Describe My City

Author: Rose Gonzalez

Time: 5 days
Photocopy handout “Creative Cultural Expressions” and “Tucson, Arizona”
Materials: Handouts; blank copy paper


This Engage lesson is the beginning of a series that helps students explore the functions of cities by creating a visual image of their own neighborhood. In this lesson students will begin to recognize why people live in cities and engage in activities based on their cultural and economic needs, and physical location. This lesson will initially involve facilitation by the teacher to lead students in a question and answer-type discussion.

Students will be able to:
1. Diagram, list, and label the major businesses and cultural areas of the neighborhood where they grew up.
2. Identify the neighborhood’s major cultural aspects, including the major language(s), religion(s), and art.
3. Describe the climate of their city.
4. Locate and identify the major manufacturing, industrial, and transportation hubs in their city.

National Geography Standard
(2) How to use mental maps to organize information about people, places, and environments.
   (2.1) How mental maps reflect the human perception of places.
(10) The characteristics, distribution, and complexity of earth’s cultural mosaics.
   (10.2) How culture shapes the character of a region.
(4) The physical and human characteristics of places.
   (4A) Explain “place” from a variety of viewpoints.

Teacher Background
It would be helpful if the teacher has a general geographical and cultural knowledge of the neighborhood(s)where most of the students live.

Related and Resource Websites



Day 1
1. To hook students into the topic, begin a discussion by asking:

a. “Why do people live in cities?” Possible answers include: For economic and cultural opportunities
b. “What kinds of activities do people participate in where they live?” or, “What kinds of things do people do in their cities?”
Possible answers include: go shopping, go to the movies (entertainment), live/reside (residential), go to school (education), go to church (religion), get help from the government (health, transportation, obtain licenses), go to work, produce items (manufacture), or sell products (commercial).

2. Tell students these are called “functions” of cities and that you want them to either work in pairs, or individually to diagram the places they just listed, in the area and neighborhood where they currently live. Give students a piece of blank paper to list, label, and draw from memory the streets they take to get to school, to the movies, to shops, church, and to their work from home. Tell students it should end up looking similar to the visual maps we draw to explain to others how to get from one place to another. It may take more than one page.

3. Give them the opportunity to look at one another’s maps also.

Day 2
4. Explain to students that people participate and socialize in a variety of activities based on their cultural preferences. These cultural preferences include their language, religion, and art.

5. Give students the handout called ‘Creative Cultural Expression’ to read aloud and then briefly explain and discuss it with the class.

6. Ask students to return to their partners and for each of them to report and list:

i) the major language(s) spoken in their neighborhood
ii) the religious affiliations of the churches they see in their neighborhood
iii) Describe and write a song to the type of music they like, a painting, sculpture or building they like, or a story that is commonly told in their family.

Day 3
7. Tell students that often times the climate of their city determines the types of activities people engage in.

8. Explain that in some areas, where there are many mountains, people like to hike. Give the example that in Tucson, Arizona, there are many hiking trails, but because summer weather can be very hot, over 100 degrees, people will chose to hike during winter or spring when the weather is milder.

9. Give students the handout example of Tucson, Arizona. Read it aloud as a class, then have them describe with their partners, and also on the same report they’re putting together, a similar geographical description of their city and the types of things they do based on weather.

Day 4
10. Have students research the major commercial and industrial areas of their city, including manufacturing plants, airports, freeways, etc., by obtaining an Urban Area Model Map of their city.

11. Ask students to label and name those places on their map. To do this, students can check the websites of their local Chamber of Commerce, city government, or Planning Development Commission.

12. End with the following question:
” Look at your diagram and brief explanation of your city/neighborhood. Based on your description, is this the type of city someone else would enjoy visiting or living in? Let’s try to discuss and explain why or why not.”

Given before Day 1 is over
Ask students to go home and think about a song they like and to also think of a story that is commonly told in their family.

Day 4/5
Have students write a letter to a friend who lives out of town that summarizes the neighborhood they live in, the cultural or recreational activities they engage in, the climate of their city, and the main economic opportunities available.

Embedded Assessment
1. Responses to initial questions allow for pre-assessment of student knowledge about function of cities.

2. Student maps permit assessment of identification of functions of students’ home city in multiple formats.

3. Student letter to a friend who lives out of town that summarizes the neighborhood they live in, the cultural or recreational activities they engage in, the climate of their city, and the main economic opportunities available allows assessment of ability to account for factors which describe their city.


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

1996-2007, The University of Arizona
Last update: November 10, 2009
  Page Content: Rachel Hughes
Web Master: Travis Biazo