What Is a Community? Activity
Students sit around a table working on a big paper activity while receiving feedback from an educator.

Making Meaning of Community

Students explore the idea of “community” in order to identify its key aspects and deeper meaning.


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At a Glance

activity copy


English — US


  • Advisory
  • Civics & Citizenship
  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies


  • Culture & Identity
  • Equity & Inclusion


About This Activity

Students engage in a collaborative exploration of the meaning of community and reflect on how their class can be a community with a shared purpose in promoting the learning and achievement of all its members. The explicit designation of the class as a community can build the sense that students are responsible not only for their own learning but for nurturing the learning of their classmates as well.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this activity, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

This activity starts with the class working together to explore the concept of community using the “Make Meaning” thinking routine from The Power of Making Thinking Visible, by Ron Ritchhart and Mark Church. 1 Students will apply the thinking routine using a modified Big Paper teaching strategy. To prepare for the activity, gather chart paper and a set of multicolored markers for each group.

  • 1 Ron Ritchhart and Mark Church, The Power of Making Thinking Visible: Practices to Engage and Empower All Learners (Jossey-Bass, 2020), 76–85.

This activity’s exit card will help you learn a bit more about your students and the communities to which they belong. After reading their responses, consider using an online tool to create a “My Community” Wordle, a word cloud made up of words, by adding one or two key words from each student’s exit card. Start the next class by sharing the Wordle to help them feel connected to you and each other.

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Steps for Implementation

  • Let students know that they will be exploring the idea of “community,” a word that we use frequently but don’t always take the time to define. In order to support one another and engage in challenging conversations this year, the group needs to recognize that they are a collection of unique individuals and members of a larger classroom community with shared goals. 
  •  Break the class into small groups of four to six students and give each group chart paper with the word “community” written in the center and a set of multicolored markers. Each student in the group should choose a color they will use for the activity. The groups will apply the steps of the “Make Meaning” thinking routine to explore the idea of “community.” 
    • One at a time, in their small groups, have each student write one word on the group’s Big Paper that they associate with the idea of “community.” Each student must share a unique word so as to add to the collective meaning of the term. 
    • In the next round, each student adds on to someone else’s word with a new word or phrase. They can write their word or phrase alongside their classmate’s, draw a line connecting the words, and explain the connection.
    • Collectively, have students make additional connections between the ideas on the paper, using lines, arrows, and color to indicate the connections or explaining them out loud or in notes on the page. 
    • Each student then adds a question about “community” to their paper based on what has emerged thus far. 
    • Give students several minutes to walk around the room and read the other groups’ Big Papers before the final step of the Make Meaning Routine.
  • For the final step, students rejoin their groups to develop a working definition of “community.” Let them know that they should collaborate on this task using the ideas that the class has generated and should not consult a dictionary. 
  • Debrief by having a member of each group share their definition which you can add to a collective Big Paper or whiteboard at the front of the room. 
  • Take a minute to review the various working definitions and discuss similarities and differences. Ask if any groups would like to amend their definition. Then, using the ideas they have generated, discuss the question: In what ways can a class, such as this one, be a community? 
  • At the end of the lesson, perhaps for your closing routine, have each student complete a My Community Exit Card
    • What is an example of a community that you belong to?
    • What makes you feel as if you are part of this community?

Extension Activities

Students use the Color, Symbol, Image strategy to explore the concept of community independently. Instruct students to think about how they would represent their concept of “community” visually, using a color, symbol, and/or image. In the next class meeting, after the warm-up routine, have students share their ideas in a brief presentation.


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