Designing Connections: Bringing Communities Together

By Denise Vega, July 28, 2008

Grade Level

  • High School


  • City of Neighborhoods

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

three to four fifty-minute periods


In the microcosmic environment of high school, students of diverse socioeconomic status and ethnicities segregate themselves.  In the macrocosmic environment of the community and county people segregate themselves by socioeconomic status and ethnicities.  How do we make students and the community aware of issues regarding segregation that exists in contemporary times?  What benefits will students and communities gain by "building bridges" to make connections to "the other side"? Expanding our knowledge of other communities, ethnicities, and cultures can help to decrease ignorance and fear.  Learning how other communities resolve issues can help us to resolve issues in our own community.  Knowledge of other cultures, communities, and ethnicities prepare us to work in a global community.  It can also assist us to become productive citizens. A problem exists in our school is the self-segregation of our students.  Teachers and administration are trying to come up with ideas to get more minority students in Honors and Advanced Placement courses.  According to one ninth grade, African American student, when asked if she would ever consider taking an English Honors course, she replied, "Why would I want to go over to the white side?"  Teachers do encourage students to strive for loftier goals no matter the student's background, and they are baffled by their lack of interest in improving themselves. Most students have not seen how "the other side" lives and what they can gain from challenging themselves. Gaining knowledge of “the other side” may help them to resolve many issues in their own communities and help to improve living conditions in their own neighborhoods.  Students from other communities can benefit by learning about diversity and learning how problems in urban communities can exist in a suburban community. This lesson will challenge students to design a structure or an event to connect two distinctly different communities within the high school, the community, and possibly globally.  The purpose is to bring people together.  Students will write an essay describing the design, as well as a purpose for the design.  Students will also have to persuade communities to make use of the design.

National Standards

Language Arts Writing Standard 1.  Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process Standard 2.  Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing Standard 3.  Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions Standard 4.  Gathers and uses information for research purposes Reading Standard 5.  Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process Standard 6.  Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts Standard 7.  Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts Listening and Speaking Standard 8.  Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes Viewing Standard 9.  Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media Media Standard 10.  Understands the characteristics and components of the media

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Knowledge of Language:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will:
  • design structures and events that bring communities together
  • learn problem solving techniques
  • learn to write to communicate ideas and to persuade a specific audience
  • be introduced to design


  • Collins, John J., Ed.D.  Selecting and Teaching Focus Correction Areas.  West Newbury,Massachusetts; Collins Education Associates:  2004.
  • Collins, John J., Ed.D.  Developing Writing and Thinking Skills Across the Curriculum:  A Practical
  • Program for Schools.  West Newbury, Massachusetts; Collins Education Associates:  1992.
  • Fisch, Karl.  “Did you know?” YouTube
  • Tatum, Beverly Daniel, Ph.D.  “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”  New York; Basic Books:  1997.
  • Wallace, Brian.  “McCaskey, Warwick students to switch.”  Intelligencer Journal.  Metropolitan Edition.  Lancaster, PA.  Wednesday, March 26, 2008.
  • “Racism 101” by Nikki Giovanni
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, (end of ch. 4) by Maya Angelou
  • “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria” (ch. 4) by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.
  • any news articles about segregation in contemporary times, or issues regarding racism—can be on United Streaming, YouTube or Teacher Tube.
  • images of Suburban areas and Urban areas taken with a digital camera and organized on a PowerPoint presentation.
  • speakers:  design experts to lecture and explain the design process, what they do and how they do it


  • art supplies
  • writing supplies


  • cause and effect: first, a reason, motive or basis for an event or idea, and then an analysis of its result or consequence
  • focus: the concentration of attention or energy on something
  • organization: an orderly structure for arranging or classifying; a group of people working together; arranging things in a clear and methodical manner
  • topic sentence: the initial sentence of a paragraph or passage which represents the central idea of the paragraph or passage
  • supporting details/content: facts and secondary ideas that an author uses to develop and support the main idea
  • introduction: the first section of a communication which introduces the main thrust of the communication
  • conclusion: the last section of a communication which usually sums up the points that have been made
  • body paragraphs: the main text of a piece of writing
  • design: conceive; invent; plan out; create or execute in a highly skilled or artistic manner
  • architect: a person who designs buildings and structures
  • engineer: a person who uses scientific knowledge to solve practical problems or create useful structures
  • structure: a thing constructed; a complex entity constructed of many parts; further, Structure is a fundamental and sometimes intangible notion covering the recognition, observation, nature, and stability of patterns and relationships of entities
  • portal: a door or entryway


Phase I (Lesson One):  Identify Problem/Opportunity Have students view “Did You Know?” (Shift Happens) by Karl Fisch.  This brief video can be found on YouTube or TeacherTube.  Make sure you view it and take notes before presenting it to the class.  Allow students to develop their own ideas about the information.  It’s better not to prepare them.  Using “Type I Writing,” from Collins’ Developing Writing and Thinking Skills Across the Curriculum:  A Practical Program for Schools, have students respond to the video clip (you may have to teach Collins Writing in a previous lesson).  They can write comments (negative or positive), or they can ask questions in their writing (not out loud).  Students should be quiet during the activity.  Time the activity—about five to seven minutes. Students will be using this section of the design process (Davis, Problem/Opportunity) in "Do Now" assignments when they reflect on their reading and identify problems the author or characters present.  They will be writing about personal experiences that are similar to help them make connections to the text.  They will be evaluating, through observations, interviews, and recording details of problems that exist in their communities.  They will write about all possible outcomes to solutions to these problems, including possible obstacles. Give students time to discuss responses in small groups.  One person from each group will act as a spokesperson to share with the class.  Some students will find the information upsetting, some will have questions, and a few might even think about solutions to some of the problems.  You may want to ask students at this point to identify the problems addressed in the film.  Use of technology in the global community is being used for educational purposes, while use of technology in the United States, especially by our youth, seems to be used for entertainment purposes.  Then make sure to ask students to think of possible solutions to the problems.  How do we get students to research and learn more from the use of technology instead of students using technology for MySpace, and just for entertainment. Write student responses on the board.  Make a three column chart.  Categorize responses.  One column is for questions, one for comments, and one for solutions.  Review all responses and make sure students take notes.  Share some of your responses if you wish, but make sure students understand there are no wrong answers. Phase II (Lesson Two): Gather/Analyze Information Introduce essential questions (EQs), and make sure they are visible for the entire unit.  Make a colorful chart to hang.  Use a PowerPoint presentation.  Just make sure you can easily refer to the EQs.  Students should know what they should be learning at all times.
  • How do we learn to problem solve and think critically?
  • How do we design to resolve issues and problems in our communities (design concepts)?
  • How can we communicate ideas by writing, persuading, designing and creating?
  • How do we communicate effectively with a specific audience?
  Students are not expected to answer these questions.  The questions are only meant to guide their learning.  Make sure to post them throughout the unit, so students understand the direction their learning should take.  Have students read and discuss two or three of these:
  • “Racism 101”—Nikki Giovanni
  • “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” (Ch.4)—Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (end of Ch. 4, where Maya compares the black part of Stamps, Arkansas, to the white section of town)—Maya Angelou.
  • Lancaster: Intelligencer Journal article—Brian Wallace—“McCaskey, Warwick students to Switch”
  • Any recent news articles you can find on racism or segregation
    In this lesson students are going to collect as much data to observe problems in our communities and how to resolve some of the issues before they become larger.  Making the community aware by using this data and organizing it is one way students can design solutions.  By reading these articles and stories, students will compare and contrast issues and problems presented, they will question whether similar problems exist in their own communities, and they will involve others within the communities to design solutions. You can have students respond in Type I writing to maintain order and write any questions or notes.  It’s better if they have copies they can write on, or take Cornell notes (Use two columns.  The content should be on the left column and the right column should be left blank for students to fill in with responses, notes and even pictures--if they help students).  They can underline words and phrases that stand out within the text and define them on the right side of the paper. Do the reading yourself before and write or create guiding questions for discussion. Note: In Nikki Giovanni's piece, she is addressing African-American students at Virginia Tech.  Giovanni is a professor of English who overcame some obstacles to obtain her position.  Her main concern is that African-American students give up too easily because they cannot maintain self control and they are losing opportunities because they do not know how to co-exist in a predominantly white community.  Her advice is profound, especially when she compares four years of college to four years in prison.  She also gives students very practical advice to succeed in college. Have them discuss the reading in small groups before discussing as a class.  Have them identify problems/solutions, cause and effect, compare and contrast.  You may want to use graphic organizers.  Not all of the articles or stories will have all the concepts.  Make sure to choose articles and stories that cover problem/solution, and cause and effect. A graphic organizer to help them identify the author's purpose is: Questioning the Author Reading Comprehension Strategy Questioning the Author is a protocol of inquiries that students can make about the content they are reading.  The strategy is designed to encourage students to think beyond the words on the page and to consider the author's intent or purpose for the selection and his/her success at communicating it. The idea of "questioning" the author is a way to evaluate how well a selection of text stands on its own. How Does It Work? The standard format involves five questions.  Students read a selection of text, and then answer these questions: 1. What is the author trying to tell you?  (main idea) 2. Why is the author telling you that?  (author's intent or purpose) 3. Who is the intended audience? 4. What mood is created by the writer's style? 5. What message can you take from this selection?  (theme) List responses on the board and review.  After reviewing the students should be able to visually see the author's intent and the problem/solution in these pieces of writing. Phase III (Lesson Three): Gather/Analyze Information Neighborhood pictures: Prep: Take or download pictures of contrasting communities (number pictures).  Allow students to take pictures of their own communities (good things in their neighborhoods and the things that are not so good).  If possible go on a field trip to explore the city or town.  Interview citizens, shop owners, law enforcement (police), etc.  Show students middle class homes, as well as slums or places that are run down.  Record everything either with a video camera or by taking pictures and writing notes.  Take pictures and all the information gathered back to the classroom for observations. Use a graphic organizer to have students analyze the pictures.  Make sure they have two or more contrasting pictures.  The graphic organizer should be divided in, at least, two columns and six rows.  The left column should have one of each of these questions written inside the rows:
  • List any objects or details you see in the picture.
  • List any words or phrases you see in the picture.
  • What symbols are in the picture?  What do you think these symbols mean?
  • List words that describe the emotions you might feel as a viewer of the picture.
  • What is the message of this picture?
  • What is the targeted audience?  Explain your response.
    You can reserve the first row to write the number of the picture.  This helps you to identify pictures if needed and make connections to responses.   Students should work in small groups.  Groups should discuss the pictures and write their answers (as a group) on the right column.  Students should then identify problems in each picture. Students can share answers as a class.  One member of each group should present responses. Phase IV (Lesson IV): Frame/Reframe Problem General Possible Solution Introduce design processes: Give students some design suggestions such as MovieMaker, YouTube, Power Point, building models and prototypes, or writing persuasively as a means to sell solutions to an audience.  Invite a speaker to discuss design concepts and how they can help communities.  This can be someone from the community:  a service worker, landscape architect, civil engineer, artist, film maker, any type of designer.  The speaker would have to explain how they come up with a design or a solution to a problem. Get students to think about the bigger picture by using all the information they have gathered and all the stories they've read to come up with a problem they would like to attempt to solve.  Have them brainstorm in their groups, come up with at least an idea per person, write these ideas on chart paper and share with the class.  Then have student sketch one idea--they would all have to agree on the best idea--and write about it.  When writing and sketching, they have to include information gathered and write about how they came up with their problem and possible solution. Note: Students will stay in their groups to come up with positive design solutions for the stories, articles or pictures (each group should choose only one).  They can design a structure, an event, a video presentation, art, etc.  Give each group large drawing paper, markers, colored pencils, crayons or whatever they need to design their solution.  Have access to programs such as movie maker, Microsoft Publisher, Excel, Word, Power Point, Inspiration, and assist students as needed.  You may have to teach some of these programs.  Students who create films can publish on TeacherTube, or YouTube.   Phase V (Lesson Five): Prototype, Implement, and Evaluate   Students will work individually to write a persuasive essay.  Students have to sell their design to a specific audience (the communities in the photos, stories, articles, or their own communities).  Students should also describe their designs using detailed imagery.  Students should be able to discover that most of these communities are not connected to each other.  Ignorance may exist because of the lack of connectivity, or knowledge.  They should use resources from the articles, stories, and pictures in their essays.  Students should also give specific reasons. Students can research ideas (time can be given in the classroom for this), talk to members of the community:  an architect, an event planner, a sociologist—the teacher can arrange for speakers to come to class to discuss design solutions.


Persuasive essay using three focus correction areas (FCAs):
  • Organization—good transitions between paragraphs, connections to thesis/main ideas
  • Purpose—meaningful ideas, relevant ideas, connect ideas by using supporting details, writing with a specific audience in mind
  • Proper use of conventions—grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure
  Students can be assessed on projects by having them create a rubric, which describes areas in which they want to be evaluated on their projects.  This helps students who are more artistic, organized, students who are better writers, planners, etc.  They can choose to assign higher points to the things they are better at.  A simple rubric is best.  These can be found and created on Have members of the community come in to school (even parents) to judge and evaluate students' designs and projects.  Include the principal and other teachers.

Enrichment Extension Activities

  • Have students build miniature prototypes of their designs.
  • They can present designs using pictures or creating a chart on poster paper.
  • Use the assistance of an art teacher to help students with their design or to come up with a project and assessment for the actual positive design solution.
  • Students can present their design solutions as group presentations.  While each group is presenting, the rest of the class should be taking notes and writing questions to ask.  Give students the opportunity to ask questions and groups to respond.
  • Have a design fair and include refreshments.
  • Create a display for the students to show off their designs—a permanent display.  Celebrate the students’ efforts.

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