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A Social Studies Unit: Create Your Own Island, Government & Society

written by: Beth Taylor • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 10/6/2012

Create a world is a wonderful, long-term language arts activity that gives students the opportunity to work in a collaborative fashion, use a variety of skills, and explore various subjects of their own or the teacher's choice. In this project, students create, define, and describe their world.

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    Map Your Island

    Social Studies Unit for Middle School: Create Your Own Island, Government and Society Day One: Divide students into groups of three or four, depending upon your class size. The assignment today is to create and plan an island! Each group will need at least one large piece of white paper, art supplies, and plenty of writing paper and pens. The students start by collaboratively mapping out their imaginary island. This is an activity in which creativity can be used for best advantage. Remember, it is okay if they come up with something that might not be entirely realistic, as long as the group remains consistent and works together. (I once had a student put Scottish owls on his group's tropical island.)

    They can start by together answering these questions:

    • What shape is the island? How big is it?
    • Are there lots of sandy beaches? Forests or jungles? Villages, towns, or developed cities? What parts of the island (if any) are developed, and what parts (if any) are left untouched?
    • What types of flora and fauna exist on the island?
    • What is the weather like? How does it change with the seasons?

    The groups of students will draw a map of the island in full color. Then, they will write essays describing the physical properties of the island and answering the questions above. As long as the students have made decisions and come to agreements together, essays can be done as homework assignments. For example, one group member can write about the landscape, another the flora and fauna, and another the island's weather patterns.

    This portion of the project can be completed in one session with homework assigned. It is also appropriate to take more than one class period to complete this portion of the project.

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    In Create a Society, students focus on the civilization living on their island. This portion of the project is my personal favorite because of its holistic qualities. Students have the opportunity to research and explore the various issues they must write about.

    I recommend giving your students time to put everything in this portion together. If you don't feel you have enough time to let them do every aspect of this project, feel free to pick and choose which ones you would like your students to focus on. There is a lot of material and potential here; your choices will probably be based upon what is being covered in other classes, such as history and social studies.

    The following sections can be done in any order. There is, of course, overlap of the various aspects of the society, and students may want to go back and amend one section after starting another.

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    Cultural Aspects of the Project

    We have ascertained how many people live on the island and which parts they inhabit. Students have already made some decisions about how rural or developed the civilization is. Now is the time to build upon this.


    Does the island society have a religion, mythology or folklore? Write an essay defining their pre-science belief system. Write at least two short folktales from this island. Extra credit: Write more than two folktales of the island people.

    Make sure all of your ideas are tied into one consistent set of beliefs.


    What types of art do they have? (ie, paintings, pottery?) What materials on the island do they use in their art? Write an essay describing the art on the island. Create your own representations of island art. (For example, students can create a picture of an island sculpture, island pottery, or island painting.) Extra credit: Create island art.


    How do the island people make music? Do they have musical instruments, do they sing? What are the instruments made of? Write an essay describing the island's native musical instruments. Create representations (drawings) of island musical instruments. Extra credit: compose a piece of original island music.


    Extra credit: create an original island dance to go with the original island music.

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    Economical Aspects of the Society

    The students have already discussed to some extent the level of development on the island. Now it is time to build upon these ideas and think about how they survive.


    • Is this an agricultural society? What do they grow? What animals do they keep? What do they use the animals for? For example:

    Do they use animals for labor? Do they eat animals, or animal products (such as milk)?

    • Is there any industry on the island? Do the island people have access to technology; have they developed their own technology? If yes, what kinds of technology do they have?
    • Are there large businesses on the island, or factories? If yes, what do they produce? Or if not, is everything on a smaller scale?
    • Is this island society independent, or do they trade goods and services with the rest of the world?
    • Decide upon how they create and distribute goods and services among themselves.

    Write a series of essays:

    1) Write an essay describing food production and any agricultural practices on the island.

    2) Write an essay describing the technology that they use, and what it is for. Be sure to include whether the island society interacts with the rest of the world, or remains its own independent block.

    3) How do they create clothing? What is their clothing made of? Write an essay describing the materials used and the methods of production. Provide illustrations of island clothing.

    4) Write a fourth essay, or include in the previous ones how food and services are distributed. Do the island people barter or use a system of money?

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    Students learn about the Consitution of the United States of America by collaboratively writing a constitution for the world they have created. They must consider how the government on their island will operate, how officials come into power, and what rights the inhabitants of the island do and don't have.

    This comprises the final step in the Create a World series.

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    In this portion we will work on drawing up a constitution for the island. The constitution will define the role of government on the island, any system of law and order that is in place.

    Questions for students to answer together in their groups:

    • What kind of government exists on the island? For example:

    Is it a true democracy, such as Ancient Greece?

    Is it similar to the 50 States, in which elected officials represent large blocks of people?

    Is there a monarchy; are people born into political power?

    Is the society anarchistic?

    • What role does the government play in the island peoples' lives? For example:

    Does the government own and dole out wealth, or does the government tax the people for certain purposes?

    What does the government do to benefit the people?

    • What rights, if any, do the island people have?


    Every society has some system of law and order.

    • What rules govern your island society, and who enforces them? How are these laws enforced?
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    The Constitution

    Working together, students draw up a written constitution for their island. The above questions will be answered in the constitution.

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    Travel Brochure

    If you want to give your students practice with persuasive writing, instruct them to create a travel brochure luring vacationers to come spend time on the island. Think of all the reasons that somebody would enjoy visiting the island, and write a persuasive essay encourging people to do so.

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    The Presentation

    This is where it all comes together. Each group will give an oral presentation about the island they have developed. Students will be at the front of the class and display their map and any other visuals they have created. The can either read or simply describe the various aspects of their island world. A question and answer period should be included, and that can lead to interesting discussions.

    As you can see, this project has the ability to cover various subjects of study. Not only is it a great way to develop creative writing skills, it is a great way to complement other school subjects, and a wonderful experience in cooperative and collaborative learning.


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