What Is a Community?

K, 1, 2

This lesson introduces the definition of a community and challenges students to explore the characteristics of their own community.

Photo credit: Woodward Downtown by Becky McCray is licensed under CC BY 2.0


PrintOne 45 Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • compare and differentiate meanings of community and neighborhood.
  • recognize that communities form when people work together for a common purpose.
  • list places in their community that help others or give services.
  • A pail of water
  • Construction paper and scissors
  • Humphrey the Lost Whale: A True Story, by Wendy Tokuda
Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework: At home tonight, students ask their families about animal welfare and environmental groups they care most about. They may even belong to an organization that helps make the issue better. They may ask their family members to write down the organization names to share in class.


Tell the students that even though Humphrey was big, he still needed the help of people who were much smaller than him. Create a handout with the outline of a whale and these words above it: "I can do something about something big." They write a word or phrase that names a need or issue from their community inside the whale outline. They may write about or draw themselves doing something helpful. 



  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Show the pail of water to the class. Ask students what size fish could fit in the pail. Guide and allow time for them to make suggestions and recognize that a big fish could not survive.They may note other survival needs of a fish.Call attention to their good listening and problem-solving skills as a group. Guide them to recognize that fish need room to swim, and this pail could not support a large fish even if it fit.

  2. Introduce the story entitled: Humphrey the Lost Whale: A True Story, by Wendy Tokuda. Tell the students to imagine that the pail is a freshwater river. Tell them a synopsis of the story: In this true story, a whale named Humphrey swam into the San Francisco Bay of the Pacific Ocean, and then swam into a freshwater river. The whale could not survive in the confined freshwater, nor could it turn around in the river to get back to the ocean. A community of people came together to help get the whale back into the Pacific Ocean.

  3. Write the words neighborhood and community on the board. Engage the students in "chalk talk." They come to the board and write under the words ideas, definitions, and responses to what the others write. 

  4. Now, read the story. Stop and ask questions about the story as you read.

  5. After the story, call attention to how the people came together for a common purpose. They saw a need and formed a community of people who were not from the same neighborhood or town, but they cared about helping this whale—this included scientists and whale watchers. They grew to care for each other too. Revisit the student definitions of community and neighborhood. Ask them to edit their definition to include that a community may be a group of people who come together for a common purpose. They do not need to live near each other.

  6. Challenge the students to think of other communities of people who work together for a common purpose (their classroom, school, faith groups, hunger-awareness groups, environmental organizations, animal-rights groups, sports groups).

  7. Point out that this new definition of community fits the original one because in a healthy community, people have a shared purpose of making their neighborhood or town a nice place to live, so they help each other and work together for the common good.

  8. Say, "Do you think people in a community should do things they don't get paid for to make the community better (using their time, talent, or treasure)?" Discuss examples based on the classroom as a community. What are things each person can do to make the classroom better or to address classroom needs? (Be kind, clean up after oneself, don't allow others to get hurt, do good work)

  9. Discuss examples based on the community in which they live (volunteer, clean up parks, follow rules).

  10. You may decide as a group to give time, talent, or treasure to address a need or improve a place. Students may want to address an issue related to a local environmental need or to help empower people against bullying. 

Cross Curriculum 

Invite a guest from a local nonprofit who tells the class about their work and what is needed to help the nonprofit do its work. The students decide together how they can share their time, talent, or treasure to help them meet an identified need. For example, they can make signs to help cats at the Humane Society get adopted.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.3 Recognize that citizens have a responsibility for the common good as defined by democratic principles.
    2. Standard DP 03. Names and Types of Organizations within the Civil Society Sector
      1. Benchmark E.1 Name and recognize the civil society sector as a separate part of the community.
    3. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe how citizens organize in response to a need.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 04. Philanthropy and Geography
      1. Benchmark E.1 Name examples of civil society organizations in the community.
      2. Benchmark E.2 Identify and describe how civil society organizations help the community.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define community as the degree that people come together for the common good.
      2. Benchmark E.7 Describe why the classroom, school, or neighborhood is a community governed by fundamental democratic principles.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.4 Give an example of how citizens act for the common good.