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Comparing CountriesComparing-Countries

  • Subject: Geography
  • |
  • Grade(s): K-5
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  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will:
1. make predictions about facts concerning the United States and either China or the Democratic Republic of Congo
2. collect data about the United States, either China or the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a third country
3. use the data they collect to create graphs
4. analyze the data in the graphs they have created


For this lesson, you will need:
copies of theU.S.-China data sheetor copies of theU.S.-Congo data sheet
computers with Internet access (if available)
atlases, encyclopedias, almanacs, and other reference books


1. This activity is intended to provide your students with an opportunity to examine basic facts about two foreign countries and compare those countries with the United States. Your first step is to help your students locate the United States on a world map. Ask them to identify the continent on which it is located and name its capital.
2. Next, locate China on the same map. Have your students name its continent and identify its capital. (If the Democratic Republic of Congo and the continent of Africa are more in keeping with your curriculum, locate this country, continent, and capital instead.)
3. Invite your students to offer any comparisons they are able to make between the two countries. Ask them to write some predictions about how the two countries compare in terms of the following measures: population, land area, water area, coastline length, and literacy rate. To simplify the predictions, have students indicate whether they think the measures will be about the same (S) in both countries, higher in the United States (> U.S.), or higher in China or the Democratic Republic of Congo (> C).
4. Distribute either theU.S.-China data sheetor theU.S.-Congo data sheetto your students. Ask students to check their predictions against the figures in category 1 on the sheet, and then lead a discussion about the differences between the two countries. (Note: You might need to explain that the metric system is used for distances, since it is the common international measure. You may also want to discuss the relationship between a kilometer and a mile: 1 mile = 1.609 kilometers and 1 kilometer = 0.62 miles.) China is roughly the same size as the United States, but it's home to about one billion more people. What do you think this means for the day-to-day life of the people who live there? The Congo has a far lower literacy rate than does the United States. What reasons can you think of that might explain this fact?
5. Ask students to consider the figures in category 2 on the sheet and then use them to create a population bar graph in the space provided. The ages should appear along the x-axis (two sets—one for each country), and the percentages should appear on the y-axis. When their bar graphs are complete, ask students to compare each other's results. Then lead a discussion about what the percentage discrepancies reveal about the countries they are comparing. What does it mean that, on the whole, the residents of both China and the Congo are younger than the residents of the United States? What factors might account for this discrepancy?
6. Next, ask students to consider the facts in category 3 on the data sheet. Lead a brief discussion about this new information. Then ask students what else they would like to learn about the two countries. Is there any other information they would like to search for? Brainstorm a list as a class. Then ask students to each choose three new pieces of information from your class list and write them in the spaces provided in category 3 on the data sheet. In addition, ask them each to choose a third country they would like to know more about. (If they have trouble deciding on a country, ask them to find one on a globe or a world map.) Once they have chosen a third country, they should write its name at the top of the third column on the data sheet.
7. Next, ask your students to use the Internet or the library, or both, to go on a quest for as much new information as they can gather about their new country, as well as the new information they chose to search for about the United States and either China or the Democratic Republic of Congo. One useful Internet resource is the World Factbook Web site at If students are able to uncover the data about age and population for the new countries they have chosen, you can also ask them to add that data to their bar graph (or create a new one for all three countries on the back of the data sheet).
8. Once students have completed their data sheets, conclude the activity with a discussion about what, if anything, these facts reveal about whether children in other countries and cultures have anything in common with children in the United States. What do your students think? Ask them to hypothesize about some things they feel might be the same or different about the lives of students in other countries. How might differences in a country's size, coastline, population, and so on affect the day-to-day lives of the children who live there? How do these things affect your students? In addition, ask them to consider whether facts are the best way to assess these differences. What can facts tell us that anecdotes can't? What are the shortcomings of facts?

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Work with the world map or a globe as a whole group to help younger students begin understanding their place in the world and how that place differs from other locations. Next, ask them to think about the things that they believe might be different about the lives of children in other countries, and record their ideas. Finally, read a story about a child in another culture to the class; then ask them whether the story gave them any new ideas about what life is like for children in the country in which the story takes place. Record their new ideas and compare them with their first.
Older students should investigate more than three additional details about the three countries they are researching. Such information might include a comparison of the countries' environmental concerns, economics, ethnic groups, and systems of government, among other issues. Older students may also be required to write a report summarizing their findings that incorporates the data they have gathered.

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Discussion Questions

1. Describe your hobbies or interests. What do you like to do in your spare time? What do you enjoy collecting or learning about? How did you become interested in these things? Do you think a child your age in another country would also be interested in the same hobbies? Why or why not?
2. Imagine that you had to live in another country for a while. Which country would you choose and why? How long do you think you might like to live there?
3. What other cultures do you know about? How do you know about them? What other cultures or countries would you want to learn more about and why?

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Use a three-point rubric to evaluate your students' factual research and their completion of the data sheet:
  • Three points: facts are thorough and accurate; work is carefully presented; bar graph is accurate
  • Two points: some facts, mostly accurate; work is satisfactorily presented; bar graph is modestly accurate
  • One point: facts incomplete or inaccurate; work is sloppily presented; bar graph is inaccurate

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World Tour
Invite your students to take an imaginary world tour that includes just one stop on each continent. Have them draw and label world maps to illustrate their trips. Then have them write news or magazine feature articles about their trips, making certain to explain their travel choices along the way.

Steel Wire Sculptures
Steel wire sculptures are a popular African art form. Invite your students to create their own toys made of steel wire. After they have completed their sculptures, ask them to imagine that someone from the Congo evaluated their work for its interest, completeness, sturdiness, and fun. Have them use a rubric incorporating these qualities to make their assessments.

"Martial - ing" Your Talents
Learning martial arts involves developing physical moves, discipline, and perseverance. Ask your students to create a drawing, poem, performance, or project requiring physical skill, regular practice, and consistent effort. Allow them to choose their own forms of expression. Explain that they will need to draw upon all the aforementioned skills.

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Suggested Readings

Our Journey from Tibet: Based on a True Story
Laurie Dolphin. Dutton Books, 1997.
Learn about life in Chinese-occupied Tibet through the eyes of Sonam, who, with her two sisters, undertakes a hazardous escape out of Tibet into India, where they can go to school and learn about their culture and religion. At the end of their journey they meet the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet.

A Ticket to Nigeria
Mary N. Oluonye. Carolrhoda Books, 1998.
Visit Nigeria without leaving home! Explore the landscape and people of this African country as they go about their daily lives in cities and in the countryside, going to school, bargaining in the market, celebrating, playing soccer, and much more.

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The World Factbook
The World Factbook 1999 is a site offering detailed information about every country in the world.

Infonation: Choose Countries
You can choose whichever countries and data you want, and this United Nations Web site will provide them.

Kids Web Japan
The Kids Web Japan site offers an opportunity to take a look at life in Japan from a child's perspective.

The United Nations Cyberschoolbus
The United Nations Cyberschoolbus was created in 1996 to promote education about international issues and the United Nations.

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

speaker    calligraphy
Definition: Artistic, stylized, or elegant handwriting or lettering.
Context: In school we must copy pages of calligraphy, the practice of Chinese writing.

speaker    martial art
Definition: Any of several arts of combat and self-defense that are widely practiced as sport.
Context: I'm 10 years old and my favorite hobby is martial arts, which you might know better as karate.

speaker    negotiable
Definition: Open to discussion or dispute.
Context: Every price is negotiable at the market—it's just the way we shop in Africa.

speaker    tradition
Definition: An inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior; the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction; cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions.
Context: In our country, it's a tradition to make toys out of steel wire.

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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: K-2, 3-5
Subject area: mathematics
Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data analysis.
Understands that observations about objects or events can be organized and displayed in simple graphs.
Organizes and displays data in simple bar graphs, pie charts, and line graphs. Reads and interprets simple bar graphs, pie charts, and line graphs.

Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: geography
Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics.
Knows the similarities and differences among cultural characteristics in different regions (e.g., in terms of environment and resources, technology, food, shelter, social organization, beliefs and customs, schooling, what girls and boys are allowed to do).

Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: language arts
Gathers and uses information for research purposes.
Uses a variety of strategies to identify topics to investigate (e.g., brainstorms, lists questions, uses idea webs).
Uses multiple representations of information (e.g., maps, charts, photos) to find information for research topics.
Compiles information into written reports or summaries.

Grade level: K-4
Subject area: history
Understands selected attributes and historical developments of societies in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe.
Understands various aspects of family life, structures, and roles in different cultures and in many eras (e.g., medieval families, matrilineal families in Africa, extended families in China).

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Tish Raff, elementary assistant principal, member of the associate faculty of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, educational consultant, and freelance writer.

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