Lesson: City Spotlights

Connecting Social Studies and Language Arts to Civics

Students will learn the names and historical past of the San Mateo County incorporated cities. They will also learn the difference between incorporated cities and towns and unincorporated communities through internet research and a local fieldtrip. They will use the information that they gather to continue a research project about the History of San Mateo County (which began with the What Was It Like? lesson).  This project is intended to culminate with the County Chronicles project.


Grade Levels: 3rd- 8th




Time: two to three class sessions (approx.)



Computers with internet access

City Scramble worksheet (homework)

City Spotlight worksheet

Overhead of the Incorporated and Unincorporated – What’s the Difference? page

San Mateo County Unincorporated map (download from Kids’ Corner section)

Incorporated Unincorporated- What’s the Difference worksheet

Chart Paper

Sticky notes



1.     Begin the lesson by brainstorming with students the names of San Mateo County cities.  List all city names on chart paper (even the incorrect ones). Tell students that for homework their assignment will be to unscramble all of the city names on the City Scramble worksheet so that they can become familiar with the names of all of the San Mateo County cities and towns. You can also provide them with the URL for the Kids Corner page (http://www.shapethefuture.org/kidscorner/cityscramble.html) if they prefer to try to work it out on the computer and then record their answers on the worksheet.


2.     Once students have completed the homework assignment, revisit the San Mateo County cities brainstormed chart.  Ask students if they can now add and delete names from the list.  Instruct students that these cities and towns are the “incorporated” areas of San Mateo County. Place the Incorporated and Unincorporated – What’s the Difference? page on the overhead projector and help students identify further what incorporation provides. Ask students if they know of any unincorporated areas of San Mateo County.  Create a new list of unincorporated towns and communities that can be added to later.


3.     Instruct students that will be researching the cities of San Mateo county to find out facts from their history and to also discover when and why they were incorporated (Note: Not all city information provided in the City Spotlight section reveals information about why they incorporated).  Instruct students that they will be using the City Spotlight worksheet to guide their research in the City Spotlight section of the Kids’ Corner website.  Assign students to work in teams so that they can search and record together.  You may want to also assign specific cities for each team to research.  Have students report back their findings and record what they learned on a large chart paper. Note: If you have already created the “What We Know about San Mateo History” chart during the What Was It Like? lesson, continue to add sticky note facts (one fact per sticky note) to this chart (this information can be used in the County Chronicles project later).


4.     As a class begin to create a timeline for San Mateo County (This will be a continuation of the What Was It Like? lesson if you taught it).  Place the year of incorporation for each San Mateo County city on the timeline.


5.     Inform students that they will be taking a field trip where they will be able to observe unincorporated and incorporated areas of San Mateo County.  Share the San Mateo County Unincorporated map (downloaded form the Teachers’ Corner section of the website) and indicate where you will be going.  (Note: this would work best as a walking field trip.  It can also be assigned as homework for students to do with their parents).  Instruct students that they will be using the Incorporated and Unincorporated- What’s the Difference worksheet to record what they notice.


6.     Once the field trip has been completed, ask students to report back what they discovered. Record their findings on a chart paper.  Have students write at least a paragraph in response to the question: Incorporated/ Unincorporated- What’s the Difference? Older students can write a lengthier piece, referencing specific facts from their research and observational data from their field trip to draw basic conclusions about why San Mateo County communities chose to incorporate.


CA Social Studies Standards

Grade 3: Continuity and Change 3.3 Students draw from historical and community resources to organize the sequence of local historical events and describe how each period of settlement left its mark on the land.


Grades 6 – 8:  Chronological and Spatial Thinking

1. Students explain how major events are related to one another in time.

2. Students construct various time lines of key events, people, and periods of the historical era they are studying.


Grades 6 – 8:  Historical Interpretation

1. Students explain the central issues and problems from the past, placing people and events in a matrix of time and place.

2. Students understand and distinguish cause, effect, sequence, and correlation in historical events, including the long- and short-term causal relations.

3. Students explain the sources of historical continuity and how the combination of ideas and events explains the emergence of new patterns.


CA Language Arts Standards

Grades 3rd & 4th:  Writing Strategies

Students write clear, coherent sentences and paragraphs that develop a central idea. Their writing shows they consider the audience and purpose. Students progress through the stages of the writing process (e.g., prewriting, drafting, revising, editing successive versions).


Grades 5th-8th: Writing Strategies Students write clear, coherent, and focused essays. The writing exhibits the students’ awareness of the audience and purpose. Essays contain formal introductions, supporting evidence, and conclusions. Students progress through the stages of the writing process as needed.


Grade 4: Reading Comprehension Students read and understand grade-level-appropriate material. They draw upon a variety of comprehension strategies as needed (e.g., generating and responding to essential questions, making predictions, comparing information from several sources).


Grades 5-8: Reading Comprehension (Focus on Informational Materials) Students read and understand grade-level-appropriate material. They describe and connect the essential ideas, arguments, and perspectives of the text by using their knowledge of text structure, organization, and purpose.



City Scramble


Cynthia Citizen is so confused! She asked her friend, Scotty Scrambler, to give her a list of all the cities in San Mateo County. Her friend sent her the list but he scrambled all of the names! Can you help her unscramble them?


THRTNOAE                              _______________________________________________

FAHL OMON AYB                    _______________________________________________

MLOEN RKAP                          _______________________________________________

GMEARNLIUB                          _______________________________________________

NSA RUBON                                        _______________________________________________

AMLCO                                    _______________________________________________

STAE ALOP TLOA                   _______________________________________________

REANBSBI                               _______________________________________________

BOHRLHIUOGSL                     _______________________________________________

LENTMOB                                _______________________________________________

ELIAMBLR                               _______________________________________________

ACPICFIA                                _______________________________________________

ANS SOCLRA                          _______________________________________________

AYLD TCIY                              _______________________________________________

POATRLO LVEALY                 _______________________________________________

DOEIWSDO                             _______________________________________________

EOODRWDR CTYI                   _______________________________________________

NAS AEMOT                            _______________________________________________

OTSFER IYCT                          _______________________________________________

SUOHT NSA RCFINOACS        _______________________________________________



        City Spotlight

Find a fact about each city or town in San Mateo County by visiting the City Spotlight page.  Write down when each city or town was incorporated.


City or Town


Incorporated when?
















Daly City



East Palo Alto



Foster City






Half Moon Bay



Menlo Park









Portola Valley



Redwood City



San Bruno



San Carlos



San Mateo



South San Francisco







Incorporated and Unincorporated - What's the Difference?


A view of South San Francisco, one of San Mateo County's incorporated cities.

The green areas of this map show unincorporated areas around Redwood City and Atherton.



All of the cities and towns in City Spotlight are incorporated. There are many parts of San Mateo County that are unincorporated. What's the difference?


Incorporation means that a community of homes and land has come together to form a city or town. The people who live there are then able to make more decisions about what happens in their city or town.


An incorporated city or town can



Unincorporated areas can't do these things. Instead, the County does them for unincorporated areas.


Why don't all areas want to be incorporated? Well, sometimes they are happy with the situation and don't want to change it.


Incorporated and Unincorporated - What's the Difference?


Use your San Mateo County Unincorporated Map to locate an unincorporated area to visit. Record your observations in the space below.


The unincorporated area that I visited was: _____________________


I noticed that this unincorporated area is different from incorporated city land in these ways:


1.   __________________________________________________


2.   __________________________________________________


3.   __________________________________________________


4.   __________________________________________________


  1. __________________________________________________