What Is a Community? (1st Grade)

K, 1, 2

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

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne Forty-Five Minute Class Period.

The learner will:

  • define community and neighborhood.
  • respond to an example of a community in literature.
  • recognize that communities form when people work together for a common purpose.
  • list places that help or give service in the community.
  • A pail of water
  • Construction paper and scissors
  • Humphrey the Lost Whale: A True Story, by Wendy Tokuda (see Bibliographical References)
Teacher Preparation 

A migrating humpback whale mistakenly entered the San Francisco Bay in 1985.  The whale swam sixty-four miles up a freshwater river before being led back to the sea by a group of concerned citizens.

Provide the students with one of four different flower cut-outs of various colors.  Have the students write, or tell you what to write, on each of their flowers that indicate what they did during the service project activity.  When each student has something written on their flower, display all the flowers placing them in a reflection “garden” entitled “Planting Helping Seeds”, “Helping Blossoms,” “Fun Flowers”, etc. When all the flowers have been "planted in the garden" read to the class what is written on each flower. Draw a comparison between flowers making the world more beautiful and their service project deeds making the world more beautiful. 


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Show the pail of water to the class. Ask students what could fit in the pail. Ask the students if a fish could fit in the pail. If so, how big a fish could this pail hold? What happens when you put a big fish in this little pail? (It will die because there is not enough room or water for the fish to survive.)

  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 chalkboard. Let the students define the terms in their own words. Make sure they include that a neighborhood is a place where people live, work and play and a community is a place that has many different neighborhoods.

  4. Read the story aloud to the children.

  5. After the story, talk about how the people came together for a common purpose. They formed a community of people who cared about helping this whale—people from the neighborhoods, scientists and whale watchers, people with many different talents. They worked together and grew to care for each other, too. Redefine a community as: a group of people who come together for a common purpose. They do not need to live near each other. Challenge the students to think of other communities of people who work together for a common purpose (families, classes, faith organizations, sports teams, hunger-awareness groups, environmental organizations, animal-rights groups, etc.). Tell the students that a person can be a member of many different communities at the same time. Ask them to name the communities to which they belong.

  6. Conclude that people often help each other in a community or work together for the common good of the community. Challenge students to think of ways they could help their community (class, school, neighborhood) in preparation for the service project. List these on a chart.

Cross Curriculum 

Students look for opportunities to make the classroom and school a better place.

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.