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Rural and Urban Governments: What's the Difference?

Compare and contrast urban and rural municipal governments and decide whether or not a growing rural community would benefit from changing to an urban municipal government.

Suggested Activities (selected) Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

Students analyze the structure and function of local governments by comparing and contrasting rural and urban governments and by deciding whether or not growing rural communities would benefit from changing the structure of their local government.

Introduction to rural and urban governments
Tell students that rapid growth in many Alberta communities is creating a situation where many rural communities have grown to the point that they are being transformed into urban areas. The dilemma facing these communities is whether or not to change their status from rural to urban local governments. Invite the students to determine whether or not there are significant differences between rural and urban governments (are they more similar or more different; what, if any, are the significant difference between rural and urban governments?) and decide whether or not to recommend changing the government structure of growing rural communities.

To make a reasoned judgement, students need to understand how rural and urban municipal governments are similar and different. Inform students that, generally, rural and small-town Alberta is defined as the population living in rural municipalities and small towns and villages under 10 000 people. Provide students with excerpts from Alberta's Municipal Government Act found in Rural and Municipal Governments (Background Information). Suggest that students contact local government officials or consult relevant Web sites to conduct their own research for this task.

Look at municipalities nearby
Ask students to locate the school’s municipality on a political map. Using the compass rose and scale, identify an area that extends 100 km north, south, east and west of the school. Organize four groups of students and assign one quadrant of the area to each group. Provide students with a large sheet of paper (one metre square will work well).

Quadrant diagram

Ask each group to use various maps and online resources (see References) to create a map of the assigned quadrant by:

  • indicating major physical features and transportation corridors
  • developing a legend for the different types of municipalities located within the area to be mapped
  • marking municipalities, including cities, towns, villages, summer villages, specialized municipalities, hamlets, improvement districts, Métis settlements and First Nations reserves
  • including a compass rose and scale.

Discuss any changes in the status of municipalities over time (see References) and possible reasons for the changes. Ask students to research causes for changes in status over time. Ask students to add indicators of changed municipal status to the quadrant maps by  using the legend symbols or sticky notes to provide details.  You may wish to have the students create a timeline for the mapped area indicating changes in status (see References).

Amalgamate the maps
Ask each group of students to present the map and describe the technologies used and  processes involved in completing the project. Assemble the four quadrants to create one large map.

Examine similarities and differences between municipal governments
To assist students in gathering information about the similarities and differences between rural and urban governments, you may want to suggest that they complete the second and third columns in a retrieval chart such as Retrieval Chart: Comparing Urban and Rural Governments (Lesson Material).

Use a Venn diagram to organize information
Create a large overlapping Venn diagram on chart paper and label one circle rural governments and the other urban governments. Discuss the information to place in each circle.
For more information on the use of these diagrams, see Venn Diagrams (Support Material).

Extension: First Nations and Métis governments
You may also want to discuss with students the structure of government in First Nations and Métis councils in both rural and urban environments. Identify similarities and differences. Include analysis of how urban and rural environments impact on how local governments operate.

Gather more information on rural and urban governments and school boards
Invite students to gather more information on the similarities and differences between rural and urban governments. Direct students to pertinent sections of authorized student resources or reference materials or provide them with a briefing sheet that outlines the similarities and differences in the powers and functions of rural and urban municipal governments. Include public, separate and Francophone school boards.

Encourage students to add to the Venn diagram by identifying the similarities and differences in how governments serve the needs of local citizens.

Identify criteria for significant differences
Discuss with students their understanding of the word significant. Write their ideas on the board or chart paper. Remind students to be active listeners in the discussion and keep an open mind as the class works collaboratively to construct an understanding of the word.
Suggest that students look up the word significant in the dictionary and a thesaurus. As a class, add more ideas to the list that defines this word. Ask students to consider what a significant difference might look like. For example, is there a significant difference between math and language arts? Is there a significant difference between an orange and a grapefruit? For more information, see Defining Terms (Support Material). Summarize the criteria for a significant difference.
Rate significant differences between rural and urban governments
Ask students to work in groups to review the information in the retrieval chart and in the Venn diagrams. Encourage them to identify the extent of differences between rural and urban governance structures. The ratings can be recorded in the final column of the retrieval chart. Remind students to defend their choices by explaining how they used the criteria of being significant.

Organize students in groups of three or four. Ask them to present their ratings of differences to the group and to explain the reasoning behind their choices. Encourage respectful discussion and thoughtful reflection.

After groups have shared and discussed their ratings, ask students to review their decisions and to make adjustments they think are needed.
For more information, see Rating Options (Support Material).

Make a recommendation
Invite students to prepare a recommendation. You may wish to refer to the chart  “Advantages and Disadvantages” in Justifying My Choice (Support Material). Students should decide which is the better choice for a rapidly growing rural community: to maintain the status quo or to revise the governance structure to reflect an urban municipal government. Ask students to present the group recommendations to the class.

Last updated: May 30, 2008 | (Revision History)
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