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February 5, 2016

When a 10-Year-Old Designs a Country

By John DePasquale
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    The best thing about many 10-year-olds is that they think like 10-year-olds. I know some might not consider this an attribute, but to a creative writing teacher, there is truly something special about the imaginative and creative minds of these youngsters. From inventing elaborate recess games on the schoolyard to constructing intricate structures out of LEGO blocks, there are oodles of chances at school to witness the spinning of these inventive minds. As a teacher, I think it's exhilarating to create different classroom opportunities that tap into this exciting energy.  

    One way I do this is with a simple mandate to my students: design your own country. Although the direction is simple, the creative possibilities of this project are endless because I have yet to meet a fifth grader that hasn’t secretly dreamed of being the supreme ruler of their own private kingdom. Despite inflating the egos of my young charges, the "design a country" project is also a fun and engaging way to tie civics, geography, and even economics into my writing lessons.

    What Makes a Country a Country?

    We begin the country design project as a class by first creating on chart paper a list of different characteristics of nations. This is a great place to start because it begins to stimulate the students’ ideas for the country they will design. It’s a good idea to keep this list posted and add to it throughout the project as new ideas are generated. Here’s a sample of some of the characteristics my students developed.

    Nations include:

    • Name

    • Form of government

    • Leaders

    • Laws

    • Flag

    • Language

    • Culture (music, sports, holidays, food, clothing)

    • Population

    This list is surely not complete, but it provides the students with a wide range of options to consider as they begin to design their nations. 

    Establishing a National Identity

    The first step of the project guides students through the process of establishing a national identity for their country. A great nation has a great name. What’s in a name? From noble to absurd, a good name can reflect the values and ideals of the nation. For example, The United Cheesedom is a new nation born this year that values the production and consumption of various cheeses. It should also be no surprise that the different territories within The United Cheesedom are referred to as slices!

    Since there is a historical precedent for naming countries after individuals, many students, of course, work their own name into the name of the nation they create. From the Queendom of Bianca to Arthurland, I encourage students to embellish their own name in order to create a unique national moniker.    

    After deciding on a name, the students next design a flag. This is an ideal time to introduce or review symbolism with students. The students create their flags using colors, patterns, and decorative motifs to represent their nation. Many of these flags burst with colors and intricate designs that would genuinely frighten Betsy Ross!

    The national identity of a country would not be complete without a rousing national anthem. Even though this might sound like a challenge, writing a stirring national anthem is actually quite easy and formulaic. Glory, honor, strength, standing-on-guard-for-thee — these attributes are the bread and butter of virtually all national anthems. With a simple list of patriotic words and examples of easily recognizable melodies, your students will be extoling national pride to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

    Who’s the Boss?

    It’s now time for students to establish a government and bring law and order to their new nation. This is an excellent opportunity for students to explore the different forms of government: democracies, monarchies, theocracies, dictatorships, empires, and the like. Even though most students appoint themselves as the supreme leader of their fictitious countries, it’s still important for them to explore the different types of government that exist.

    I recommend Cornerstones of Freedom: Forms of Government as a resource to share with students as they work to establish a government.

    Students next create the laws that rule their land. My students always take this part VERY seriously, and common themes emerge from the seemingly different nations in the classroom. The students typically write laws to ensure their lives and the lives of a chosen few are an easy and pleasant dream.  Don’t start planning a trip too soon, because I’m sorry to say that most of these laws severely curtail the rights and liberties of teachers.     

    United Nations

    Once these new nations are formed we call a United Nations conference to order. The newly appointed heads of state do short presentations on their countries. 

    Finally, students write a description of their country that we file into a binder as our very own classroom World Almanac of Fictitious States. 

    Additional Ideas

    This project lends itself nicely to extension ideas. I require all students to design a flag, write a national anthem, form a government, and to write laws. Few students, however, stop there. If you’re looking to extend this project, students can write a constitution, design a map, or even establish an economy for their nation. Junior Scholastic publishes a World Affairs issue each year that I share with students as they think of additional ideas for the design of their country. 

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The best thing about many 10-year-olds is that they think like 10-year-olds. I know some might not consider this an attribute, but to a creative writing teacher, there is truly something special about the imaginative and creative minds of these youngsters. From inventing elaborate recess games on the schoolyard to constructing intricate structures out of LEGO blocks, there are oodles of chances at school to witness the spinning of these inventive minds. As a teacher, I think it's exhilarating to create different classroom opportunities that tap into this exciting energy.  

    One way I do this is with a simple mandate to my students: design your own country. Although the direction is simple, the creative possibilities of this project are endless because I have yet to meet a fifth grader that hasn’t secretly dreamed of being the supreme ruler of their own private kingdom. Despite inflating the egos of my young charges, the "design a country" project is also a fun and engaging way to tie civics, geography, and even economics into my writing lessons.

    What Makes a Country a Country?

    We begin the country design project as a class by first creating on chart paper a list of different characteristics of nations. This is a great place to start because it begins to stimulate the students’ ideas for the country they will design. It’s a good idea to keep this list posted and add to it throughout the project as new ideas are generated. Here’s a sample of some of the characteristics my students developed.

    Nations include:

    • Name

    • Form of government

    • Leaders

    • Laws

    • Flag

    • Language

    • Culture (music, sports, holidays, food, clothing)

    • Population

    This list is surely not complete, but it provides the students with a wide range of options to consider as they begin to design their nations. 

    Establishing a National Identity

    The first step of the project guides students through the process of establishing a national identity for their country. A great nation has a great name. What’s in a name? From noble to absurd, a good name can reflect the values and ideals of the nation. For example, The United Cheesedom is a new nation born this year that values the production and consumption of various cheeses. It should also be no surprise that the different territories within The United Cheesedom are referred to as slices!

    Since there is a historical precedent for naming countries after individuals, many students, of course, work their own name into the name of the nation they create. From the Queendom of Bianca to Arthurland, I encourage students to embellish their own name in order to create a unique national moniker.    

    After deciding on a name, the students next design a flag. This is an ideal time to introduce or review symbolism with students. The students create their flags using colors, patterns, and decorative motifs to represent their nation. Many of these flags burst with colors and intricate designs that would genuinely frighten Betsy Ross!

    The national identity of a country would not be complete without a rousing national anthem. Even though this might sound like a challenge, writing a stirring national anthem is actually quite easy and formulaic. Glory, honor, strength, standing-on-guard-for-thee — these attributes are the bread and butter of virtually all national anthems. With a simple list of patriotic words and examples of easily recognizable melodies, your students will be extoling national pride to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

    Who’s the Boss?

    It’s now time for students to establish a government and bring law and order to their new nation. This is an excellent opportunity for students to explore the different forms of government: democracies, monarchies, theocracies, dictatorships, empires, and the like. Even though most students appoint themselves as the supreme leader of their fictitious countries, it’s still important for them to explore the different types of government that exist.

    I recommend Cornerstones of Freedom: Forms of Government as a resource to share with students as they work to establish a government.

    Students next create the laws that rule their land. My students always take this part VERY seriously, and common themes emerge from the seemingly different nations in the classroom. The students typically write laws to ensure their lives and the lives of a chosen few are an easy and pleasant dream.  Don’t start planning a trip too soon, because I’m sorry to say that most of these laws severely curtail the rights and liberties of teachers.     

    United Nations

    Once these new nations are formed we call a United Nations conference to order. The newly appointed heads of state do short presentations on their countries. 

    Finally, students write a description of their country that we file into a binder as our very own classroom World Almanac of Fictitious States. 

    Additional Ideas

    This project lends itself nicely to extension ideas. I require all students to design a flag, write a national anthem, form a government, and to write laws. Few students, however, stop there. If you’re looking to extend this project, students can write a constitution, design a map, or even establish an economy for their nation. Junior Scholastic publishes a World Affairs issue each year that I share with students as they think of additional ideas for the design of their country. 

     

     

     

     

     

     

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