Mapping Your Community

Time needed

Take-home assignment with in-class discussion.

Why do it?

Many people do not know much about the life-support systems that bring natural resources to them and take waste away. This take-home assignment challenges students to learn more about their place in the world by asking them to map where their drinking water comes from and where their waste goes. It helps them understand that although their trash may “disappear” from their lives, it still goes somewhere. Understanding how their town fits into larger ecological and human systems underscores the interconnectedness of human life and the environment.


  • Paper and pens
  • Access to the Internet


  • Do this assignment ahead of time so you will have the correct answers for the town mapped. You will also know how hard it will be for the students to find the answers and can decide whether or not to give them clues. Fewer clues will likely mean that the students will learn how difficult it is to find out where their garbage goes, more clues will help them find the answer on their own.


  1. Assign students to draw a picture of the community and the surrounding area. Ask them to include where they live, where their drinking water comes from and where their garbage goes. Tell them that in large towns garbage goes to several different places before its final disposal site, and ask them to map as many stages in this process as possible. All students should draw the same community, usually the one in which they are studying. If they do not live in this community, they can map garbage and drinking water for the school instead of for their home.
  2. When students turn in their maps, present the correct answers and discuss the assignment. Discussion questions might include:
    1. Did anyone know where their drinking water comes from or where their garbage goes to before doing this assignment? How does this knowledge affect our understanding of the environment and our impact on it?
    2. How hard was it to find out where your drinking water comes from and where your trash goes? How does this affect our understanding of the environment and our impact on it?


  • Pair this assignment with learning more about drinking water problems in California’s Central Valley towns through the following resources:
  • Pair this assignment with learning about Kettleman City, a California town that has a landfill that receives toxic waste from California and other parts of the country.
  • Pair this assignment with a field trip. Field trip sites could be the local landfill, recycling center, waste-transfer station, sewage treatment plant, city well, or watershed lands that supply your drinking water.
  • Pair this assignment with a film:
  • Instead of asking all the students to map the same town, ask students to research their hometowns or a community of their choice. Before turning in their assignments, ask students to divide into pairs or small groups to present their maps to each other. After sharing with their partners, bring the students back to the large group for a general discussion. If it is a small class, students can pin their maps up on the wall and the class can observe and reflect on them together. The downside to this approach is that you will not be able to check their work or provide the correct answer to those who did not find it on their own.