Fernandina's Fire
Part of the Florida Geographic Alliance's collection of lesson plans.



Grade Level: 6

Time: one class period for lesson, short part of another for mounting student examples


The purpose of this lesson is to introduce 6th grade students to the use of the five themes of geography through an examination of their hometown.


Students will:
  • identify the five themes of geography by viewing maps and slides of Fernandina Beach, Florida.
  • discuss and give examples of the five themes as they relate to Fernandina Beach.



  1. Introduction of 5 themes of geography as a tool.
  2. Slide/transparency visuals to demonstrate 5 themes.
  3. Inductive discussion and review using game "Pass the Island."
  4. Closure through student summary statement.
  5. Further practice through homework assignment of bringing a visual for class collage.


Example of script for Fernandina Beach for adaptation to students' own town
    (Transparency - Fernandina Beach overlaid on SE US map)

    When most people think of geography, they think of WHERE. But "where" is only just a beginning to understanding geography. Geography is also WHY things are located where they are, HOW the place influences what happens there and HOW people use and change the place. Geography is much more exciting than just WHERE something is.

    Today we are going to look at a familiar place using "new eyes." We are going to talk about the 5 themes of Fernandina Beach because Fernandina Beach as we well know is more than "just a dot on the map."

    Theme #1 is LOCATION, a logical starting point, "Where is it?" So where is Fernandina Beach?


    First we can start with Fernandina's location on the GLOBE. It's precise address, or ABSOLUTE LOCATION, is 30 degress 40 minutes 20 seconds north latitude and 81 degress 27 minutes 57 seconds west longitude - usually stated 30 degrees N latitude, 81 degrees W longitude. This information is helpful to know when tracking a hurricane but not necessarily in everyday life.


    More practical is its RELATIVE LOCATION, where it is relative to other places people usually know. Technically Fernandina Beach is on the north end of Amelia Island but for our purposes we will consider Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach as one entity since that best describes our perception of our town.

    Amelia Island is a barrier island in northeast Florida with the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the intracoastal waterway to the west, Cumberland Sound to the north separating Florida from Georgia. It is south of Savannah, east of Tallahassee, 32 miles northeast of Jacksonville, 15 miles east of Interstate 95 on A1A.


    Theme #2 is PLACE, meaning "what is it like?" What are the PHYSICAL and CULTURAL characteristics of Fernandina Beach that give it its own identity?


    Amelia Island is 13.5 miles long. Its width varies from a quarter mile to 2 miles. It covers 11,600 acres or 18.2 sq. miles (7 sq. mi are in city limits of Fernandina Beach). The population of the island is 14,442 (9,089 in Fernandina Beach + 5,353 in Amelia Island).


    Connected to the mainland by the Shave Bridge, Fernandina is bordered by the Intracoastal Waterway on the west and the Atlantic Ocean on the east - a place naturally beautiful with an average annual temperature of 70 degrees F. There are salt water marshes with a still active lighthouse, live oaks, and water, water everywhere. One of the few natural deep water harbors on the east coast, Fernandina is for many a safe and snug home.

    The town is quite old. Indians camped here 1000 years before Christ. By 1675 Franciscans had established a village. The island saw the rule of 8 different flags. Downtown Fernandina is quaint with its old saloon, historic houses and churches, and fun places to hang out. Rich in history, Fernandina natives consider themselves to be hearty survivors - symbolized by this pirate logo.


    Theme #3 HUMAN/ENVIRONMENT INTERACTIONS focuses on the relationship between PEOPLE and the environment. How do people use the natural physical features of a place to their advantage? How have people changed the environment and what are the consequences of these changes?


    Fernandina's strategic location caused it to be selected as a site for coastal defense in the 1840s and Fort Clinch was built. The deep water harbor made Fernandina a natural for shipping lumber from the mainland's surrounding forests. With David Yulee's dream of a cross Florida railway, Fernandina boomed in the late 1800s. Ships were an important part of life and some even built their homes to reflect their work.

    In the early 1900s the shrimping industry was born in Fernandina, continuing to this day along with further development of port facilities. People have always used the water surrounding the island.

    In the 30s when times were tough, two pulpwood industries took advantage of the natural environment and have left their mark - Container Corporation of America and ITT Rayonier have altered the landscape. Rather pungent odors are euphemistically explained away as "the smell of money."


    Theme #4, MOVEMENT, deals with the idea of "staying in touch." How is a place connected with the rest of the world? The concept of movement means movement, or exchange, or goods, people, and ideas.


    Despite the water connections with other places, being an island has always influenced the mindset of Fernandina's population. For long years a drawbridge connected Fernandina to the mainland. At times the residents had to consider a while before the drawbridge was let down. Even with the railroad and airport dating from the 40s, movement of ideas and people came slowly to the island. This old school housed all 12 grades; its strong walls are symbolic of the caution felt about change from the outside. In the 70s when Amelia Island Plantation was developed, tourism and new residents began to increase the connections between Fernandina and the rest of the world. When "The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking" was filmed on location in Fernandina's Old Town in the 80s, Fernandina was in the throes of growing pains, changing from a quaint village to a resort destination.


    Theme #5, REGION, deals with larger areas sharing similar human and/or physical traits that distinguish them from other areas. Where does Fernandina fit regionally?


    Politically Fernandina is part of Florida, the Sunshine State, the county seat of Nassau County. It's in the Bible Belt, the Sun Belt, Florida's First Coast, and could be considered the beginning of JAMI, the megalopolis stretching from Jacksonville to Miami.


    The five themes of geography give us a framework in which to look at a place and see not only the WHERE is it, but also WHAT kind of place it is, WHY is it there, HOW humans have changed it, HOW it is linked to other places, and of WHICH larger region it is a part.

    To review and think about what we have covered today, we will play a little game called "Pass the Island." When you get the island, pick a question of your choice from the flip chart pages and answer for daily credit. (Teacher gives the island to a person of her choice, then that student picks the next person, and so on. Questions are of varying degrees of difficulty so that every student can be successful.)

    Questions for Flip Chart:

    1. Make a comment from your own observation about any characteristic of Fernandina Beach and how it fits into the five themes of geography.
    2. How did Fernandina's location affect its growth and development as a city?
    3. Imagine a person has never heard of Fernandina Beach. Give a clear statement of Fernandina's location.
    4. Why does a person need to know more than just WHERE a place is to understand that place?
    5. Tell 3 physical characteristics of Fernandina Beach.
    6. Tell 3 cultural characteristics of Fernandina Beach.
    7. Give an example of how humans took advantage of Fernandina's physical environment.
    8. Give an example of how humans modified the physical environment of Fernandina.
    9. What part has the theme of movement played in the development of Fernandina Beach?
    10. Give a characteristic of Fernandina that can be categorized under more than one theme. Explain.
    11. Justify Fernandina's inclusion in the JAMI megalopolis.
    12. Some people think Fernandina is actually more like south Georgia than Florida. Which region do you think it better fits? Explain why.
    13. How do you think Fernandina's history affects its present?
    14. What predictions do you make for Fernandina's future?
    15. Since the island has only limited area, what position do you think should be taken about further development?
    16. What would you predict about the future of the island's two pulp mills?
    17. If you were head of the Chamber of Commerce, what would you promote about Fernandina?
    18. What natural occurrences could change the physical characteristics of Fernandina?
    19. Create a slogan that characterizes Fernandina/Amelia Island.
    20. Explain how the five themes of geography fit together.
    21. Name something you learned about the geography of Fernandina Beach that you didn't already know.
    22. (Use this question last for closure of activity). Give a statement summarizing the 5 geographic themes of Fernandina Beach.

    As homework or for extra credit, have students bring in photographs, drawings, data, or words to illustrate further the five themes of geography as they relate to Fernandina Beach. The visuals should be labeled according to theme(s). These can be displayed in the classroom as a visual reminder for the next few weeks of study.

    Extension Activity: If desired, students could add slides, narration and music to create their own video of the 5 themes of Fernandina either to exchange with a class in another city, to be used by the local chamber of commerce as a promotional tool, or to use when speaking before local civic groups to promote geographic education.

Part of the Florida Geographic Alliance's collection of lesson plans.