Teaching Resources

Looks Count! 
Community Planning and the Visual Environment

An Interdisciplinary Middle School Curriculum Unit


Curriculum Resources




Where Once There Was a Wood by Denise Fleming. 1996.   ISBN: 0805037616.                     Ages 4-8

Examines the many forms of wildlife that can be displaced if their environment is destroyed by development and discusses how communities and schools can provide spaces for them to live. Pheasants, red fox, raccoons, great horned owl--these and other animals are brought to life in this exquisite book by Caldecott Honor winner, Denise Fleming. Her lyrical text and rich, exuberant art combine in an ecological tribute to our disappearing wildlife.


The Empty Lot by Dale H. Fife. 1996. ISBN: 0871568594.                                                        Ages 4-8

A man who is about to sell an empty lot to developers discovers that the plot of land is far from empty. The sights and sounds of nature's tenants convince the man to save the lot from the bulldozers. The man finds that the area already has plenty of tenants: a tree is an apartment house for birds; frogs and insects share the stream; children have built a tree house. The man changes his sign to: ``Occupied Lot. P.S. Every square inch in use.''


Flute’s Journey by Lynne Cherry. 1997.          ISBN: 0-15-292853-7                                         Ages 4-8

When the snow flies, thousands of birds migrate south to avoid the icy tempera-tures and shortage of food. With canny understatement that gives the story its power, Cherry traces one wood thrush's flight from Maryland to Costa Rica, and back again. The trip is filled with risks, both natural and manmade. Flute must battle natural foes like cats and harsh weather along both legs of his journey. Forests where he once took refuge have become suburban sprawls, and lawn chemicals taint insects Flute eats, making him ill. Cherry documents nature as it is

today, without idealizing or fictionalizing the struggles of bird life.


Home: A Journey Through America by Thomas Locker. 1998.   ISBN: 015201473X               Ages: 8-adult

Home is more than just the place we return to after being away. Home is something that becomes part of us as we live in it. For artists and writers, home can become part of how we see the world and how we shape our words or our artwork. For everyone, the place we call home becomes a part or our lives.  This book contains writings by various authors about the places that they call home—Pacific coast, plains, midwest heartland, Hudson River valley, and more.


Peter’s Place   1996.                                                                                                               Ages 4-10

An incident that's achingly familiar today is personalized in a quietly told disaster story. Peter's place is a windswept ocean beach, full of life, until an oil tanker is wrecked on the rocks, and slick blackness spills everywhere. Foreman's watercolors capture the wide view of the seacoast and the fragility of its wildlife. Slowly Peter helps a team clean the sticky slime away and helps save a special eider duck. The healing nature of time passing is credited, and the book ends with partial restoration of a safe habitat. The story is told in a clear unemotional tone, the effect of which underlines the sorrow. No blame is placed; no moralizing is apparent, but the message is clear nonetheless.


River by Debby Atwell. 1999.   ISBN: 0395935466                                                                    Ages 4-10

With direct language and colorful paintings, Debby Atwell relates the changes that occur through the centuries along a riverbank, from the arrival of the first humans to the coming of the first settlers, from the industrial revolution to the present day. Over time, development occurs along its banks and the river gradually becomes depleted as more and more people use its resources to build cities, transport goods, and handle sewage. When overuse and carelessness finally take their toll, the river's natural beauty and resources are compromised. Travel downstream through time as Atwell's evocative text and narrative paintings show how the river changes.


A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry. 1992. ISBN: 0152005420                                                  Ages 14-adult

Long before English settlers came to New England, a tribe of Algonquin Indians discovered a sparkling, clear river they called Nash-a-way. By the 20th century, waste being dumped into the river (now called Nashua) had all but killed it, until one woman and her supporters fought to to clean up the river and restore its wildlife. An ecological fable encompassing 500 years of American history.


Letting Swift River Go  by Jane Yolen. 1995.   ISBN: 0316968609                                            Ages 4-10

The historic transformation of the Swift River valley and the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir told through the eyes of Sally Jane, who learns about reconciling necessary change with the enduring value of what is lost. Yolen's poetic narration, in the voice of a woman who was six years old when her family learned they would have to give up their home, recalls the tranquility of a rural community where children fished in the river and picnicked in the graveyard. Then, ``it was voted in Boston to drown our towns that the people in the city might drink.'' Graves are moved, trees cut, homes bulldozed, and the river dammed to cover the little towns and create a new, quite beautiful landscape. In the last scenes, the narrator and her father revisit the scene in a rowboat, pointing out underwater landmarks and finally, looking ``down into the darkening deep,'' letting go.


Window by Jeannie Baker. 1991.            ISBN: 0688089186                                                       Ages 4-12

Chronicles the events and changes in a young boy's life and in his environment, from babyhood to grownup, through wordless scenes observed from the window of his bedroom.


The Land of Gray Wolf  by Thomas Locker. 1996.        ISBN: 0140557415                               Ages 6-10

A young boy, Running Deer, and his small Native American tribe, struggle to preserve their land while holding onto their traditional way of life in a turbulent modern world.


News Articles, Journals and Magazines


 “In a Town Where Lawns Are Banned, Wildlife and Community Pride Flourish,” National Wildlife magazine, June/July 1999, p. 14-15.  Web address: www.nwf.org/habitats


 “A New Kind of Neighborhood,” Midwest Home & Garden, December/January 1999, p. 20-22.

As an alternative to small-town suburbs, planners are creating a type of development they hope offers a stronger sense of community.


Green Teacher a quarterly journal that is North American in scope and published from Toronto, ON. Green Teacher is a magazine by and for educators to enhance environmental and global education across the curriculum at all grade levels. The magazine contains fifty pages of ideas and activities, many of which are very relevant to enhancing one’s understanding and relationship with their environment and community. For more information, email: greentea@web.net or visit their website http://www.greenteacher.com  

Great Lakes Bulletin – Magazine of the Michigan Land Use Institute < www.mlui.org >


"Urban Growth---Too Much of a Good Thing" by Nolan, William L. in Better Homes and Gardens.  April 2001. Rapid growth is changing the face of our towns and cities--and not necessarily for the better. Is growth something you should be concerned about? If so, what should you and your community do about it? Using the magic of computer-aided graphics, planners add trees, flowers, and lampposts to show how derelict streetscapes in our urban cores can once again become people-friendly.


"Divided We Sprawl," by Katz, Bruce and Jennifer Bradley in the Atlantic Monthly. December 1999.


"Challenging Sprawl,” National Trust for Historic Preservation. 1785 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.  20036


Curricula Resources  (**indicates highly recommended)


Architecture in Education: A Resource of Imaginative Ideas and Tested Activities by March Abhau, Rolaine Copeland, Greta Krenberger . Foundation for Architecture. Philadelphia, PA. 1986.


Creative Teaching With Historic Places published by the National Park Service in Cultural Resource Management. Volume 23, No. 8, 2000. ISBN: 1068-4999. This issue can be accessed electronically through the Cultural Resource Management homepage at http://www.cr.nps.gov/crm  This issue has a collection of articles that includes tips on interpretive planning, showcases examples of ways to tell the stories of places using case studies that describe effective public education initiatives at a variety of sites.


Changing the Land (Timber Wolf) Activity in Winter 2000 issue of Wisconsin EE News. Contact Al Stenstrup  (stensa@dnr.state.wi.us) with the Wisconsin DNR to request a copy.


Greening of School Grounds: Creating Habitats for Learning edited by Tim Grant and Gail Littlejohn. 2001. ISBN: 0-86571-436-3  To order, call 1-416-960-1244 or  www.greenteacher.com


Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth.  ISBN: 1-58017-088-9

This book describes nature journaling—the regular recording of observations, perceptions, and feelings about the natural world around you, and how to do it. Nature journaling provides a vehicle for building one’s sense of place, for identifying and recording what is of personal interest and importance in one’s community and surroundings. Nature journaling stimulates more careful observations, through drawings and short descriptions, and records one’s responses to and reflections about both the built and natural worlds.



A Sense of Place: Teaching Children About the Environment With Picture Books by Daniel A. Kriesberg. 1999. Teacher Ideas Press 1-800-237-6124.  Books described are primarily for K-6 students.


This Land Is Your Land
Web Site

A free, activity-based youth curriculum on land use issues developed by MSU Extension's United Growth for Kent County project. It was designed so that young people can contribute solutions to current land use issues as well as participate in making sound decisions now and in the future. This Land Is Your Land was created for upper elementary - 3rd through 5th grades - although the lessons are easily adaptable to any grade level. The series features four thematic units: I Love My Community! , Geography All Around Me, WOW! The Environment is Important, It's Fun to be Involved. For more information, contact project coordinator: Kendra Wills at (616) 458-6805


Viewfinders (Gr.2-6)  1996.  The Dunn Foundation, Warwick, Rhode Island   (www.dunnfoundation.org )

An interdisciplinary upper elementary curriculum emphasizing connections between the environment, community and aesthetics. The eight activities in ViewFinders increase awareness of the visual environment through a hands-on approach to learning. The activities can be used either as a complete unit or as supplementary lessons. Teacher

background materials, extension activities, a guide to additional resources and a student reading list are included. The curriculum will:

·         introduce students and teachers to the concept of the visual environment,

·         enhance student understanding of the interrelationship between the built and natural environment,

·         create an awareness that the visual environment affects our economy and quality of life,

·         develop students’ appreciation of their community’s appearance, and encourages a critical analysis of it

·         develop an understanding of the mechanisms by which change in the visual environment can be implemented.


Viewfinders, Too (Gr. 6-8)  2002.  The Dunn Foundation, Warwick, Rhode Island   (www.dunnfoundation.org )

Provides eight lessons for students to explore their visual landscape and become active stewards of their community’s visual environment. Provides an exciting set of activities that will:

·         increase students’ understanding of visual pollution issues,

·         guide students in exploring and analyzing the visual environment within their own community,

·         provide the resources to compare and contrast their community’s visual environment with the visual environments found in communities in other locations,

·         teach how to use planning tools to bring about change, or sustain the current visual and community character of where they live.

Students are challenged to look at their communities critically and creatively develop their vision of the future.


Walk Around the Block by Ginny Graves et al. Center for Understanding the Built Environment. 1992.  Prairie Village, Kansas.  A K-12 activity guide that increases understanding of the architectural design, city planning and human processes which influence how our cities work.  To order, call: 1-913-262-0691




Back to the Future—Designs for Walkable Neighborhoods. Citizens for a Better Environment. 152 W. Wisconsin Ave., Suite 510, Milwaukee, WI  53203  (19 minutes).  Illustrates what its like trying to walk through a community where sprawl has taken place. Provides suggestions for how to design for diverse land uses while still maintaining a sense of community.




Divorce Your Car by Katie Alvord. 2000.  ISBN: 0865714088               Ages: teen-adult

In spite of America's enduring love with the automobile, there have always been those who have said it wouldn't last! Or at least there have been those who have suggested that it shouldn't last. Recent arguments include Jack Doyle's Taken for a Ride: Detroit's Big Three and the Politics of Pollution and Jane Holtz Kay's Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back (1997). Alvord traces the history of America's dependency on the automobile and details why we should reconsider the relationship. The reasons include pollution from auto emissions and oil spills, the expense of car ownership and its hidden inconveniences, and the grim consequences of traffic accidents. She then examines substitutes for driving, such as walking, bicycling, carpooling, public transit, alternative fuels, telephone, and e-mail. Alvord writes with good sense as well as humor, which should help her win converts.


Earth Prayers by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon, Editors. 1991. ISBN: 006250746X           

In forest clearings, beneath star-filled skies, in cathedrals, and before the hearth... women and men have always given voice to the impulse to celebrate the world that surrounds and sustains them. Now, as we face a diminished present and an uncertain future, the need to honor the interconnection between people and the planet is heightened.

From Walt Whitman, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Black Elk, to Margaret Atwood, the varied voices offer songs and prayers for land, sea, and air; graces for food; and invocations, and poems.





Elm Street Writers’ Group                     www.mlui.org/projects/growthmanagement/elmstreet/hylton2.html

Michigan Land Use Institute                   www.mlui.org

The Urban land Institute                        www.uli.org     

Index of websites on urban sprawl          www.preservnet.com  

Partners for Livable Communities           www.livable.com         

National Main Street Program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation                   www.mainst.org  

The Smart Growth Network                   www.smartgrowth.org  

Center for Livable Communities             www.lgc.org  

The Dunn Foundation                            www.dunnfoundation.org