What Makes Memphis a Community? | Facing History & Ourselves
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What Makes Memphis a Community?

Students connect what they have learned about communities to their knowledge of Memphis,TN, by analyzing images of historical and local importance to the city.


At a Glance

lesson copy


English — US


  • Civics & Citizenship




One 50-min class period
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement


About This Lesson

Following Lesson 6, students should have a conceptual understanding of the term community. In Lesson 7, students explore the meaning of community in a more concrete way. Through describing Memphis, Tennessee, a community with which they are all familiar, students will begin to identify important factors that have shaped the identities of communities throughout history. Students have already learned that certain factors such as biology, personal experiences, and group affiliations influence individual identity. Now they will see how factors such as geography, politics, economics, and culture/ entertainment influence the identities of communities. And just as students have thought about how their own identities have changed over time, they can see how the identity of Memphis has changed as a result of new technology, shifting values, social movements, and migration.

  • Students will be able to describe Memphis, Tennessee.
  • Students will identify factors that shape the identity of a community/society.
  • Students will begin to understand the concept of society.

This lesson is designed to fit into What Makes Memphis a Community? and includes:

  • 4 activities
  • 1 handout

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Lesson Plans


For homework, students may have written about the communities to which they belong. As a follow-up, ask students to raise their hands if they identified Memphis as a community to which they belong. Then ask them, individually or in small groups, to brainstorm a list of words and phrases that complete the sentence “Memphis is. . . .” Students should record these words or phrases on Post-it notes, index cards, or small pieces of paper. They can also use these lists to make an identity chart for the city of Memphis. If you had students bring in artifacts that represent Memphis, they can use these objects to spark responses to the “Memphis is . . . ” prompt.

The purpose of the main activity is to help students connect what they know about Memphis to the concept of community. First, divide the class into small groups. Then distribute copies of the Images of Memphis handout. Inform students that the images are meant to stimulate their thinking but that they can record ideas unrelated to the images based on their own experiences of living in Memphis. Ask students to add to their lists of words and phrases that complete the sentence “Memphis is. . . .” As in the warm-up exercise, students can record these words or phrases on Post-it notes, index cards, or small pieces of paper.

When groups have at least 25 descriptions of Memphis recorded on separate cards or pieces of paper, ask them to organize these words/phrases into broad categories. For example, they might create one pile of words that describe what Memphis looks like, another pile that describes what people do for fun in Memphis, and another pile representing the history of Memphis. When students have finished placing all of their cards into piles, ask them to give each pile a name. If time permits, groups can draw identity charts for Memphis.

Curriculum connections: An essential critical thinking skill for social studies students is the ability to organize information into categories. The exercise of physically placing items, images, or words in piles is one way to help students develop this skill.

This is an appropriate time to ask students to connect their conceptual understanding of community, developed in the previous lesson, to their concrete description of an actual community—the city of Memphis. First, ask students to review the definitions of community they generated in Lesson 6. Then give them a few minutes to respond in their journals to the following prompt: What does it mean to belong to the community of Memphis? What common goals might people who live in and near Memphis share? If time permits, you can facilitate a discussion about the factors that contribute to making Memphis a community. Ask students to clarify the distinction between Memphis as a city and Memphis as a community.

Thus far in this unit students have focused on local communities such as the class and the city of Memphis. During the rest of the year students will explore the histories of distant societies. This final activity can help students connect what they have learned about local communities to what they will be studying about larger societies.

First, write the word society on the board. Ask students if they have any ideas about how a society is the same as a community and how it is different. Both communities and societies include groups of people. Indeed, sometimes people use these terms as synonyms. However, typically communities represent smaller groups of people. You would not usually refer to a class or a school or even Memphis as a society but you would call all of these groups communities. On the other hand, the United States or the Mayan Empire is more often identified as a society rather than as a community. Because societies are just large communities, everything that students have learned about communities applies to the societies they will be studying in world history. You could also take a few moments to brainstorm other words people use to describe the large communities you will be studying. Terms like civilization and culture may come to mind.

In the main activity, students used their description of Memphis to generate broad categories representing some of the key factors that shape communities. Have students share the main categories they created. As they name a category, write it on the board or on a large piece of paper, grouping related categories such as geography and physical characteristics. Inform students that when they look at societies from around the world they will be studying the same factors.

Curriculum connections: Elements that make up societies include the following: geography, government, religion/values, economics/trade, arts/entertainment, education, science/technology, and social structure. The images selected of Memphis allude to these factors that shape a community. You can keep a list of these categories on the wall as a tool for students to use when describing and analyzing the societies they will study throughout the school year.

Communities and societies change over time. Indeed, exploring how societies develop and why they decline is often a central theme of a world history course. To introduce students to the idea that societies change, ask them to create a list of the ways Memphis has changed over time. Challenge groups to come up with one change for each of the categories listed on the board. As an extension question, ask students to guess why or how these changes took place. Students can add their ideas about how Memphis has changed to their identity charts of the city.

Students can add to their identity charts of Memphis. They can gather new information about their community by talking to their parents, neighbors, or other community members, or by doing research on the Internet. Students can more easily compare data if they use the same interview questions. Here are some interview questions related to the concepts of membership, community, and belonging that students will be exploring in the next lesson:

  • What are important or defining moments in the history of Memphis?
  • What is an example of a moment when you feel that the residents of Memphis came together as a community around shared goals?
  • What is an example of a time when you feel that the Memphis community was divided?
  • How would you describe Memphis to others?

In addition to these questions, students can contribute their own interview questions.

Materials and Downloads

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Get the handouts that students use in this lesson plan in PDF or Doc format.

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