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Community Design Game | Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

Community Design Game

Community Design Game | Wisconsin Historical Society

Grade level: Elementary or secondary

Duration: More than one class period

Through a combination of hands-on, interactive activities, students learn about their community and begin to think about what elements make a good neighborhood or downtown. Students are introduced to the physical design and composition of their community through this four-hour lesson.


The community design game consists of a number of hands-on activities that was first used as one component of a larger downtown revitalization project in the village of Oregon. A team of University of Wisconsin Urban and Regional Planning students led 22 summer school students ranging from second- to seventh-grade levels in the activity one afternoon. After completing the community design game, the students presented their ideas to community leaders. Their ideas were incorporated into the downtown revitalization project.


Students will:

  • Learn about the physical design and composition of their community
  • Work cooperatively, building group problem-solving skills
  • Analyze current conditions, future possibilities, and formulate recommendations for the improvement of the community
  • Practice their public speaking and presentation skills


  1. Determine an area where students will work: a neighborhood surrounding the school, a downtown area, or other area of interest.
  2. Create a map of the area, identifying major building, landmarks, and streets. You can obtain maps from your local planning office, city or county, or the Regional Planning Commission. You will need two sizes of maps: an 8 ½- by 11-inch size to guide students as they walk through the area, and a larger map (30- by 36-inches works well) for the design game board.
  3. Mark routes on smaller maps for groups of students to walk. Identify about four points of interest for the groups to stop, observe, and answer questions.
  4. Create a list of questions that the students will take and respond to as they walk the route. (See sample worksheet at the end of this lesson.) The idea is to help the students experience the area with four of their five senses.
  5. Create game pieces to accompany the design game board, or larger map. Game pieces are colored paper pieces, or foamcore board, marked with names of various elements that could be included in a community. (See sample worksheet at the end of this lesson.)
  6. Recruit adult volunteers to supervise groups of three to four students.
  7. If Polaroid cameras and film are available, give one to each group to help them capture their observations on film. If you conduct the activity over two days, students could walk and record their observations one day (with or without cameras), and spend the second day reviewing their written responses and/or photos, and doing the map design activity.
  8. On the day of the walking tour, organize students and volunteers into groups, making sure that each student has a packet of questions with sufficient space to record answers and a writing instrument. If students do bring cameras, instruct them to write a sentence or two describing why they have chosen to take a particular picture.
  9. After the walking tour, have students reconvene in the classroom. In their groups, ask students to share their observations and responses with each other.
  10. To help keep students focused, ask each group to identify the busiest street or area, their favorite building, establishment, or area, and explain why.
  11. Begin working on the map by giving each group one game board (the large-size map) and a set of game pieces. Colored markers are also good to have.
  12. Encourage the students to look through the game pieces and to discuss the various elements, identifying the existing elements that they value and would like to keep, those they would like to improve, and those they would add to benefit the community.
  13. Ask students to summarize their maps and present their findings.

Sample Worksheet

Elements of the AreaGame Piece Elements

What do I See?




What is there to do on this street?

This street is





This street has



The most interesting building or landmark here is...

Where do people






grocery store

specialty shop




community center

homeless shelter






This teacher-submitted, elementary-level lesson plan appeared in Badger History Bulletin. Please adapt it to fit your students' needs. Author: Connie Bodeen, University of Wisconsin-Marathon County