Dwellings Around the Globe

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, August 30, 2006

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

One or two fifty-minute class periods


In this activity students will explore dwellings across the globe. They will conduct collaborative research on cliff dwellings, igloos, longhouses, and yurts. The students will explore how different dwellings reflect environmental and cultural conditions, and they will create a presentation to share their work with their classmates.

National Standards

Standard 1. Level III. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 5. Uses content, style, and structure (e.g., formal or informal language, genre, organization) appropriate for specific audiences (e.g., public, private) and purposes (e.g., to entertain, to influence, to inform)
Standard 7. Level III.  Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts 1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts (e.g., electronic texts; textbooks; biographical sketches; directions; essays; primary source historical documents, including letters and diaries; print media, including editorials, news stories, periodicals, and magazines; consumer, workplace, and public documents, including catalogs, technical directions, procedures, and bus routes) 3. Summarizes and paraphrases information in texts (e.g., arranges information in chronological, logical, or sequential order; conveys main ideas, critical details, and underlying meaning; uses own words or quoted materials; preserves author's perspective and voice) 4. Uses new information to adjust and extend personal knowledge base Standard 4. Level III. Gathers and uses information for research purposes 3. Uses a variety of resource materials to gather information for research topics (e.g., magazines, newspapers, dictionaries, schedules, journals, phone directories, globes, atlases, almanacs, technological sources)
Listening & Speaking
Standard 8. Level III. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes 6. Makes oral presentations to the class (e.g., uses notes and outlines; uses organizational pattern that includes preview, introduction, body, transitions, conclusion; uses a clear point of view; uses evidence and arguments to support opinions; uses visual media)
Standard 6. Level III. Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions 1. Knows how places and regions serve as cultural symbols (e.g. Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco; Opera House in Sydney, Australia; the Gateway Arch in St. Louis; Tower Bridge in London) 2. Knows how technology affects the ways in which culture groups perceive and use places and regions (e.g., impact of technology such as air conditioning and irrigation on the human use of arid lands; changes in perception of environment by culture groups, such as the snowmobile's impact on the lives of Inuit people or the swamp buggy's impact on tourist travel in the Everglades) 3. Knows the ways in which culture influences the perception of places and regions (e.g., religion and other belief systems, language and tradition; perceptions of "beautiful" or "valuable")
Arts Connections
Standard 1.  Understands connections among the various art forms and other disciplines
Arts & Communication
Standard 4.Understands ways in which the human experience is transmitted and reflected in the arts and communication
Working With Others
Standard 1.Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Thinking & Reasoning
Standard 5. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques
Visual Arts: Artistic Expression & Communication
Standard 4. Understands the visual arts in relation to history and culture

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts Standards: Speaking and Listening

Grade 6-8

Comprehension and Collaboration:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1.A Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.2 Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.3 Delineate a speaker's argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and relevance and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.5 Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grade 8 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)

English Language Arts Standards: Reading Informational Text

Grade 6-8    

Key Ideas and Details:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.1 Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.2 Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.3 Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.7 Compare and contrast a text to an audio, video, or multimedia version of the text, analyzing each medium's portrayal of the subject (e.g., how the delivery of a speech affects the impact of the words).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.8 Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-7.9 Analyze how two or more authors writing about the same topic shape their presentations of key information by emphasizing different evidence or advancing different interpretations of facts.
Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6-8.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 6-8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

English Language Arts Standards: Science & Technical Subjects 

Grade 6-8    

Craft and Structure:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6-8 texts and topics.

English Language Arts Standards: History/Social Studies

Grade 6-8

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:


Students will do the following:
  • respond to writing prompts
  • participate in small-group and large-group discussions
  • conduct Internet research
  • evaluate, analyze, and interpret information from multiple sources
  • synthesize information from multiple sources
  • create an oral and written presentation


  • Internet websites


  • computer with Internet access


Building Background

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an opportunity to explore the relationship between buildings and culture. 1. Share the following quotation with your students:

"What we're talking about is culture. Buildings and culture developed in tandem. In a traditional society, you wouldn't ask what kind of house to build. That'd be like asking what color is red...You'd build the kind of house that you had seen being built all your life. Housing would be a part of your culture. It would be specific to you.

An igloo, for example, is specific to the environment in which it evolved. Perfect there, it can't survive elsewhere. You can't build an igloo in Miami. Igloos are the result of specific people, in a specific place, sharing experiences. All over the world, traditional building reflects this localized evolutionary process."

-Clarke Snell

More information on Clark Snell  http://thenauhaus.com/institute/bios.php Ask your students to respond to Snell's comments. Encourage students to think about their local environment and dwellings. Ask students to discuss the following questions:
  • What kind of homes are built in the area where you live?
  • How do these dwellings reflect the climate?
  • How do these dwellings reflect the culture?
2. Brainstorm a list of fifty different kinds of dwellings. Post the list in the class and continue to add items to it as students conduct further research.

Steps for Learning  

1. Divide the class into small groups. Tell the students that they are going to conduct research and create a presentation on dwellings. The presentations must include the following elements:
  • a description of the dwelling
  • a picture of the dwelling
  • the location of the dwelling
  • the purpose of the design
  • how the design reflects the climate conditions
  • how the design reflects the culture and society
  Group One: Igloos Group Four: Native American Dwellings Create a class collection on dwellings. As a class, decide the best way to share what the students have learned about dwellings. Possible suggestions include the following:
  • a poster exhibit
  • a website
  • a slide show
  • a mural
If possible, invite other students to view the presentations.


Create a class rubric with your students that will help them assess their work. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric.-How effective was your brainstorming in generating ideas? (Excellent, Good, Adequate, Poor)-Rate how effectively you collected, analyzed, and synthesized information. (Excellent, Good, Adequate, Poor)-Rate the overall quality of your presentation. (Excellent, Good, Adequate, Poor)-Rate your creativity. (Excellent, Good, Adequate, Poor)

Enrichment Extension Activities

Patrick Dougherty Dwellings
Have your students explore the art of Patrick Dougherty, who creates dwellings using materials from nature. Have them use the following website to begin their research:http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/04.03.03/dwelling-0314.html

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