Create a World: Cooperative Learning

By Natasha Benway

Length of Program

This series of programs spans eight weeks. The length can be adjusted based on what librarians and teens choose to include in the program. The full eight-week program includes seven two (2) hour sessions. The length of the final session depends on how the teens decide to present their world.


Imagine a room full of teens. They are laughing and eagerly engaging with one another for the purpose of completing a common goal. Sounds impossible, right? Not so. In this program, teens will work together to create a world with ideas from their imaginations; Including books they have read, gaming worlds, movies, and even the world they live in today. In doing so, teens will give free reign to their creativity in the form of mind maps, drawings, a 3D map, and discussions on government structures, religion, fashion, cultural arts, etc. The Create a World program will foster a host of skills in teens, such as good communication, leadership qualities, goal setting, and working within a timeline. The really cool thing is that teens will have a blast doing it!

Books to Share

Living in a Dream: Great Residences of the World by John Julius Norwich
Oxford Atlas of the World by Oxford University Press
Planet Ocean: Voyage to the Heart of the Marine Realm by Laurent Ballaesta and Pierre Descamp
Planet Earth as You've Never Seen It Before by Alastair Fothergill
Rainforest by Sara Oldfield
Star Wars Complete Locations: Inside the World of the Entire Star Wars Saga by Kristi Lund
Star Wars Incredible Cross-Sections: The Ultimate Guide to Star Wars Vehicles and Spacecraft by David West Reynolds

Books to Show or Booktalk

Faerie Wars by Herbie Brennan
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone J.K. Rowling
Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Merchant of Death: Pendragon Series by D.J. MacHale
The Prince by Niccolo Machievelli
The Republic by Plato
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld


Use a version of the flyer provided with this program to promote your program. Feel free to include some of the books listed above if you are doing a tabletop display.

Description and Timeline

Each of the components of the eight-week Create a World program is described here. Librarians may feel free to add or remove weeks as necessary.

Week 1: Mind Mapping

The first week is essential for designing the infrastructure of the world. During this week, teens will create mind maps to envision and plan their world. To learn more about mind maps and prepare for leading this portion of the program, please this article entitled "Mind Maps: A Powerful Approach to Note Taking" on the Mind Tools web site, The article includes a short video on how to draw a mind map as well as examples of mind-maps. Teens may have already learned mind mapping in school and it easiest if everyone works together in one big group.

Begin the mind-mapping process by asking the teens questions, such as those listed here. Be sure to allow time for discussion.

  • What type of world would you like to live in?
  • Describe how you see earth in the future?
  • What type of alternate or fantasy world in books, movies, or gaming is your favorite? Why?
  • Where on earth would you like to visit or live? Why?
  • Do you think there is life on other planets? What do you think the inhabitants might look like? What do you think inhabitants of other planets would need to exist?

Next let the teens think about and discuss what makes up a society. Then have them develop categories based on their ideas. List the categories on a flip chart. It may be a good idea to brainstorm and have some categories ready ahead of time in case the teens need help coming up with ideas. Some example categories are listed below.

  • Government Structure
  • Law
  • Libraries or storage areas for knowledge
  • Education
  • History
  • Folklore
  • Math
  • Science
  • Languages
  • Species and/or Races
  • Religion
  • Cultural Arts: Music, Theatre, Visual Arts, Dance
  • Food
  • Technology
  • Habitat
  • Geography
  • Demographics
  • Class Systems
  • Money System
  • Medicine
  • Fashion
  • Philosophy
  • Ethics

Once the categories are set, ask teens to break out into groups to discuss one or more of the categories. Give each group a large flip chart, an easel, and colorful markers. Discuss the concept of mind maps and ask the groups to make mind maps to explore and develop each category. Provide teens with lots of books to help them come up with ideas for their mind maps. Use some of the books listed above for ideas. Access to the internet during this process is also helpful for visual elements such as fashion, art, and technology.

At this point, the librarian acts as a facilitator. Remind each group to work with and speak with other groups. They should occasionally check in with other groups to see how they are developing their categories, in order to build a coherent world. For example, the history group will need to know the species, class systems, demographics, and such of the world in order to mind map an accurate history of their world.

Week 2: Character and Story Development

Every world has characters and a story that helps shape that world. During Week 2, teens will use tools of their choice to begin developing these characters and their stories. For example, the historians/folklore/libraries group may decide that they need to use a computer to start recording their world's history. The group working on class system/demographics/species may decide they need drawing material to create images of what the species or members of their class look like. The group working on food may decide they would like to start creating recipes, use their own recipes, or find recipes from around earth that will represent what each species like to eat.

During Week 2, the librarian continues to act as a facilitator of the groups and should make sure teens are communicating with each other. Before the end of this program, the librarian should call the groups together and ask each to report on their developments. Then the librarian should ask all the teens to think about what type of world they are creating and how they want to represent it on a 3D map. For example, do they want to create a map of the entire world, zoom in and focus on a city, focus on just a coastal area, or do something else?

Week 3: Outline and Plan for the 3D Map

In Week 3, teens decide on the type of 3D Map they will make. Provide teens with a piece of paper as large their 3D Map is going to be, pencils, and erasers and allow them to create a physical outline of their 3D map.

In Week 3, the groups of teens must come together and collectively use what they created in Week 2 to help them design what their 3D Map will look like. To explain and illustrate how this will work, here is a description of what teens in one library did and how it influenced their 3D Map.

The teens' world was a mashup of movies and books; it was Twilight meets Lord of the Rings meets Pirates of the Caribbean. The demographic group decided vampires, werewolves, elves, hobbits, and dwarves would inhabit the world. The history group decided that the vampires and werewolves were bad but that the two species would tolerate each other in order to survive. The geography group had decided that the world would be made up of thousands of islands.

The map was influenced by all of this. It featured a coastal view of the main capital of the world. This capital was a large island on which the elves, hobbits, and dwarves lived. The hobbits had to have a field to grow their large crops of food, the elves had to have the education center and library, and the dwarves had to have mines from which to extract jewels. Even the buildings were designed to reflect each species. The elves had the largest structure with glittering colors, the hobbits had huts, and the dwarves had a dark, rock-like structure.

The map also took into account that vampires and werewolves were bad. The vampires and werewolves were banished to one island and had to make a living as pirates. This was a good living for them since the world had many small sandy islands for hiding and there was a general lack of good land, and the dwarves mined jewels. The elves had to have a strong navy to defend themselves from the vampires and werewolves, and the 3D map reflected this by having a large dock, a boat, and a clear beach that was easily defendable.

Everything the teens had developed during Week 2 influenced what was included in the 3D Map, where it was placed, why it was placed there, and how it was placed.

Weeks 4, 5, and 6: Making a 3D Map
  • Small boxes
  • Toilet paper rolls
  • Masking tape
  • Cardboard or wood that can be used for buildings on the 3D Map
  • Hot glue gun
  • Paint
  • Paint brushes and sponges
  • Newspaper
  • Large piece(s) of flat wood (plywood works great) to build the 3D Map on
  • Various materials like straw, fake grass, and other items to enhance the 3D Map
  • Hair dryer
  • Tarp or other drop cloth
  • Table
  • Storage area for the 3D Map
  • Smocks or aprons to protect clothing
  • Water, flour, and salt to make paper maché glue

The 3D Map will take three weeks to complete.

In advance, prepare paper maché glue by combining one part flour with two parts water. Mix well until the mixture is smooth. Add flour and water if needed but make sure the glue is thick and runny and is not solid like a paste. Add a few tablespoons of salt to help prevent mold from developing. The glue can be stored in tightly closed container for a few days.

In Week 4, teens use the basic outline they have created the previous week to begin building their 3D Map. Decide where to store the 3D map before finalizing the size. Between sessions, place the map in a safe storage area. If the map is too large it can be created on two pieces of wood but it may require several people to move the pieces. Most lumberyards and do-it-yourself stores (like Lowe's) will cut plywood into whatever size you require.

Begin by placing the large piece of flat wood that will support the 3D Map on a table or tables. This will provide access to all sides of the developing map.

After the board has been set up, the teens use small boxes, toilet paper rolls, and other pieces of cardboard or wood to create the larger buildings and structures on their 3D Map. Use masking tape and newspaper as stuffing to support the larger buildings and structures. Attach the large buildings and structures to the large piece of flat wood with masking tape. The structures may also be attached with a hot glue gun throughout the building process, but an adult should do this.


Week 5 will be messy so set up the 3D Map near a kitchen or sink area if possible. Be alert for wet floors, as it can get slippery quickly. Teens are going to need to wash their hands and other items frequently. Place a drop cloth on the tabletop, as well as under and around the table area. Working with paper maché and glue can get messy very quickly. Teens should try to wear smocks or aprons to help keep their clothing clean. It is prudent to dissuade them from starting paper maché fights.


Set out the jars of prepared paper maché glue at different points around the 3D Map. Tear the newspaper into strips of various sizes and dip the strips into the paper maché glue. Begin to cover the 3D Map. The 3D Map, including all surfaces, buildings, structures and any visible board, needs to be completely covered with paper maché. Be careful to layer and smooth out the paper maché. Add additional layers of paper maché until it is thick enough to cover all areas and is smooth. Wrinkles will detract from the buildings and structures on the 3D Map and make it harder to paint in between all the crevices that the wrinkles leave behind.

At end of the program, use a hair dryer to help the paper maché dry. Depending on the thickness of the large board, the wet paper maché could cause it to warp. In addition, it may be necessary to leave the 3D Map out overnight to dry before placing it in a storage area.

Week 6 will continue to be messy, so follow the precautions listed for Week 5. During Week 6, the teens use paintbrushes and sponges to pain the 3D Map. Sponges dipped in the paint add textures and layering colors can enhance one color or add dimension. Make sure teens take time to get into all the wrinkles and crevices out of their 3D Map. A splotchy paint job can ruin a 3D Map.

As teens finish painting areas of the map, use a hair dryer to speed up the drying process. Ask teens to point out where they would like some final changes or enhancements applied with the hot glue gun. For example, they may want to add straw for huts, glitter, transparent paper to look like glass windows, feathers, pipe cleaners, jewels, and such.

Week 7: Preparation for the Final Presentation

During Week 7, teens will gather and decide how they would like to present their society. Some things to consider include:

  • Will they do the presentation live or set it up as a static display in the library?
  • If they do a display, where in the library will it be displayed?
  • What will they include in the display?
  • If they do a live presentation, where will they do the presentation?
  • When will they do the live presentation? One suggestion is to hold it during an end of summer reading program party.
  • At a live presentation will they speak as a large group, or will they separate into individual groups around the room?
  • How will they publicize their live presentation?

3D Embellished Map

Also during Week 7, the teens can inspect the 3D Map and add any last minute details or embellishments. Each group should also work on what they will include in the live presentation. For example, the fashion group could design images from a magazine on their planet, the history group could create a type history of their planet, the technology group could make a small prototype of a piece of technology, or the food group could decide it wants to serve food at a live presentation. They would then need to decide what to serve and how to prepare the food.

In addition to rehearsing what each group will say during the live presentation, some teens will need to prepare flyers or posters to help publicize the event.

3D Map Presentation 1    3D Map Presentation 2

Week 8: Presentation

What teens do in Week 8 depends on what they decided the previous week. Teens who decide to do a display will need to arrive early and put the display together and set it up. Teens that are doing a live presentation should arrive about an hour before the program to help set up and to go over any last minute details. It is also helpful to have the teens stay for thirty minutes after the presentation to clean up.

3D Map Presentation 3   3D Map Presentation 4

Professional Resources


"Shared Worlds: Where Creative Writing, Art, and Game Design Come Together" by Kelly Czarnecki. School Library Journal, Issue 10, October 2008. 35-37.

Web 2.0

Second Life
This free web site offers users the chance to create a life for themselves in a virtual world. This web site is also useful for librarians who want to do an online program online in a virtual world instead of holding face-to-face programs.

Page last modified: August 15, 2011