Community Explorations

By Lisa Liu, April 5, 2007

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Urban Planning

Subject Area

  • Language Arts
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

Part I: 45 minutes, Part II and III: 60-90 minutes each


When thinking about design, it’s easy to think about buildings or a specific place. Design in this lesson takes on a more macro-level and raises questions about urban planning. It’s not just about the buildings that are built, but also if they are done so in a responsible manner for the environment. Do we value open green spaces as much as commercial or residential properties?
This is a three-part lesson to help students build awareness of the strengths and weakness in their community. The lessons can be done as a series, individually, or in combinations. In the first part, students will evaluate how people interact with their environment in both positive and negative ways. Students will look critically at everyday activities to determine whether they should be encouraged, or whether alternatives need to be found so that our environment is not negatively impacted.Next, students focus on the benefits of green spaces in their community. Students will take an inventory of the green spaces found around their school.  They will then explore how green space can strengthen their community aesthetically, and improve the quality of life for its inhabitants.

National Standards

Social Studies
  • Examine the interaction of human beings and their physical environment, the use of land, building of cities, and ecosystem changes in selected locales and regions;


Students will:
  • evaluate positive and negative interactions between individuals and their community
  • identify different types of green spaces in their community
  • acknowledge and learn about the benefit of green spaces to the environment
  • compose a persuasive essay


  • "Awareness to Action" poster (or photos of places in a community and people interacting with their community, e.g. parks, open fire hydrants, people planting, people littering, schools, etc.)
  • Map of the neighborhood
  • "Community Inventory Worksheet"
  • "Green Spaces Worksheet"


  • cameras
  • chart paper


  • Community
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Trees
  • Streetscapes
  • Parks
  • Wildlife refuge/habitat gardens
  • Gardens


Part I: Community Inventory

1. Write “community” on the board. Have students create a semantic web of what community means to them. 2. Inform students that they will be examining what people do in their community and whether those actions are beneficial to the environment. Define “community strengths” as the ways people work to improve the environment and the things in the community that are beneficial to the environment. Define “community weaknesses” as ways in which people are harming or neglecting their environment. 3. Display “Awareness to Action” poster. (Note: This was obtained from an organization called Earth Force, but the teacher can use pictures from the newspaper or Internet for the lesson.) 4. Inform students that they are to complete the “Community Inventory” worksheet by identifying strengths and weakness in the poster. Identify 2 or 3 strengths/weaknesses as a class. 5. Divide students into small groups. Give each group 10 to 15 minutes to complete their worksheet. 6. Allow groups to share their findings and record the findings on the board. 7. Discuss with students what activities/places they found on the poster that are similar to their own community. Brainstorm possible ways to address some of the weaknesses that were found, and how to enhance or protect the community strengths.

Part II: Green Spaces

8. Ask students to list the green spaces that they see or interact with in their community. 9. Categorize the places the students mention as a park, garden, tree, wildlife refuge/habitat garden, or streetscape. 10. Provide students with a definition for each of the 5 types of green spaces the students will be focusing on during their community walk. 11. Break the students into small groups for their community walk and provide each group with a camera. Each group will have a Green Spaces handout with the neighborhood map on one side, and a log to record their pictures on the back.

12. Students will be given the tasks of taking pictures of: a) green spaces b) people interacting with their environment c) things they see as strengths and weakness (they should note actions they see that either help or harm the environment) d) other things that they notice because they really “like” or “dislike” what they see 13. Once the pictures are developed. Students can: a) Categorize their pictures in terms of community strengths and weaknesses and/or b) Map the different types of green spaces they saw on a large blow-up map of the neighborhood. Give students different color stickers to code for the different types of green spaces. They should examine the map to determine if certain streets are “greener” than others.
Part III: Persuasive Essay
14. Ask students to write a persuasive essay convincing their community to take care of their green spaces, create more green spaces, and detailing the importance of green spaces. 15. Before beginning the essay, write each type of green space on a piece of chart paper and place them in centers around the classroom. 16. Place the students into small groups and have each group rotate through the five stations to brainstorm the purpose of each green space, how people interact with the space, its benefits, and the consequences of not having such a place. 17. Students can use the charts to help organize and develop arguments for their individual essays.


• Completion of “Community Inventory Worksheet” and “Green Spaces Worksheet” • Oral responses to teacher questions • Contribution to small group work and discussions • Writing assessment based on a writing rubric in the areas of: Style, Organization, Conventions, Focus, and Content

Enrichment Extension Activities

  • Students can go on a trip to a Wildlife Refuge Center since they are not likely to find one in their neighborhood.
  • Students can brainstorm and work on a project discussing ways they can green their home and/or school.

Teacher Reflection

The students responded well to the lessons, and could relate to the issues in them easily. Students were really struck by how negative human behavior really detracts from the beauty of a green space (e.g. trash in someone’s garden). For my students, this is a small part in a year-long look at community greening. They came in with lots of background. The most difficult part of this lesson was having the students record the location of where they took the pictures on the Green Spaces worksheet so that we could match up the location once the pictures were developed. I imagine this aspect would be easier with older students. To improve on this, I would meet with the other adult leaders before the walk to inform them of how the locations should be recorded so that they can better help students. It is also important to recruit as many adult volunteers as possible to allow for smaller groups. Having students work in small groups for discussions was successful. As students discussed, I was able to rotate between groups, make comments to each group, and encourage their ideas. Students were engaged and excited.

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