World Habitat Classroom Activities

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, September 21, 2009

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social Studies


Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum is supporting the 2009 World Habitat Day. The mission is to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right of all to adequate shelter. The day is also intended to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.  World Habitat Day provides an excellent opportunity to highlight key human settlements and urban issues.  Celebrations that took place around the world in 2008 were published on the official website which receives millions of visitors per year, and in the World Habitat Day report that reaches over 25,000 key partners. This year, we hope you and your students will take part in organizing activities to raise awareness and stimulate debate on the important theme of Planning Our Urban Future.

National Standards

Language Arts  Standard 1, Level III. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 10. Writes persuasive compositions (e.g., engages the reader by establishing a context, creating a persona, and otherwise developing reader interest; develops a controlling idea that conveys a judgment; creates and organizes a structure appropriate to the needs and interests of a specific audience; arranges details, reasons, examples, and/or anecdotes persuasively; excludes information and arguments that are irrelevant; anticipates and addresses reader concerns and counter arguments; supports arguments with detailed evidence, citing sources of information as appropriate) Reading Standard 5, Level III. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process.  Standard 7, Level III. Uses skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts 1. Reads 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of informational texts (e.g., electronic texts; textbooks; biographical sketches; directions; essays; primary source historical documents, including letters and diaries; print media, including editorials, news stories, periodicals, and magazines; consumer, workplace, and public documents,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) Math Standard 1, Level III. Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process Science Standard 6, Level III: Understands relationships between organisms and their physical environment Working With Others Standard 1, Level III: Contributes to the overall efforts of the group

Thinking and Reasoning

Standard 1, Level III: Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument

Standard 5, Level III: Applies trouble-shooting and basic problem solving techniques

2. Selects the most appropriate strategy or alternative for solving a problem


How to bring World Habitat Day into your classroom.  Discuss with your students the definition of a shelter.  Ask them what necessities they would need from a shelter in order to survive. Remind them to think critically about the differences between what they would need and want.  Go a step further! Here are a few examples of activities that could be used in different classrooms, which could be submitted to World Habitat Day:
  • Language Arts:  Does everyone have access to adequate shelter in your community?  Ask your students to think about issues in your community.  Have them brainstorm possible solutions to these problems and write a persuasive paper outlining why they think their community should adopt the World Habitat Day mission.
  • Social Studies:  How does culture influence the design of shelters and urban planning?  As a class look at different cultures across the globe, analyze their traditional types of housing, and compare them to what we are familiar with in the United States.  Possible themes to explore – privacy and personal space, nuclear family vs. communal societies, and the distribution of wealth across the world.
  • Science: Did you ever wonder why some houses have pitched roofs or some are set on stilts?  How are your community’s homes designed to specifically address your local weather conditions?  Discuss with your students the decisions architects make to ensure that homes will be safe and comfortable for residents based on your community’s climate.
  • Math:  What is population density?  Review the formula for finding population density with your students (total population/land area).  Provide them with population and land area statistics for different towns and cities in your state and ask them to compare these finding with population densities of other cities across the country and world.  Take a minute to discuss how communities are designed to accommodate this number of people and show examples of different types of homes used in cities with varying population densities.
  • Art & Design:  Tell your students that they will be architects for a day.  A natural disaster has decimated a community and they are in need of emergency shelter.   Place your students in teams of four and tell them their challenge is to design a shelter for a family of four that can be shipped flat to the location and then assembled onsite without the use of any tools.

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