Knowing Where You Are

Language Arts Activity

Students research place names in their state and discover and analyze the varied sources of these place names.



  1. Divide the class into teams of three students. Divide a map of your state so that each team can study one section. Tell each team they should choose and track down the source of up to 20 place names. Then, they will create a chart to show their theories or findings. The chart should have two columns: first column, should be labeled PLACE NAMES, the second column SOURCE. Under SOURCE, students will classify the name source. Examples of classifications include:

    Encourage students to research the meanings of non-English place names.

  2. Students may be able to use the following resources, as well as local materials, to track down name sources: atlases and gazetteers, to see if names exist elsewhere; a map showing where Native Americans lived in the state, which might give them a clue to Native American names; reference sources for Spanish, French, or Dutch settlements.


After students complete the charts, you may be able to point out common elements in the listed names. For example, names that end in -ton (Littleton); -burg(h) (Pittsburgh, Harrisburg); -field (Springfield); -kill (Schuylkill), -ford (Stratford), and so forth. Discuss with students where these types of common name elements are found, and discuss any possible significance. For example, the word part -kill is means "creek" in Dutch. It is found frequently in place names around the Hudson River Valley in New York, where many Dutch people settled when New York was the Dutch colony, New Amsterdam.

As a class, create a map key with symbols representing each classification. Then, on a map of your state, have students use the symbols to mark the cities they researched. Add the key to the map to explain the symbols.

Individual students can research biographical figures who have had towns named for them and write a brief report. Display the map and reports together.

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