Junior Citizen Planner Curriculum

March 31, 2015

The program develops youths' skills in becoming good citizens, responsible decision-makers and community pride.  The target audience is youth in 3rd to 8th grades.  The primary subject areas covered in the program are:

  • Social Studies, Civics and Community
  • Geography
  • Environmental Science and Land Use Planning
  • Land Use Technology (GIS, GPS)

Each activity lesson plan comes with: an overview, objectives, subject, skills, duration, materials, background information, step-by-step procedure, assessment options, adaptations/extensions, and additional resources. It also includes the pertinent Michigan Curriculum Framework Content Standards and Benchmarks and Kent County Core Curriculum for 3rd - 5th grades; however, the activities are appropriate for participants up to age 13 (8th grade). The activities are not specific to Kent County, they are relevant on a statewide basis.

Michigan State University has signed permissions to reprint material for educational purposes with several authors and organizations that produced materials used by the Junior Citizen Planner program. Junior Citizen Planner activities are made available to the public through the This Land Is Your Land learning series, which received grant funding to provide these land-use educational materials to the public. Beginning in 2011, Junior Citizen Planner partnered with Safe Routes to School (SR2S) to make the Make Trax curriculum available for download on the Junior Citizen Planner web site. The Michigan Fitness Foundation and the Michigan Department of Transportation developed the Make Trax curriculum in 2009.

If Junior Citizen Planner materials are reproduced, Michigan State University Extension requests proper citation.

The curriculum is divided into the following categories:

1.      Community and Civics Indoor Activities

One Hour 

  • Land Uses - There Are So  Many
    Students put together zoning pieces on a puzzle board to design a smooth running community.  They then list land uses on sticky notes and categorize them into each of the zones, competing in a  contest to see who can put the most types of land uses on their community puzzle board.
  • *About Make Trax (Make Trax Curriculum - Step 1)
    Students complete Safe Routes to School surveys and identify the benefits of walking and rolling to school.  Students learn about Make Trax, Safe Routes to School, and local government and planning.

          This step also includes the following handouts and materials:

Two - Three Hours

  • City Planning is Colorful
    On a local map, students use city planner colors and follow a legend to color land use zones.  They understand that proper zoning colors are used to identify different land uses (zones) in their community.

Four or More Hours

  • Walking Neighborhood Surveys
    Groups of students engage in a neighborhood walk, surveying community land use, natural features, traffic and streets, architecture and historic resources, and diversity and culture.  The students report their findings.
  • Hear Ye! Hear Ye!
    Students conduct a mock public hearing concerning a proposed building project on nearby farmland and natural area.  The students then play the role of the project developer, government agency representatives, and citizens.  They analyze the issues involved in the project and make a group decision regarding whether or not to permit this building project.

2.      Geography Indoor Activities

One Hour

  • Michigan Map Road Trip
    Working in pairs, students use a Michigan road map to fill in blanks while taking an imaginary road trip. They locate and identify characteristics of places, cultures, and settlements.
  • Computer Maps (Make Trax Curriculum - Step 2)
    In this step, students discuss their attitudes and beliefs about walking to school.  They learn how to use geographic information systems (GIS).  Students create maps and identify primary routes to school.
  • Technology and Field Work (Make Trax Curriculum - Step 3)
    Students identify different types of walking hazards.  They are introduced to Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and learn how to use GPS receivers (optional).  Students learn how to take digital photographs to identify hazards along routes.  Teams are formed and students are assigned roles for the field activity in Lesson 4.

         This step also includes the following handouts and materials:  What to Look For and What to Look For Example.

Two - Three Hours

  • My Neighborhood - How Has It Changed? 
    Students examine aerial photographs of their neighborhood and compare two photographs of the same area, taken at least 10 years apart. They will locate and identify changes that have taken place in the area and then write compare and contrast statements. (If local maps are unavailable, they can use the Fruitland maps that are provided.)

Four or More Hours

  • Farmland Development
    Students graph and interpret trends in farmland and population data.  They also plot land use scenarios and evaluate the pros and cons of developing farmland.  

3.      Environment and Land Use Indoor Activities

One Hour

  • A Slice of Planet Earth
    By observing (or performing) the slicing of an apple, students become aware of the small fraction of the Earth's limited land resources that support all human life.
  • Food Web Forest Munchers
    Students will use body movement, pantomime, and food tokens to simulate the feeding motions of forest and open land organisms and identify their interconnectedness in a food web.
  • Shrinking Habitat
    Students simulate a process of land development by acting as vegetation, herbivores, carnivores, and land developers.  Through physical activity, they will identify organisms as part of a food chain, recognize the importance of suitable habitat for wildlife, and understand and describe some effects of land development on plants and animals.
  • Green Space Metaphors
    Students will develop an appreciation for and an understanding of green spaces through the power of "hands-on" metaphors, linking the characteristics and natural functions of green spaces to the familiar realm of everyday life.
  • Project Priorities (Make Trax Curriculum - Step 6)
    Students create spreadsheets using the observations made along each route.  They learn how to use spreadsheet functions to generate descriptive statistics and a bar graph depicting the frequency of hazardous conditions. The students then use this information to identify high priority problems along routes.  This step should be completed in conjunction with SR2S Make Trax Step 7.

          Step 6 also includes the following handouts and materials:  Instructions for Entering Chart Data 
          Make Trax Excel Spreadsheet Template.        

  • Recommendations (Make Trax Curriculum - Step 7)
    Students review survey results from Step 1, and identify attitudes that influence decisions about walking and rolling to school.  They suggest activities to increase positive attitudes and complete the Make Trax Recommendation Worksheet.  Students also identify community experts who could help improve safety along routes to school.  This step should be completed in conjunction with Step 6.         
  • Presentation (Make Trax Curriculum - Step 8)
    Selected findings and recommendations are presented to the public.  Students identify necessary  maps, graphs, photographs, survey data and community information to inlcude.  Then they create a PowerPoint slide presentation and identify presenters.

Two - Three Hours 

  • Character Education and Responsible Land Use
    In this three-part lesson, students read stories about model citizens who worked to beautify the environment.  The students then develop their own land use code of ethics from discussion cards and work on a real land use dispute.  Lastly, students track their success in living responsibly on a "Good Citizen" chart.
  • Dragonfly Pond
    Students design a plan of human land use activities around the image of a pond.  They determine the best locations for homes, businesses, industries, and farms with respect for the environment.
  • Landopoly: A Decision-Making Game
    Students play a board game to develop their land-use decision-making skills.  Through the various choices posed in the game, students are asked to consider both economic and environmental well-being in making land-use decisions.

Four or More Hours

  • Follow the Bill - An Issue Investigation
    In this issue investigation project, students practice U.S. citizenship when they identify, follow, analyze, evaluate and lobby for or against pending legislation affecting a land use issue.

4.      Outdoor/Community Service Activities


  • My School/Club and Other Community Services - Where and Why
    Why is my elementary school here?  Where is the fire station?  The locations of such services are often planned to provide convenient access for the entire community.  By using local examples, students explore reasons why civic facilities are located where they are in their community.
  • Neighborhood Improvements - A Project To Be Proud Of
    For this class project, students begin by establishing neighborhood improvement goals.  In small groups, they role-play city planners and design neighborhood improvements.  As a class, students build a large-scale improvement model, and then present it to various groups.  Finally, students help to accomplish a neighborhood improvement goal, gaining a sense of community pride.


  • Landmarks, "I See One!"
    Students learn to identify community, state, and national landmarks.  They will use a decision making model to choose one landmark to promote or preserve as a national or state recognized landmark.
  • Rails to Trails Project
    Students might help to convert abandoned railroad corridors in their community.  Students can promote or "adopt" existing trails in their community. 



  • Kids Walk-to-School
    This program aims to get children to walk and bicycle to and from school in groups accompanied by adults.  This gives kids a chance to be more physically active, to practice safe pedestrian skills, and to learn more about their environment by direct observation.
  • Adopt a Lot, Barn or Tree
    Help your class to determine what might be environmentally or culturally important, but degraded, in your neighborhood or community.  Have them research organizations that address their chosen projects.  Students will be able to develop innovative plans to improve the quality of the environment in a place in their community.
  • Media Campaign
    Encourage students to write news releases before they tackle their classroom project so that their efforts will be recognized in the newspaper.  Giving students hands-on experience using video, media, and technology is the best way to build skills in these areas.
  • Celebrate: Ag Day, Arbor Day, Earth Day, Apple Tree Day
    Prepare your classroom for a celebration!  Allow students to choose a land-or-community-related topic that has a special day set aside for recognition.  Have them prepare projects and presentations to celebrate on the official day.


Create your own Community Service Project that will utilize some of the knowledge and skills that participants have gained throughout the program. Ideas include: poster sessions, presentations to elected officials or organizing a community event. Community Service Projects do not necessarily have to take place outside.

5.      Technology Enhancement

Junior Citizen Planner offers a Geocaching activity using GPS technology.  Instructions for this activity have been developed for groups of beginners and for groups with experience using GPS.  Select the lesson plan that fits your participants' skills.  The Role Play handouts based on how different careers may use GPS and Take Home handout can be used with either set of instructions.

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