Scream Machines

Take a wild ride through the history of the modern roller coaster.

Lexile Level: 710L / Guided Reading: Q / DRA Level: 40

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Learning Objective

In a fun nonfiction text, students will learn about the history of the roller coaster. They will make connections between this article and a short informational text about how virtual reality is influencing roller coasters.

Featured Skill

Connecting Texts

Content-Area Connections

Social studies: history, inventions
Science: technology, engineering

Key Skills

Connecting texts, author's craft, key details, compare and contrast, inference, vocabulary

Standards Correlations

This article and lesson support the following standards:

Common Core anchor standards: R.1, R.2, R.4, R.5, R.9, W.2, SL.1, L.4, L.6
TEKS: 3.2, 3.4, 3.13, 3.20, 3.29, 3.30

Teaching Materials

Vocabulary Slideshow

Activity Sheets

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Close Reading and Critical Thinking
Quiz - On Level
Quiz - Higher Level
Reading Kit: Connecting Texts
Reading Kit: Making Inferences - On Level
Reading Kit: Making Inferences - Lower Level

Lesson plan

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Explore Text Features/ Set a Purpose for Reading (10 minutes)
• Direct students to the title and subhead, as well as the labels in the upper left corner of page 10 that say “Paired Texts” and “One topic, two texts.” Ask students what the one topic is. (roller coasters)
• Call on a volunteer to read the Think and Read box on page 10 for the class.


Preview Vocabulary (15 minutes, activity sheet online)

• We have highlighted in bold the words that may be challenging and defined them on the page. Preview these words by projecting or distributing our vocabulary activity and completing it as a class. You may also use the vocabulary slideshow on our website.
• Highlighted words: careening, grisly, engineers, monitor

Reading and Unpacking the Text
First read: Students should read the article through one time for general comprehension.  
Second read: Distribute the close-reading and critical-thinking questions. Preview them as a class.
• Have students read the story again, as a class or in small groups, pausing to answer the questions.

Close-Reading Questions (15 minutes)

• Read the first section. How does the author make you feel like you’re on a roller coaster? (author’s craft) The author describes being on a roller coaster. Her descriptive details and the use of “you” make the reader feel like he or she is actually on the ride.
• Read the section “Terror and Joy.” What was the first thrill ride in America? How did it come about? (key details) The first thrill ride was a coal train in Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania. It went 65 miles per hour, so the railroad owners turned it into a pleasure ride.
• According to the section “Too Thrilling?,” what was it like to ride an early roller coaster? Was it always fun? (inference) It wasn’t always fun riding early roller coasters. Riders often threw up. Some people passed out. Some people even died in accidents.
• What’s one way theme parks today make sure their rides are fun but not too scary? (key details) They might hire Brendan Walker, who rides a new roller coaster while wearing devices that monitor how his body reacts to the ride. He makes sure the roller coaster isn’t too boring or too scary.
• Read the informational text “Want More Thrills?” How is it similar to the beginning of the main article? (author’s craft; compare and contrast) The author uses “you” and descriptive details to make readers feel like they’re on the ride being described.
• What new technology is described in the informational text? How is this technology changing roller coasters? (key details) The informational text is about virtual reality roller coasters. Virtual reality makes  riders on a roller coaster feel like they’re in a different setting.


Critical-Thinking Questions (10 minutes)
• Think about the two texts. How has technology made roller coasters safer over time? How has it made them more fun and thrilling? (connecting texts) Roller coasters used to be dangerous, but now they’re safer thanks to technology. If something goes wrong, the roller coaster stops. The roller coasters are designed by highly trained engineers. Roller coasters have become more thrilling and fun because of technology. They’re faster than they used to be, and new technology like virtual reality makes them even more exciting.

Connecting Texts
• Distribute our connecting texts activity.
• Discuss the task in the Think and Write box on page 13. Then have students complete the task in class or as homework.

Teaching Extras

Video Extras

For some additional context on virtual reality roller coasters, watch this video about a different VR roller coaster at Six Flags.

Random Namesake

Fun fact: In 1954, Mauch Chunk was renamed Jim Thorpe, after the famous football player and Olympian often referred to as “the world’s greatest athlete.” He actually had no ties to the town; the people of Mauch Chunk wanted him buried there because they thought it would bring in tourists. Eventually, it did.

Vintage Coaster Ride

A cool fact we had to cut from the article: Some of the early coasters are still in use today! If you find yourself in Altoona, Pennsylvania, you can ride Leap-the-Dips, a wooden roller coaster built in 1902! It might not be very thrilling by today’s standards at 10mph and 41 feet tall, but it’s still fun! Here’s a video of Leap-the-Dips, with a conspicuous lack of screaming.

Thrill Engineer in Action

Show your students the “Thrill Engineer” Brendan Walker in action, in this BBC video of a reporter being measured while riding a massive coaster in England!

Coaster Infographic

Here’s a great infographic that takes your students through the full history of roller coasters, dating all the way back to ice slides in Russia!