A Sense of Place

Author: Catharine Niuzzo Honaman
Editor: Stephanie Nardei

Time: 3 classes
1 hour to read lesson, check web sites, and get materials

Computer lab, paper and art supplies for making a map

There are two parts to this lesson:

  • In the first students will identify and describe one or two places significant to them using vivid language. 
  • In the second students will delve into what constitutes a map and the cultural biases we take for granted when looking at maps. 

Pulling together knowledge learned from their own experiences in life, texts, and maps they have encountered in their history classes in the past the students will examine the Western concept of “place” which will prepare them to encounter the Native American sense of place in the next lessons.

Purpose – This is the engage lesson.  The purpose of this lesson is to encourage students to recognize how deeply they are connected to certain places and how we take for granted the ways we make the concrete world abstract.

Students will be able to:

  1. Identify one or two places important to them by connecting information and events in texts to experiences;
  2. Describe one of those important places in accurate, evocative language showing an original perspective;
  3. Identify the major components of a standard map (an organizational structure).

Standard #1

            Students read a wide range of print and nonprint text to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world, to acquire new information, to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace, and for personal fulfillment.  Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

Arizona State Standards:

Strand 1: Concept 6: Comprehension Strategies
            PO 4.  Connect information and events in text to experience and to related text and
            PO 5.  Apply knowledge of organizational structures (e.g., classification schemes, logical
 order) of text to aid comprehension.


Concept 1: Ideas and Content
            PO 1.  Maintain a clear, narrow focus to support the topic.
            PO 2.  Write with an identifiable purpose and for a specific audience.
            PO 3.  Provide sufficient, relevant, and carefully selected details for support.
            PO 5.  Include ideas an details that show original perspectives and insights.

Concept 4: Word Choice
            PO 1.  Use accurate, specific, powerful words and phrases that effectively convey the
 intended message.
            PO 2. Use vocabulary that is original, varied, and natural.
            PO 3. Use words that evoke clear images.

Teacher Background
You must know how to read maps.  If you need assistance review website below: http://interactive2.usgs.gov/learningweb/teachers/mapsshow.htm

Resource Websites
Maps for Day 3 activities:
World upside down map http://flourish.org/upsidedownmap/

Reversed map on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reversed_map
Upside Down World Map http://www.wall-maps.com/World/UpsideDownWorldMap.htm

Sense of Place Lessons & Articles
Louisiana Voices http://www.louisianavoices.org/unit4/edu_unit4_lesson3.html
PBS on The Natural World: Landscape & Place http://www.pbs.org/art21/education/naturalworld/lesson2.html
Boston Globe Sense of Place http://www.boston.com/travel/getaways/hawaii/articles/2007/01/12/sense_of_place/

Native American: Sense of Place
Amit May Fine Arts on Sense of Place: Contemporary Native American Art http://www.amitmay.com/native.htm
In context: A Quarterly Humane Sustainability Culture http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC03/Getty.htm



Day 1
For Native Peoples of any region of the earth “place” is a very important concept.  For many Americans their place of origin was left behind generations ago.  Living in a highly mobile society we are not often given the opportunity or incentive to connect with the place in which we are living.  Place is just considered to be a neutral component or one that can be easily changed to serve our purposes.  Architects, designers, landscape architects, and interior decorators all know places have a profound affect on the people in them. We know the Western perspective about human behavior and moods can be significantly impacted by both man-made environments and the natural world.  We can see being in a certain place provides one’s physical needs and one’s spiritual well-being.  The first day of this lesson helps students understand their own “sense of place” laying the groundwork for this lesson.  When the students encounter the Native Peoples’ way of connecting to place they will have a deeper understanding of those concepts having identified their own strong intrinsic connections to place, connections not always valued in contemporary American culture.

  1. Open with discussion.  Have students use notepaper for writing all ideas down including what students contribute.
  2. Ask students to think about places they lived.  Thinking about their place in this world, ask the following:
  • How do they define it? 
  • Is it a certain neighborhood, town, county, region, state, or some other demarcation of area?  
  • What feelings do they have about it?
  • What are the important areas in this place and why are they significant? 

Have them write famous landmarks of this place, both natural and man-made.  Ask students to share their ideas with the class.  Compare how one person’s place may be a neighborhood while another may feel the whole county is their place.  Why might that be?

  1. Ask students to describe the place where they live to someone who has never been there or maybe has never even heard of it in a paragraph.  The topic sentence should identify their place. They should use evocative vocabulary, describing different aspects of the area with phrases that create clear images. Ask them to include their personal landmarks in the description and how the place has changed (or not) over the years.  Ask the students to use all five senses in their description and end with a conclusion.
  2. If this paragraph is not finished up in class, it should be completed for homework.

Day 2

  1. Begin class by having the students label the topic sentence and circle all the vivid words and phrases describing their place.
  2. Ask students to share what/where their place is.  Did some students write about the same geographical area?  Or, did some describe a street while others felt the entire state was their place?  Ask them to think and then write below their paragraphs why they think they chose the area they did.  What gives them a sense of the boundaries of their place?
  3. As a class, make a list of all vivid words and phrases they used to describe their places.  Are the terms similar or do the students see the same basic area in very different terms?
  4. On another sheet of paper have them write the name of a second location significant to them.  Perhaps it is a place they go on vacation or where distant relatives live.  It may be a place they have never been physically, but have read about or heard about from family or friends or have seen in movies:
    • Is it a place they connect with creatively, spiritually, or emotionally? 
    • Is it a place where they might feel free to be more of their true selves or feel themselves tobe respected or feel parts of themselves to be nurtured? 
    • Is it a place where they feel life might be easier or more carefree?
  5. In another paragraph, ask them to identify a significant place in the topic sentence and then describe it using vivid words and phrases:
    • What are the boundaries of this place? 
    • What are the famous landmarks and the student’s own personal landmarks?

They should use all five of their senses to create evocative word pictures.  The description can include people and events taken place in this location and imbue it with emotional value. 

6. Give them 10-15 minutes of class to get together in small groups comparing the locations of their significant places.  Ask them to help each other to circle the vivid words and phrases used to create an original description.

7. If not complete, assign as homework.

Day 3
  1. Writing about a place is one way to describe it and to document it, but we tend to use a shorthand method for this.  Ask the students what that is?  Of course, it is representing a place with a map.  A map is a kind of organizational structure that aids our comprehension of an abstract concept.  Sometimes maps are based on real physical barriers such as mountains and bodies of water.  Other times areas are delineated by political boundaries or historical uses, man imposed boundaries.
  2. Make a list with the students of all the things that are usually represented on a map.  There are the basic topographic features such as mountains, waterways, bodies of water, types of terrain (deserts, forests, grasslands), and elevations.  Then there are the manmade features and depending on how large an area is being described these will include cities, roads, political boundaries.  There are also keys to understanding the map itself such as direction indicators, a scale of miles or kilometers, and a legend for all the symbols on the map.
  3. Ask the students why it is important to know when a map was made.  How different would a map of Eastern Europe look before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union?  What would a map of Asia look like in the 1930’s when Imperial Japan had conquered many of its neighboring nations? 
  4. Ask the students to make a quick sketch of a world map and label the continents, the United States, Italy, Japan, and Egypt.  What land mass and country are in the center of the map?  Most probably it will be the United States in the middle.  This is how we are used to seeing “the world” and it is only logical that a country puts itself in the center.  In fact, if you look at the way China is written in Chinese, in the characters, it literally means “the center of the world or the earth.”  Ask the students if they were to buy a map in Italy or Japan or Egypt respectively, what country would be at the center of those maps.
  5. The following websites can be used to surprise, entertain, and spur your students on to seeing the world outside of their cultural focus.

Very few people today in the United States live their entire lives in the place where they were born.  Due to natural disasters, health problems, educational opportunities, job prospects or requirements, marriages and divorces, even retirement expectations people are often forced to relocate even though their emotional center/heart remains in the place that they left.   How do you think this affects a person’s sense of place?

If the paragraphs from days 1 and 2 are not finished in the allotted class time they need to be completed for homework.

Embedded Assessment
Student learning for this lesson can be assessed by evaluating the two paragraphs for being focused on the topic and the quality of the descriptions.  Class participation is also a component of student learning and can be used to gauge a student’s level of understanding of the lesson.  Of course, the major activity of this lesson is the best assessment vehicle, the map of a place of personal significance.




PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: March 7, 2007
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