart and use the cards as game cards with a board game.
  • Conduct a class discussion as a review before the book quiz.


Monitor students to determine if they can:

  • accurately use details from the text to create section summaries during discussion and on a separate piece of paper
  • compare and contrast nonfiction details within the text during discussion and on a worksheet
  • correctly identify the use of adjectives in the text during discussion and on a worksheet
  • correctly identify and form compound words during discussion and on a worksheet

Comprehension Checks

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