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Grades 3-5
Upper elementary school students should be able to identify and describe different territorial units, including regional and international alliances between countries. This lesson has students focus on the United Nations, learning about this organization's functions and purposes and the broad geographical range of its members. It then asks students to apply the concepts behind the UN's mission to their own school, creating an alliance of students or school groups.
Connections to the Curriculum:
Geography, history, social science
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 13: "How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of Earth's surface"
Two to three hours

Materials Required:
  • Computer with Internet access
  • Drawing materials
Students will
  • discuss the meaning of the word "union" and the types of unions that students take part in;
  • discuss the reasons why countries might want to join together in unions; and
  • create a plan for a hypothetical union of students or student groups in their school.
Geographic Skills:

Acquiring Geographic Information
Organizing Geographic Information
Analyzing Geographic Information

S u g g e s t e d   P r o c e d u r e
Define the word "union" as something formed by a combining of parts or members. In other words, a group of people, countries, or other entities. Ask students to list some of the unions that they are part of. Some examples might be school teams, their extended families, clubs, or religious groups. Ask them if group members ever disagree or get into arguments. What happens in these situations? What methods exist to resolve their disputes?
Ask students if they can think of any reasons why a country might want to join other countries in a union. How might countries benefit from working together? Might it help them prevent and resolve arguments?

Have students ever heard of the United Nations? Provide them with some general information about the UN . Point out that the UN serves various roles, including helping countries moderate disputes and providing relief services to people during conflicts.

Have students go through the first ten or fifteen countries in the Country at a Glance section of the UN's Cyberschoolbus site. Tell them that these countries are all part of the United Nations. Ask them to list the continents that are represented. This will give them a sense of the UN's diversity. Ask them why they think so many different countries, with different languages, customs, and political structures, would want to be part of the same group.

Ask students to once again think about the groups with which they are familiar. Can they think of any additional groups that might be formed to help people in their school get along better? For example, perhaps the different grade levels of their school could form a student council in which representatives from each grade meet to discuss their mutual needs and to plan school events and activities (perhaps this already goes on in your school).
Suggested Student Assessment:
Divide the class into pairs or small groups, and ask each group to brainstorm the types of unions or alliances that might be helpful within their school. Have groups use large pieces of white paper to design a meeting room similar to the United Nations General Assembly, showing where members of their proposed union would sit during meetings.

On another piece of paper, have students list the purposes of the new group and the things that the new group will try to accomplish. For example, a new student might meet to plan activities in which all grade levels can participate, to resolve disagreements between grade levels (e.g., who takes lunch at what time), and to inform students in other grades about what's going on in their grade this year.

Have students share their proposals with the rest of the class, and hold a closing class discussion on the ways in which unions of individuals and groups (such as countries or grade levels) can be beneficial. You might also want to discuss the potential difficulties involved with setting up such a group and the disagreements that might arise between group members.

Extending the Lesson:
Make a class list of the purposes of the United Nations and the reasons why a country might want to be a UN member. Have students find out which countries are not members of the United Nations and label those countries on an Xpeditions outline map of the world . Ask them to investigate the reasons why these countries are not members.
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