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Social Studies Lesson | 10 Towns that Changed America Curriculum

Social Studies Lesson

Analyze your own town

Greenbelt, MD (credit Santos Ramos)
Pearl District, Portland, OR (credit James Clark)
Levittown, NY (credit Jon Smith)
Philadelphia, PA (credit Steve Boyle)
Pullman, Chicago, IL (credit Bill Richert)
Seaside, FL (credit Michael Smith)
Riverside, IL (credit Bill Richert)
Salt Lake City, UT (credit Alvaro Aguayo)
Southwest Washington, D.C. (credit Santos Ramos)
St. Augustine, FL (credit Barry Rabinowitz)


In this lesson, students will analyze their own town or city to determine which model (of the 10 featured in the show) it most closely resembles and why. They will create an annotated map that describes the particular urban planning features of their city or town.

Grades: 6 – 12
Time: 3 periods


This lesson addresses selected themes from McRel History and Geography Standards

  • History Standard 2: Understands the historical perspective.
    Level II (Grades 5 – 6): Understands that specific decisions and events had an impact on history.
    Level III (Grades 7 – 8): Analyze the influence specific ideas and beliefs had on a period of history.
    Level IV (Grades 9 – 12): Analyzes the specific ideas and beliefs had on a period of history and specifies how events might have been different in the absence of those events.
  • Geography Standard 12: Understands the patterns of human settlement and their causes.
    Level III (Grades 6 – 8): Knows the causes and consequences of urbanization. Knows the similarities and differences in various settlement patterns in the world.
    Level IV (Grades 9 – 12): Understands how the functions of cities today differ from those of towns and villages and cities in earlier times.


To prepare to teach this lesson, teachers should:



  • 11 X 17 photocopies of maps of your town or city
  • Copies of town observations worksheet and town analysis worksheet
  • Colored pencils or crayons
  • Markers
  • Smartboard or digital projector
  • Internet connection

Period 1

  1. Watch the entire PBS special 10 Towns that Changed America. While they are watching, students write down their observations about the different towns as they relate to their own community on the observation worksheet.

Period 2

  1. Ask students to reflect on the different towns from the program. They should use the observations they wrote down on their observation worksheet (while they were watching the show during the previous period).Which towns were most like their community? Which were the most different? Why? Was their community planned? If so, do they know anything about its history? Why was it planned? When? By whom? Is their community suburban, urban, or rural? Does their community favor automobiles or pedestrians? You may write students responses on the board or on chart paper.
  2. Bring up an image of their community on Google maps. Ask students to look at the pattern of streets. Is there a grid? Are the streets or roads curvilinear? Are there parks or public squares or plazas? Is there a highway? If so, where does it go, i.e., through their community or around it? Is their community located adjacent to a river or a lake or other natural feature? Is it in a valley? What are the special features of their town? Are there special historic buildings or sites? (If available, bring up images of these sites on Google Images.)
  3. Tell students that they are going to work together to analyze their community and make an annotated map that describes their analysis.
  4. Distribute town analysis worksheets and break students into groups. Students complete the worksheets.

Period 3

  1. Students come together to share their findings from the analysis worksheet. Do they (as a class) agree about their community? If not, what are the differences? Students may support their findings with evidence from the map.
  2. Distribute 11 X 17 photocopies of their community’s map. Students return to the same group and add “call-outs,” e.g., bubbles or boxes that refer to a particular area on the map and write their analyses. Students may add color to the map, i.e., blue for water, green for parks, or they may create a color-coded system to explain the different zoning areas in their community (industrial, residential, commercial, etc.)
  3. Students share their maps.

Additional Resources


  • Landry, Charles. The Art of City Making
  • Mumford, Lewis. The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects
  • Reps, John. The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States

Online Sources

For Further Study

This Social Studies lesson can be extended to other subjects or paired with other 10 Towns that Changed America lessons to create the following interdisciplinary connections:

  • Art: Students pick a location in their community from the map (it can be a specific building or just a corner or intersection) and make a drawing or photograph of it.
  • Mathematics: How many square miles is their community? How many residents? Determine the population density and the number of residents per square mile.
  • ELA: Students may write a historical fiction short story about their community’s founding, its important early figures, etc.
  • Science: Students consider their own town or community from an environmental standpoint. How sustainable is their community? What measures can be implemented to make it more sustainable? What can they as individuals do to make their community more “green?”