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Urban Growth In AmericaUrban-Growth-In-America

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will
  • Discuss what elements make up a city.
  • Learn how New York City was planned.
  • Design a city, using some of the design principles behind New York City.


  • Urban Growth in America program
  • Computer with Internet access
  • Newsprint and markers
  • Poster board or large sheets of newsprint
  • Markers or colored pencils


  1. Ask students what they know about cities and list their answers on a sheet of newsprint. Possible answers include the following:
    • In cities, many people live together in a small space.
    • Skyscrapers are one kind of building found in cities.
    • Many people go to cities in search of jobs.
    • Buses and trains travel in and out of cities.
  2. Show students the "Inventions and Industry" and "The Rise of New York City" segments in the Urban Growth in America program .
  3. Divide students into groups of three or four and explain that they will design their own cities. Along with what they've just learned about urban growth, they should also use their own knowledge of cities to guide their designs. Remind them that their cities should include all of the necessary elements and should be planned in a logical fashion.
  4. After giving the groups time to develop an initial list of necessary elements, tell students that they must include these items it their city design:
    • A street design, such as the grid system used in New York City
    • A plan for infrastructure-electricity, plumbing, garbage disposal, etc.
    • Places for people to live
    • Places for people to work
    • Restaurants, movie theatres, sports and concert arenas, and other places for entertainment
    • Parks and other recreational areas
  5. Provide each group with poster board or large pieces of newsprint and colored pencils or markers. Give the groups class time to draw a blueprint for their cities. If needed, have students finish the assignment as homework.
  6. During the next class, have the groups share their city designs and discuss the students' ideas. Ask: How did each group fit in all the necessary elements? Do people have enough room to live and work comfortably?
  7. Ask students to name some of the problems associated with cities, such as crime. Looking at their designs, can they see any contributing factors for these problems? (For example, overcrowding or competition for goods and services.) Show students "The First American Gangsters" segment in the Urban Growth in America program.

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • Three points:  Students were highly engaged in class and small-group discussions; produced an attractive, logical design for a city that had all the requested components; presented their ideas to the class in a clear, thoughtful way.
  • Two points:  Students participated in class and small-group discussions; produced an adequate design for a city that had most of the requested components; presented their ideas to the class satisfactorily.
  • One point:  Students participated minimally in class and small-group discussions; did not complete a design for a city or completed one that had little or none of the requested components; did not present their ideas clearly to the class.

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Definition: A large area where people live and work that also has importance as a commercial and cultural center
Context: The city is a center of activity, with many opportunities for recreation, including shopping and attending cultural events.

Definition: A plan for something that lays out where things should go and how the different elements work together
Context: The design for New York City was based on the grid system, where the roads were laid out in an orderly way.

Thomas Edison
Definition: Inventor of the electric light bulb and of a large-scale electrical system
Context: On December 31, 1879, Thomas Edison displayed his electrical light system by lighting up the streets of Menlo Park, New Jersey, where his laboratory was located.

Definition: The underlying foundation of a system, such as a city
Context: The infrastructure of a city includes the power grid, the sewage system, and the way water is supplied.

Definition: A tall building that is an efficient use of space in a city
Context: Not only could many people fit into a skyscraper, this building was once a status symbol for a city.

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Academic Standards

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
McREL's Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education addresses 14 content areas. To view the standards and benchmarks, visit
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:

  • U.S. History: Era 6-Understands massive immigration after 1870 and how new social patterns, conflicts, and ideas of national unity developed amid growing cultural diversity
  • Language Arts: Viewing-Uses a range of strategies to interpret visual media

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The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)
NCSS has developed national guidelines for teaching social studies. To become a member of NCSS, or to view the standards online, go to
This lesson plan addresses the following thematic standards:

  • Culture
  • Time, Continuity, and Change