Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Survivor Suitcases

Alison Hannon
Orange County Schools


Yikes! The class must prepare for a trip to a desert island. Students may only bring three things in their “Survivor Suitcases.” Students write to explain why they chose each item in order to “survive.”


The student develops supporting ideas by presenting facts and information that relate to the focus.

The student develops anecdotes or examples to support and elaborate upon reasons.


-Overhead projector
-Chart paper
-Digital or instant camera
-Survivor Cards (See Associated File) for each student
-Survivor Cards overhead transparency (make from Associated File)
-Teacher-created “Survival Suitcase” with three items


1. Prepare your “Survival Suitcase” with the three items you plan to take to the desert island.
2. Scout the outdoor areas of your school. Plan where you will take the students for the “desert island” trip. Consider adding tropical props to a sandy, shady area nearby.
3. Make copies of the Survivor Cards (See Associated File) for each student.
4. Make an overhead transparency of the Survivor Cards (See Associated File) for your use.


1. Begin by wearily bringing out a suitcase, dusting it off and saying something to the effect of “…I’m afraid that our classroom is going to be undergoing some renovations, and with no other classroom to use, I’ve just been notified that we are going to have to leave our beautiful, organized room (weep, weep) for the unknown.” When students begin to stir or ask questions, tell them “I’m afraid we are going to be sent to a desert island! Can you believe it? I’m talking about NO electricity, NO running water…NO Taco Bell!” As students are getting excited about what you are proposing, give the following assignment: “You must be prepared for this trip. Space is limited, so I’m afraid to say that each of you are only allowed to bring three items.”

2. Take out chart paper and begin to brainstorm items that may be needed on this trip to a desert island.

3. As the list begins to compile, ask students to give reasons [why] a certain item would be needed. Guide the students’ thinking so that the list includes both practical things and sentimental things so that they see “anything goes as long as it can be justified.” (One student may choose a fishing pole to catch fish in order to eat, while another may choose to bring a picture of their family in order to keep them “near and dear” to their heart.)

4. Assign each student to bring in three items the next day. Remind them again that they must be prepared to explain/justify why they are bringing each item.

1. As the lesson begins, write on the board “PACK UP!” with the following directions below:
•Your backpack will be your suitcase today.
•Only place your three items inside.

2. Have students gather their “suitcases” and dramatically exit the classroom for the desert island.

3. Take students to a predetermined location outdoors, preferably shady and comfortable. (See Preparations) Seat all students so they can see your suitcase.

4. Tell students that you are going to begin by sharing what is inside your suitcase and that you will be explaining [why] you chose each item. (For example, pull out the first item, perhaps a bottle of water.) “The first thing I decided to pack is a bottle of water. Not only is it cool and refreshing, but water is essential for survival. Did you know that a human can only live for about 3 days without it? Water nourishes the body and provides your organs with what they need to function properly.”

5. Pull out the second item and explain it in a similar manner, with examples and elaboration.

6. Pull out the third item and instead of explaining in detail just say, “The third thing I decided to bring was this blanket. I brought it because it is pretty and nice.” Hopefully, the students will catch onto this NONexample of explaining with detail and offer replies like, “Wait a minute – That’s not a reason [why] you should bring it.” Use this opportunity to discuss giving detail and support.

7. After you share, have students take turns sharing what they packed in their suitcases. Take a digital photo of each student with their Survivor Suitcase as they share. Emphasize examples and supporting details that students give.

8. After everyone has shared, bring the class back indoors, saying something to the effect of “thank goodness our classroom is ready. It looks like all of you survived!”

9. Upon returning to the room, take the overhead transparency of the Survivor Cards out and put it on the overhead. Have students assist you in completing the cards. Focus on examples and elaboration. Remind students to really think about justifying [why] they packed a certain item.

10. Tell students that they are going to recall their own reasons and give supporting details and elaborations on their Survivor Cards just as you did. Option: Assign this activity for homework or allot class time.

(Note: If students seem a bit wary about having to now write what they just orally presented, entice them with the final product, which will be a bulletin board celebrating their survival. See Day 3)

1. Have students cut out their Survivor Cards and place them in order on their desk. Pair up students to “peer check” each other for paragraphs that support/give examples for the items they packed.

2. Provide a piece of tape for students to tape the back of the cards together. The cards should fall in order from the top. (Card 1, Card 2, Card 3)

3. Have students turn in the cards and use the Survivor Suitcases Checklist (See Associated File) to score them. Provide feedback and/or extra instruction for students whose cards need more detail.

Class Bulletin Board--WE SURVIVED!
Show off your students’ understanding of using supporting details in expository paragraphs. Create a class bulletin board with the digital photos you took during DAY 2. Title the board WE SURVIVED! Put each student’s photo on the board. Under each student’s photo, staple the Survivor Cards that correspond with each student.


1. As students orally share their three items, use the Survivor Suitcases Checklist provided (See Associated File) to make sure students have supporting details about each item they brought.
2. Students complete Survivor Cards. The cards are scored with the Survivor Suitcases Checklist on a point scale for the amount of supporting detail in each paragraph.


To extend this activity, keep these cards for later use. As students have more experience with actual expository writing and prompts, they could take these three cards and complete an expository response paper.
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