Sunday, May 7, 2017

Create your own Lit Trips (and more) for Google Earth

Recently I shared a blog post on how to use Google Lit Trips in the new web-based Google Earth. Lit Trips are a great way to put students in a story, helping them see where the events took place, and bring the story to life.

In addition to just using Lit Trips, you (and your students) can also create your own tours for Google Earth. This can be a powerful learning tool, or a way for students to collect and share what they have read. Of course, beyond just Lit Trips, students can create Google Earth tours for any subject including documenting the key locations and details in a historical battle, visiting different biomes, a tour of geometric architecture, and more.

There are lots of tools that can be used to create a Lit Trip or other Google Earth tour. Whatever tool you use, the final product will need to be a .KML or .KMZ file that will then be opened in Google Earth. In my opinion, one of the best tools for creating Lit Trips (or other tours) is Google Tour Builder.

In this blog post we will take a look at how to use Google Tour Builder to create you own Lit Trip. See below for detailed directions on the process. Also, for a 1-hour recorded webinar demonstrating this process see my post "Google Tour Builder for any Subject".

Why Use Tour Builder?

As mentioned before, there are lots of tools that can be used to create .KML or .KMZ files, so you can make your own Google Earth Lit Trips. Google's Tour Builder is one of these tools, and is an excellent option for many reasons:

  • It is web-based, so nothing needs to be installed and it can be run on Chromebooks.
  • It is easy to use with little to no learning curve.
  • For each location you add to your tour, you can include images, videos, text, links, dates, and custom icons.
  • Locations can be put in order, and have their order changed as needed.
  • The final tour can be easily exported in .KML format.
Note: For resources on how to use other tools for creating Lit Trips, see the official Google Lit Trips website at:

Sample Tour

For my example in this blog post, I have created a Lit Trip for the book "Small as an Elephant" using only Google Tour Builder.

The novel is about 11-year-old Jack Martel who gets abandoned by his mother while on a camping trip and has to try to find his way home, 240 miles away. "Small as an Elephant" was written by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, and was published in 2013.

You can download the final Google Lit Trip to open and play in Google Earth using the link below:

When the preview opens, click the download arrow in the top right corner to download the .KML file.

Creating a Tour

To create a new tour, or edit an existing one, with Google Tour Builder do the following:

  • Go to the Tour Builder website at:
  • If you are not signed in yet, just click the "Sign In" button. You can log in with your normal Google account.
  • To make a new tour, click the "Create a Tour" button.
  • If you have existing tours to open and edit, you can click the "My Tours" button to access them.

  • When you create a new tour, you will need to give it a "Tour Name" and enter your "Author name".

The Introduction

A tour is made of an "Introduction" followed by a series of added locations. The Introduction itself does not have a specific location associated with it. Instead, when the tour is complete, the Introduction will show an overview of the entire route.

When creating your Introduction, your can edit the following items:

  • Tour Name - If you need to change it
  • Author Name - Again, if you need to change it
  • Introduction Picture - Click "Add a Photo" to add an image for the tour, such as the book cover if doing a Lit Trip. The picture can come from your Google Photos, an uploaded image, a Google Image Search, or an image URL.
  • Tell The Story - Here you can type up an introduction or summary of the story or tour. If doing a Lit Trip you may want to include the author's information and a link to their website.

Add a Location

After creating the Introduction, you will now want to start adding each of the locations for the tour.

  • Click the "Add Location" button to begin.
  • You can now type in an address or location to search for.
  • Alternately you can click the "Drop placemark" button to manually find a location.

  • When you have the spot you want, click the "Add to tour" button to put that location in your tour.

Editing a Location

After you add a location to your tour, you can add and edit information for that location. This is where you will share details about this place, provide links to related resources, pose questions, and more. Below are several items you can include:

Location Name - You can change this from the search result if you have a more appropriate name.

Add Photos and Videos - Here you can add up to 25 images and videos for the location. These can come from your Google Photos, an uploaded image or video, a Google search, a webcam snapshot, or a web address. The user will be able to scroll through these images and videos when viewing the tour later.

Start Date and End Date - If there are specific dates associated with this part of the story.

What It's About - Here you can type in text to tell about this location in the story, share resources, ask questions, and more. This text area includes the option for formatting and inserting links.

Location Icon - You can choose from a range of available icons, or even link to other icons online, if you prefer to choose something other than the default. This can help identify the location by the type of place it is.

Customize View - You can use the map tools to move around the map, zoom in and out, switch from overhead to tilted 3D view, and rotate the map. When happy with the view for the location, click the "Lock this view" button.

Copy and Paste from Google Docs

When editing the "What's It About" text box for the location, by default you are limited to adding text, links, and some formatting (bullets, bold, etc). However, with a simple hack, you are able to add images into the text.

The trick is to use Google Docs to type up the text and insert the images, and then simply copy and paste the content into Tour Builder. Although there is no option in Tour Builder to add images inside of the text area, this trick will let you do that.

Because the text box is somewhat small, and because you want it to fit well when displayed in Google Earth, you will want to limit the amount of text and images used. To help with this I have created a Google Docs template you can use to keep your content to a reasonable size. To get your own copy, just click the link below.

As long as you keep you text and images within the margins of the first page of the template, your content should typically fit well when displayed in Google Earth for that location.

Note: If you also decide to use the "Add Photos & Videos" tool in Tour Builder to include a photo/video slideshow, you will want to shorten your content a bit more to leave room for that.

Note: When you insert an image in the Google Doc template, you may also want to add a hyperlink to the image to jump out to the full sized version of the picture online. That way users will be able to click the image when in Google Earth to be able to see the larger, original version. Simply click on the image in Docs and the click "Insert" and "Link".

Whatever the case, when done adding your text, images, and links to the Google Docs template, simply copy and paste the content into Tour Builder.

Exporting the Tour

After you are done adding all of the locations you need to your tour, you can export the Tour as a .KML file which can be opened and played inside of Google Earth.

  • Click the "Done Editing" button.
  • Click the menu drop-down in the top right corner (button with three horizontal lines).
  • Choose "Export" from the menu.
  • From the pop-up window, choose "Download KML".

You will now have a .KML file that can be opened in Google Earth. For full details on how to open and play a .KML file in Google Earth, see my earlier blog post here: Lit Trips on Chromebooks with the New Google Earth

Final Editing in Google Earth

Although you can pretty much create the entire Lit Trip, or other tour, inside of Google Tour Builder, there are actually a few small final clean up edits you can do after opening the tour in Google Earth.

  • Launch Google Earth as normal at
  • On the left side of Google Earth, click the icon for "My Places".
  • Click the "Import KML file" menu and choose the .KML file for your tour that you created and downloaded.

In the location list down the left-hand side, you may want to rename the first and last entry.

  • The first entry will say something like "<a href="#tour">Play Tour</a>"
  • Click to select this entry, then right-click and choose "Rename".
  • You can now put in a more descriptive title such a "Introduction".
  • The last entry will be named "Resources".
  • You may want to rename this one as well to something like "Full Journey".
  • When the tour is played, the user can double-click on the final entry to see the entire tour path.
  • When done making these few edits, click the "Save" button.
  • You can now right-click on the tour title and rename it as well with something such as the title of the book.
  • Finally, re-export the edited tour by clicking the "three dots" menu button and choosing "Export as KML file".

You will now have the final Lit Trip file that you can share with others for them to use.

Playing the Lit Trip

You can now provide the .KML file to anyone, and they can open and play the tour in Google Earth. Again, see my earlier blog post for more details on playing tour in Google Earth.

  • When the tour is opened in Google Earth, the user will be able to double-click on each location to fly to those spots on the map.
  • When they click the "i" icon for each location they will be able to read all the information you added for that spot, as well as click on the links, scroll through the images, and play the videos.

To download the final Google Lit Trip I created use the link below:
When the preview opens, click the download arrow in the top right corner to download the .KML file.


Google Tour Builder is a simple but powerful tool that educators and students can use to create their own Lit Trips or other tours in Google Earth. This can be another excellent way for students to record information, demonstrate their understanding, and share what they have learned with others.

Post by Eric Curts. Bring me to your school, organization, or conference with over 50 PD sessions to choose from. Connect with me on Twitter at and on Google+ at


  1. This looks like so much fun. Hi Eric, I am one of your Blogging Buddies. I was excited to see you were part of our group because I already followed your blog. I am the long Educational Technologist at my school so I am always looking for others to share and learn with. I can't wait to share Lit Trips with my teachers! Thanks!

  2. This looks really great and I think I want to pass it on to others at my schools. However, on your sample a few of the pop-outs are too big for the screen and it won't allow me to read the entire passage. There doesn't seem to be a scroll feature, or at least I can't find one.

  3. Hi Eric! I'm also one of your Blogging Buddies. That was a great, thorough description of how to use Google Lit Trips and Tour Builder. I'm just finding out more about it, so this was a great step-by-step demonstration. I have a question though. What is the benefit to using the Tour Builder in Google Earth vs. Google Maps? Or does it only work with Google Earth? I'm still a little hazy as to how all these tools work (or don't work) together.

    I look forward to learning with you! (And I see you're speaking at ISTE, so I'll hope to actually meet you there!)

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Eric! I'm Alli, one of your Blogging Buddies from #etcoaches. I appreciate how detailed you are in your blog without being super wordy. The images and text features you use helped make this process clear. I could see this helping a techie, but also helping folks that are newer to Tour Builder.