Construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway hinged on the efforts of convicts, soldiers, peasants and the poor, many who risked their lives to the perilous project and extreme climate. Have elementary or lower-middle school students re-enact the daily life of typical workers and their families. Ask them to collect pictures or model peasant garb of late 19th Century Russia. Bring in ingredients of foods they prepared, and download examples of music they could have heard. With the cultural touch-points in place, have the students present a living tableau to give an idea of how Russia’s lower classes lived, worked and died more than a century ago.
The world’s longest railway runs nearly 5,800 miles, reaches from Europe to Asia, crosses 16 rivers and spans eight time zones. As a piece of living history and an example of tremendous human effort, the Trans-Siberian Railway provides a wealth of learning opportunities. Classroom activities tied to the railway cover core subjects across the K-12 curriculum.
Elementary School: World Culture
Middle School: History
The Trans-Siberian Railway was built between 1891 and 1916 – a period that ushered in a new era of technology even as World War I loomed. A classroom activity for middle school involves creating a wall-spanning timeline. Assign each individual or student teams a five-year span to research. Encourage students to find web downloads or magazine photos and assemble images to attach to the timeline. Design the timeline so the top half covers events specific to the Russian continent and the bottom half covers other world events.
High School: Science and Technology
Few railway projects proved as challenging as the Trans-Siberian. The construction cut through forests, swamps and permafrost areas, with dynamite blasting through rocky shoals to create tunnels. Despite its scope, the project’s tools were simple, handheld instruments: axes, saws, wheelbarrows and shovels, wielded by thousands of workers. A high school classroom activity tied to science and technology compares the way the railroad was built at the turn of the 20th century vs. the way it may be constructed today. Point-by-point comparisons demonstrate how the original tools worked and what modern-day technology could replace them. Students can present their findings as a video or as simple computer animation.
Differentiated Learning: Geography
For struggling or reluctant readers, visual learners or ESL/ELL students, a classroom project on the Trans-Siberian Railway involves creating arts and crafts tied to the landscape of the railway's route. Give students modern-day or historic pictures of the railway's environment to make scale models out of papier-mâché, paint, popsicle sticks or cardboard. Have them craft Russia's natural environments, like rivers and mountains, out of the materials, and fashion suspension bridges out of sticks and string.