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The Use of a Piece of Land

Teaching materials by Duane Leavitt for Activities and Resources for Earth Science Teachers - Starting Point page by R.E. Teed (SERC).
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


This activity is designed to engage students in a practical exercise in land use planning; to make the students aware of the positive and negative aspects of land use laws and local zoning ordinances through role-playing. The students represent groups interested in purchasing the same piece of land. Each group must research to devise a plan that is legal and attractive and present proposals to convince the current owners to sell the land to their group. The instructor is advised to use a real plot of land so that real land use laws can be researched.

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Learning Goals

The exercise is intended:
  • To engage students in a practical exercise in land use planning.
  • To make the students aware of the positive and negative aspects of land use laws and local zoning ordinances.

Context for Use

The site recommends at least two class periods worth of out-of-class preparation time and one class period for the debate itself.

Teaching Materials

The Use of a Piece of Land (more info) site includes both a teacher's and students' sheet describing how to do the role-play, including a substantial list of roles. The teacher is advised to choose a real piece of land (20+ acres) and to provide the students with photos, a deed, and as much information as possible about it. The students will also need access to information about local land-use laws. If you want to add a GIS element and your school does not already have GIS software, a good place to start is with the free GIS data viewer ArcExplorer.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity is potentially flexible enough for all kinds of classes. The instructor will need to choose a piece of land with an appropriate "problem", which could be hydrological or deal with potential erosion or an endangered species. The instructor will also want to look over land-use laws to see if local ones are interesting enough. The instructor may want to consider adding a GIS (Geographic Information System) component to this activity.


The student sheet has the student do two brief written assignments, a summary of their in-character proposal for the use of the land and of their personal ideas about the same issue, and a presentation, which could be assessed. The teacher's sheet recommends a third written assignment, a description of what would happen 10 years later to the land and to the characters who bought it.

References and Resources

A general reference for an exercise like this is:
Anastasio, D.J. and Latta, D.K. 2000. Land Use Debate. Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 48(5), p. 593. HTML

For Maine, useful sites would include what the state says about land use, as well as what the county/city thinks. Most states have GIS data available to the public.

Resources for Teaching about Land Use with GIS: