Making Decisions about Public Land

6, 7, 8

Learners will differentiate between public and private property. They will use public sources of information to inform their decisions on public action for the common good.

Lesson Rating 
PrintFive Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • explain that "commons" areas are designated for public use as a result of local government decisions.
  • analyze what responsibility citizens have for the use of "commons" areas.
  • read various maps to determine land use practices in a community.
  • distinguish between uses of public and private land through the use of a Venn diagram.
  • use oral or written speech to persuade government officials to allow alteration of a commons area.
  • Local plat book maps, topographic maps, city maps or aerial photographs
  • Public vs. Private Land Use Answer Key (Handout One)
  • Oral Presentation Rubric: Proposal (Handout Two)
  • Persuasive Letter Rubric (Handout Three)


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Distribute local maps or project a local map on an overhead for the learners to see. Have each learner come forth and locate where they live.

  2. While looking at the map, ask learners if they know the difference between their private property and surrounding public property. How can it be identified? (See map keys and identifiable landmarks.) Explain that land held for use by the whole community is considered to be a "commons" area. They were designated for public use by local governments. Ask, "Why would local governments designate commons lands for use by all citizens rather than allowing the land to be sold for private housing?" Do citizens have any responsibility for the way they use commons areas?

  3. Have the learners list what makes property public or private. Outline characteristics of each/both on the board using a Venn diagram. See Public vs. Private Land Use Answer Key (Handout One) for possible answers.

  4. While still in their groups, ask learners to brainstorm possible problems they might encounter if they were to alter public property. List the ideas. What Core Democratic Values are involved?

  5. Also ask, "From whom would you get permission to alter public property (plant flowers)?" Learners should use the community directory or phone book to identify those people who are the responsible civic leaders. (Possibilities include: school board, county commissioners, township supervisors, city planners, etc.)

  6. Have the learners send out a letter inviting speakers to come and discuss possible outcomes of altering public property in a positive way. Have the speaker address learner interests and concerns.

  7. Using Oral Presentation Rubric: Proposal (Handout Two) and Persuasive Letter Rubric (Handout Three), go over the requirements with the learners. In small groups, have the learners work cooperatively to draft a formal proposal (for the planting of flowers) and present this proposal to the governing group representing a particular site of public land. (The proposal may be in writing or in speech.)

  8. If the project is adopted, the project should be carried out in the community using the flowers planted in Lesson Two: Plants− What Are Their Parts and Functions? The learners will need to brainstorm the different tasks that will be necessary to carry out the beautification project and formulate the plan of implementation. Discuss what the planting of the flowers is expected to do to improve the area and environment.

  9. After the project, ask students to reflect about how their philanthropic act contributed to the common good, and how do they feel about being philanthropic.


The written letters or prepared persuasive speeches may be used as an assessment of learning. Learners may reflect on public and private land use for the improvement of the common good and write an addition into their journals.

Cross Curriculum 

Learners will plant flowers in the community in "commons" areas. This is the implementation of the academic service component begun with the planting of flowers from seed in Lesson Two: Plants − What Are Their Parts and Functions? The format may be used for some other class project (besides flowers) that may involve community property.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark MS.7 Give examples of common resources in the community.
      2. Benchmark MS.9 Recognize problems different communities encounter using a "commons" and possible solutions.
  2. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Provide a needed service.
    2. Standard VS 05. Integrating the Service Experience into Learning
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Identify outcomes from the service.