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City Building

Discuss and explore different community needs, including ways to connect individual neighborhoods into a unified city.

Learning Objectives

  • Discuss and explore different community needs, including ways to connect individual neighborhoods into a unified city
  • Learn how to implement concepts of sustainability into a city’s development
  • Design a city around different scenarios such as geographic location, population growth, conservation, preservation, or prevention against natural disasters
  • Reproduce different architectural features in a variety of scales
  • Gain a hands-on, kinesthetic understanding of the science and engineering needed to build structures
  • Practice communication skills through a collaborative large-scale project


30 minutes before starting the lesson

  • Print a map of your own city to discuss local surroundings with students
  • If you want to offer a landscape challenge for students to build on or around (such as a mountain range or trees), you can make them from cardboard or Strawbees. This might help set the scale of the city if there are space constraints


  • “What exactly is a city? How would you describe what a city is?”
  • Students can describe the city they are living in or another they have visited
  • “What elements make up a city?” For examples:
    • Buses, subways, bicycles
    • People, pets, animals
    • Skyscrapers, apartments, houses, restaurants
    • Museums, places of worship, parks, city hall
    • Police stations, fire stations, schools, stores
  • “Do you know when and how this city started?”
  • Engage in stories about how the city has changed. Use this conversation to guide students through thinking about how cities are planned, including things like public transportation, water, and roads
  • “What types of planning are involved when building a city? Do all cities have the same needs?” For example:
  • Housing, architecture, waste management
  • Transportation, infrastructure, parks, restaurants
  • Water, gas, electricity, phone lines
  • Internet, TV channels, radio


Break students into groups of 3-5 to start building structures for a neighborhood, either imaginary or from the real world. Encourage groups to talk to each other about their plans, and discuss how to solve any city-building problems that come up.

You can:

  • Challenge students to think about the scale and relevance of the buildings in their neighborhood. Scale can be adjusted by switching straw sizes.
  • Challenge all student groups to design their neighborhood around a constraint or condition:
  • Geographical environment – a mountain range or a large river delta
  • Ecological conservation – a rainforest with endangered animals
  • An area prone to earthquakes, hurricanes, fires
  • A city experiencing rapid population growth
  • Have students create a road system with signage for safety between vehicles and pedestrians, and/or a system to share electricity
  • Have students build a vehicle or character to be placed in the city and lead a “tour group” around after the classroom-wide city is created


You can:

  • Inspire playfulness and tinkering! Suggest…
    • New ways to commute (such as zip lines or jetpacks)
    • Constructing novel places to play with friends (like a clubhouse or a playground of the future)
  • Introduce difficult community situations such as the opening of a big factory nearby, a drastic change in water levels, or some kind of natural or manmade disaster to highlight features of their city design
  • Have students design new structures or replace old ones to address whatever difficult community situation you introduce, such as:
  • Constructing a large dome to filter pollution
  • Building more housing to avoid overcrowding
  • Ask students to connect their neighborhoods to form a large city or to expand their neighborhoods so much that everything becomes the city!


You can have your students:

  • Make tour groups to visit each neighborhood and present/discuss: :
  • Their scenario and whether it was based on the environment, geography, a difficult community situation, etc. and what decisions they made to tailor their city design around that scenario
  • The inhabitants of their neighborhood
  • Something that their local community celebrates
  • Their dream city ideas and what else they would add or change in their neighborhood to realize those dreams
  • Make a video tour of their neighborhood and/or city. This could be aerial footage or street-view video from placing a camera or cellphone on a car (or other support) that drives through the city


  • “What was the hardest part of building this city for you? What was the most surprising or interesting?”
  • “What unexpected challenges came up through this project?”
  • “What would you do differently if you could try this again?”
  • “Did you experience any conflict in your group? If so, how did you address it?”
  • “Who was your neighborhood/city built for? Who are your ideal inhabitants?”
    • Elderly people
    • Parents with infants
    • Giraffes
    • Insects
  • “Is your city sustainable? Howso?”
  • “How did you modify your neighborhood design based on the scenario?”

Other Lesson Plans