Google Earth in literature by student Brinson Paolini

Duke student Brinson Paolini participated in a Writing 20 class focused on Google Earth taught by Chris Erlien in the Thompson Writing Program; one assignment was to share ideas for teaching. Read all of their ideas at the class blog, Teaching (and Learning) with Google Earth. Here, we repost one student’s writing.

Student Brinson Paolini wrote about the potential uses for Google Earth in teaching literature:

…Three years ago Jerome Burg, an English teacher in California, started using pictures from Google Earth to show literary adventures to his students. While searching for ways to get his students more involved in the books they were reading, Mr. Burg came across Google Earth and realized it presented a great illustration tool for his class. Since the application precisely shows geographical areas, Mr. Burg utilized this information to create “literary road maps that find a way to put students ‘right in the back seat’ of an unfolding journey” (Boss, 2008, paragraph 1). These “road maps” chart the geographic movements of characters in a novel. For example, a class can utilize Google Earth to map Huckleberry Finn’s adventures down the Mississippi River. In doing so, students are able to physically visualize the evolution of the plot and, thus, better understand it.

This is an example of how a Lit-Trip appears on Google Earth.

After producing a few of these road maps, Mr. Burg started calling them “Lit-Trips.” A Lit-Trip displays the journey in the form of a timeline corresponding with the changing events in the plot. At each major location there is a place mark showing the excerpt from the novel, pictures, and links to related websites. Mr. Burg has said this “puts the kids right in the middle of the story rather than at a desk as the teacher teaches the story at them.” Unfortunately, with rise in popularity of video games and television and decreased popularity of reading, many people, especially children and students, now struggle creating images for themselves with their imaginations. With the Lit-Trip application, students are given visuals that are designed to spark their minds’ eye and, thus, help them visualize the information they are reading.

After successfully applying this idea at his school in California, Mr. Burg shared it with others, creating the Google Lit-Trip Website. This website allows teachers to either create their own Lit-Trip or download the hundreds of pre-existing KMZ files on the website. All of these applications are available free-of-charge and can be downloaded directly onto Google Earth (Burg, 2009). It is becoming increasingly popular.

How teachers can utilize Lit-Trips:

* Create their own Lit-Trip
* Research pre-existing Lit-Trips and learn from their ideas
* Develop assignments that employ Google Earth and illustrated trips
* A teacher can ask students to create their own Lit-Trip corresponding to the given book they are reading, plotting out the journey of the characters on Google Earth

How students can utilize Lit-Trips:

* Create their own Lit-Trip
* Interact with the story-line
* Physically visualize the evolution of the plot of a novel
* Chart geographic movements of characters in a novel
* Draw parallels to experiences in their own lives

To help students bring literary adventures to life, Mr. Burg created an online tutorial showing students and teachers how easy it is to make their own Lit-Trip. It helps students interact with characters from novel through visualization and, in doing so, creates a better connection between student and literary work. Ultimately, it enables students to more effectively draw parallels to real, everyday issues and even their own lives.

Google Earth gives teachers a powerful training aid. It gives students a means to effectively understand the substance of the literary work, such that they can focus on applying lessons learned to everyday situations. Lit-Trips creates a perception that becomes reality when applying literary work to today’s ever-changing world.


Boss, Suzie. (2008). Google lit trips: bringing travel tales to life. Retrieved 11/12/2009 from

Burg, Jerome. (2009). Google Earth Lit-Trips: A different way to read great literature. Retrieved 11/12/2009 from

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  1. Pingback: Literature, Google Earth and other possibilities | E-learning

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