Building a Community From the Ground Up

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In this activity, a group of learners work collaboratively to design and construct a paper model showing the evolution of an environment through multiple stages, from prehistory through the modern city. Students begin with the three-dimensional model of a prehistory environment (Part I), then add settlement of early indigenous communities (Part II), add settlement of early European pioneers (Part III), transition to an early town (Part IV) and then transition to a modern town (Part V). The group then considers social, historical, and environmental issues as they transition their model from a modern town to a city (Part VI). Two additional activities can be used as extensions: Plants and Erosion and Creating Maps. [Activity is publicly available through a web crawler capture on]

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 4 weeks

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per student

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model


Materials List (per student)

  • tape or glue
  • index cards
  • string
  • assorted pieces of construction paper and scraps available for details as desired
  • Part I: 3 sheets of large bulletin board paper for base of model with a recommended area approximately 6 feet by 8 feet, OR- 8 feet by 10 feet. (other options include large sheets of cardboard from appliance boxes or butcher paper sheets.) Choose a color appropriate for your local geography.
  • Part I: several sheets of blue paper for rivers, lakes, streams, or other bodies of water
  • Part I: brown or gray paper for mountains and other land forms
  • Part I: 20 - 30 pieces of 4 inch by 6 inch, OR- 9 inch by 11 inch paper to cover flat land areas
  • Part I: scrap paper in assorted colors for animals, flowers, meadows, etc.
  • Part I: green paper for trees
  • Part II: For younger students pre-cut paper for houses (for our area that's brown long houses), approximately 5 inches by 6 inches in size (Follow folding directions.) Note: For some areas pueblos or teepees may be more appropriate.
  • Part III: 4 inches by 4 inches of brown for each cabin
  • Part III: 4.5 inches by 6 inches of light green for each homestead on which to place cabin, fields, etc.
  • Part III: 2 inches by 2 inches of brown for outbuildings, wagons, fences, etc.
  • Part IV: A 4 inch by 4 inch piece of construction paper for each house (white, tan, and brown paper work well)
  • Part IV: A 5 inch by 2.5 inch piece of construction paper for each house roof (brown and gray paper work well)
  • Part VI: A 3 inch by 4.5 inch piece of green construction paper to set the house on (for yard and garden)
  • Part VI: 1 inch strips of brown construction paper for dirt roads
  • Part VI: a variety of sizes of construction paper (4 inch by 5 inch; 5 inch by 6 inch, etc.) for buildings and services
  • Part V: 4 inch by 5 inch rectangular pieces of construction paper in a variety of colors for houses (white, brick red, pastels) (at least one for each student)
  • Part V: 2.5 inch by 3.5 inch pieces of construction paper for roofs (black, gray, green) (at least one for each student)
  • Part V: 3 inch by 4 inch pieces of green construction paper for grass yards (adapt to other colors for desert or other environments) (Some students may add theirs to parking areas, roads, farms, etc.
  • Part V: 4 inch by 4 inch to 4 inch by 5 inch pieces of construction paper in a variety of sizes and colors for business structures
  • Part V: optional: gray rectangular pieces of construction paper for parking lots
  • Part V: 1 inch strips of black construction paper for roads
  • Part V: 1 strips of black or brown construction paper for railroad tracks
  • Part V: assorted strips of construction paper for bridge; or,
  • Part VI: 9 inch by 12 inch pieces of gray construction paper for each student to make skyscraper
  • Part VI: rectangular pieces of gray construction paper of varying size for parking areas
  • Part VI: variety of sizes and colors of construction paper for businesses (mainly rectangles)
  • Part VI: 1.5 to 2 inch strips of black construction paper for highways
  • OPTIONAL: colored clay or other materials for optional multimedia models, especially for older student groups
  • OPTIONAL: toothpicks and marshmallows to build bridges


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth's History
      • Geologic Time
  • Life Sciences
    • Evolution
      • History of Life
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Civil Engineering
  • The Nature of Science
    • Science and Society
      • Public Policy
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Impacts of Technology
      • Technology and the Environment
      • Technology and History

Informal Categories

  • Historical Reenactment
  • Model Building
  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Links STEM to other topics of interest such as arts and humanities
  • Uses STEM to solve real-world problems
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities