Series: Elements of Structure Part 7: World Building

Open Culture: Annotated Map
Open Culture: Annotated Map

Recently my arrival at some conclusions has left me feeling a bit off, beginning with my inability to make decisions or plan, as if I thought I knew what my destination was, only to find out I am on the other side of the rails. In conjunction with the dawning light that while I work at a Title I school, my judgment, motivation, professionalism and even integrity will always be criticized at worst, and questioned at least. Can I build up my students’ learning with the help of colleagues and collaboration, or will continue to be singled out?

Which is why I’m sitting here questioning if this idea is a good one or not. If I’ll get support or buy-in, or not. And if not, does it matter? Not all ideas are good ones.

*Inner voice: “Stop. Stop writing about your process. Just spill it: what’s the idea?”*

Okay: World Building.

Think about it.

This unit would cover every single content area, including health/fitness.

  • Social Studies: What better way to understand the world and history than to create one from scratch?
  • English/Language Arts: What better way to familiarize oneself with archetypes, monomyths, plot, setting, structure and creativity?
  • Math: What better way to understand how the boundaries and shapes of things influence our lives? Productivity, consumerism, population and exponential thinking and real-world problems?
  • Science: What better way to look at the impact of disease, oceans, pollution, land masses, air to breathe and inventions influence culture,
  • PE/Health: What better way to explore the kinetic movements of cultures, tribes, groups, cities, as well as health and well-being? Do you think for one moment Thorin Oakenshield wasn’t buff?!

(Just needed an excuse to post a picture of T. O.:)


  • Exploratory: Cooking, making, building, music, technology: all the ways we’re connected and engaged.


I read The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin recently, and it’s amazing. It does have some graphic sexuality, so wouldn’t recommend for anyone younger than 17-18. Her world-view and creation are sublime. It took me some time to understand what was happening, but once I fell into the setting it felt like I had lived there forever, and now. And isn’t that the true beauty of a new world, a fantasy world? It feels more truthful than the real one and helps give context to what’s known and believed.

And please: don’t forget women in your world.

I often tell students that the best thing about writing is getting to play god/goddess: you create the world and control the characters, and this is empowering. At this writing, I’m not sure what the end product will be, or the essential questions/enduring understanding. Units weren’t built in a day, you know.

One idea to help students get started is to take a few ‘micro’ pictures of land, and see if they can create a world from it:

Except for the giant beastie's leg, this might be a good place to start.
Except for the giant beastie’s leg, this might be a good place to start.

So, as I’ll map out my ideas later. The essential piece is the questions, and take a page from creation and origin myths. What needs to be made first, and how to make it?

If you have any ideas to share, please do so.