folded map with plastic airplane and compass on wooden table

How create-your-own-country projects help keep students engaged

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, the universes of Star Wars and Star Trek, Thor’s Asgard, and the Black Panther’s Wakanda — all of these well-known pieces of fiction crafted imaginary worlds that have captured the minds of readers and moviegoers for generations.

Why do such fantastic places, which seemingly have nothing to do with reality, draw our interest so much?

Over the years, some well-known authors have offered insight into this question. According to Lloyd Alexander, “Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.” Another well-known children’s writer, Dr. Seuss, proclaimed that “[f]antasy is a necessary ingredient in living. It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”

Reading stories that take place in imaginary countries is a highly engaging activity. In a similar vein, having students create their own imaginary country is a highly engaging process that spans multiple subjects, includes elements of storytelling, gives students choices, encourages critical thinking and exploration, involves movement, and allows students to demonstrate what they’ve learned.

The Activity

This basic premise of this activity is fairly straightforward: Your students will create their own country from scratch. You can include as many requirements as you want. For example, you can have the students come up with the shape and size of the country, its terrain and climate, flora and fauna, animals, natural resources, government, national symbols, history, culture, language, currency, imports and exports, major attractions, and population. You can also introduce this as either a group project or independent work. If you’re ambitious enough, you can even give the students the option of deciding between the two and potentially self-organizing.

6 engaging elements of make-up-your-own-country school projects

girl pointing at a map
Photo credit: Lonely Planet 

When tasked with creating their own country, students have to engage multiple areas of their brain while drawing upon their knowledge of various core subjects.

1. Cross-curricular work

Math

Geometry is involved in determining the shape and size of the country. Students may also need to make measurements when drawing or crafting their country and provide a scale for reference.

Geography

Parts of a map and landforms are among the more obvious and straightforward geography lessons that can be integrated into this project. Does the country have any mountainous regions? Rivers? Fields? How does its elevation vary?

Social studies

History, government, culture, imports and exports, and currency are just a few important topics that can be touched upon in the field of social studies. By going through this process, students can gain a better understanding of how societies are structured and how certain decisions can impact the lives of a country’s inhabitants.

Foreign language

Ask students to label items on their map in a predetermined language or come up with words and phrases for an entirely new language.

Science

As with social studies, there are many areas of involvement for the sciences. Just a few of these include determining the country’s climate and weather, natural resources, renewable and nonrenewable energy sources, flora and fauna, and animals. Students can research existing countries for inspiration or come up with entirely original ecosystems.

Writing

Students can practice descriptive writing by describing their country in great detail from the perspective of a tourist or inhabitant. They can also sharpen their informative writing skills by detailing the history or origin of their country. You can also throw in some narrative writing by having students journal the day-to-day life of a resident in their country.

Arts

Besides creating some kind of visual display of their country, students can also incorporate other artistic elements by creating a national song or dance, designing clothing, and drawing a national symbol, such as the country’s flag.

lots of books on a shelf
Photo credit: Clem Onojeghuo

2. Storytelling

Stories connect the emotional with the logical to create a more memorable experience. Each country and society has its own story. They have a story about how they came to exist and how they live their daily life. To create a new country is to bring a new story to life, and that’s ultimately a very creative and engaging activity.

choice between 2 different paths in forest
Photo credit: James Wheeler 

3. Choices

If you allow your students to work on this project independently, you can also allow them to decide on which elements they want to include in their country. For example, rather than have the students try to fit every example listed above into their country, give them the choice of choosing three to five to focus on. In a group setting, the members can divide the work equally by choosing the parts of the create-your-own-country project that appeal to them the most. Once the students have selected the elements that they’d like to focus on, they have the freedom to decide how those elements will play out in their country and fit into the bigger picture.

4. Critical thinking and exploration

What if potatoes were the national currency of the country? Would everyone grow potatoes? How would you determine how many potatoes something was worth? Does the country even have a currency, or does it rely entirely on a barter system? And how would that affect its economy?

There are plenty of questions that your students can ponder as they craft their own country. These “what if” questions become an opportunity for investigation and encourage students to explore the answers in a safe environment.

This is also a great opportunity to teach your students how to find reliable online sources when conducting research, as it’s unlikely that they’ll already have answers to all of their burning questions. To that end, there are plenty of free encyclopedias online that your students could use, such as the CIA’s World Factbook or Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Countries of the World.

child looking at a map outside
Photo credit: Annie Spratt

5. Movement

As the students are creating their models, they will be moving around and working with their hands as opposed to merely sitting at their desks and reading a book or taking notes. Those traditional activities are still important, but relying on them too much can make classwork tedious for students. This break from ordinary routines can get your students excited to come to class the next day and resume working on their project.

person holding a map drawn on brown paper
Photo credit: N.

6. Demonstrating what they’ve learned

This goes hand in hand with storytelling and movement. At the completion of this project, have students display the fruits of their labor to their classmates or school. This could take the form of class presentations or could be broadened into a type of fantasy cultural fair in which each country sets up shop at a table, providing an exhibit for other students to explore.

A fun way to learn!

Having students create their own country is a great way to combine fantasy with reality and create a memorable and valuable learning experience. It’s a fun way to get students thinking creatively (and critically!) about their world while meeting your learning objectives.

For more project-based learning ideas, check out this article.

Photo credit: Chatree Petjan / stocksnap.io

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