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6-8 > U.S. History
Grade level: 6-8 Subject: U.S. History Duration:
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Understanding: Cities

Students will understand the following:
1. The U.S. Census counts the population of the United States in a formal way once every 10 years.
2. Looking at a 50-year span of census figures helps us see trends within a city and across cities.
3. One way to compare populations in cities across a period of time is to plot line graphs.

For this lesson, you will need:
Access, in print or online, to U.S. population statistics from 1950 to the present

1. The ebb and flow of people into and out of urban centers can reveal some interesting cultural and economic trends. Assign small groups of students to research a given U.S. city’s population levels over the last 50 years. Cities to assign include the following, some of which have shown more marked change than the others. In any case, though, you may also add other American cities to the list.
  • New York
  • Dallas
  • Atlanta
  • Detroit
  • Seattle
  • Denver
  • San Francisco
  • Los Angeles
2. As the first step, ask students to research the frequency with which the U.S. population is counted, and based on what they learn have them propose the design of a graph with multiple lines that will report on the population of the listed cities from 1950 until 2000. Students in all the groups must agree on a layout and units because all groups will plot their findings on one graph. They may suggest placing the decade years on the horizontal axis and the population figures in hundred thousands or tens of millions on the vertical axis. (If the 2000 census figures are not available when you undertake this project, ask students if they should cut the line graph off at 1990 or if there exist population projections made during the 1990s that they can use for the year 2000.)
3. Alert students to sources they may use for research—printed and online (the U.S. Census site iscensus).
4. Once all the groups have placed on the graph the five or six sets of coordinates for their city and have drawn the line connecting the dots (or, if using software, the line has been drawn for them), open a discussion on what the graphs indicate.
5. Move on to a discussion of possible reasons for trends in each city and across cities.
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You might ask students to work independently rather than in groups, to collect the data for all the cities rather than for just one, and to attach to their graph a personal statement on how, if at all, the trends uncovered may influence their decisions on where to move after 12th grade.
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Discussion Questions

1. Why do cities emerge? Why do vibrant cities attract people?
2. Why are the healthiest cities constantly changing?
3. How did the Industrial Revolution affect cities in both Europe and the United States?
4. What do city planners consider as they attempt to account for the needs of the people who will live in a city? Discuss some of the possible results if city planners ignore these needs.
5. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the claim that big cities spawn the popular culture of a nation. Why or why not?
6. Cityscapes have changed dramatically over the years to accommodate industrial growth, transportation needs and popular style. What is the future of the "big city?" Do you think modern technology and telecommunications advances will change the way city dwellers live, work, and interact?
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Consider having each group check another group’s findings and its plotting of the line representing a given city’s changes in population. The goal of reviewing each other’s work should be cooperation and assistance, not competition.
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How Did Your City Evolve?
There are two kinds of cities: “natural” or “organic” cities and planned cities. Have your students research when and how their city, or the nearest one, emerged and grew. After determining whether this city was natural/organic or planned, ask each student to create a promotional brochure inviting businesses to relocate there. The brochures should stress the benefits of the city’s origins (e.g., “Our city developed naturally along the banks of the . . .” or “Our city was the result of careful and thorough planning, which will . . .”).

Help the Economy Grow
Modern cities often see urban wealth flow away from them and into suburbs. How can cities revitalize their economies? Help students generate a list of challenges faced by U.S. cities in general or their own city in particular. Then have groups of four to six students form planning commissions for some of the cities discussed. Ask each commission to propose solutions to selected problems facing the city in question and to present their solutions to the rest of the class. Then call for a vote on the suggestions the groups offered.

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Suggested Readings

Direction of Cities
John Guinther. Viking, 1996.
Trace the history of cities and their impact on America. The role of politics in cities is seen in city planning and in present-day revitalization of downtown cities.

The Future Once Happened Here: New York, D.C., L.A., and the Fate of America’s Big Cities
Fred Siegel. The Free Press, 1997.
Read the history of these three influential cities, compare their roles in our country, and ponder their future. These cities represent both successes and failures and provide a portrait of urban life to the rest of America.

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Cities: USA Citylink
Facts and figures for major cities are available at this site.

Bridging the Urban Landscape
Extensive exploration of the city of Pittsburgh.

Census Bureau Map Stats
Statistics of United States cities that support research of city life and needs.

National Safety Council
Information on transportation and other safety issues in an urban area.

International Space Station
A comprehensive site on the International Space Station that provides an overview and links for all aspects of this futuristic community.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    aqueduct
Definition:An artificial channel or conduit built to transport large amounts of flowing water from a remote source.
Context:By A.D. 97, aqueducts, built on a gentle downhill grade, carried 85 million gallons of water daily from many miles away.

speaker    infrastructure
Definition:The underlying system of public works, such as schools, highways, and water, of a city, region, or country.
Context:Abandoned buildings collapse. Infrastructure decays.

speaker    satellite community
Definition:An urban community situated near or around a major city but independent of it.
Context:The majority of the nearly 2 million people who work in Brasilia must live in satellite communities which have sprung up in a ring 15 miles away from the modern capital.

speaker    transformer
Definition:A device that converts electrical current in a primary circuit into variations of voltage and current in a secondary circuit by means of induction.
Context:In every city there are dozens of transformer stations which convert high-voltage electricity down to safer levels.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level:9-12
Subject area:United States history
Understands how the Industrial Revolution, the rapid expansion of slavery, and the westward movement changed American lives and led to regional tensions.
Understands the impact of the Industrial Revolution during the early and late 19th century.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:United States history
Understands how the rise of big business, heavy industry, and mechanized farming transformed American society.
Understands issues associated with urban growth in the late 19th century.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:world history
Understands patterns of global change in the era of Western military and economic domination from 1850 to 1914.
Understands influences on and consequences of European immigration and settlement.

Grade level:6-8, 9-12
Subject area:geography
Understands the physical and human characteristics of place.
(6-8)Knows how technology shapes the human and physical characteristics of places (e.g., satellite dishes, computers, road construction).

(9-12)Knows how social, cultural, and economic processes shape the features of places.

Grade level:6-8, 9-12
Subject area:geography
Understands that culture and experience influence people’s perceptions of places and regions.
(6-8)Knows the ways in which culture influences the perception of places and regions (e.g., religion and other belief systems, language and tradition; perceptions of “beautiful” or “valuable”).

(9-12)Knows ways in which people’s changing views of places and regions reflect cultural change.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:civics
Understands ideas about civic life, politics, and government.
Understands major arguments for the necessity of politics and government.

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