Civic Literacy Curriculum
Question 62: How can you quickly determine the capital of your state?
Q62: How can you quickly determine the capital of your state?
A. Ask your neighbor.
B. Find the oldest city in your state.
C. Do an internet search.
D. Find the biggest city in your state.
What is your state’s capital? That’s an easy one to answer. All we need is the internet. Or a map. Why is it your state’s capital? Now that’s not going to be so easy.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, prior to the invention of railways and the automobile, people had to rely on wagons, horses, boats, and shoe leather. Cities were often chosen as capitals, in part, because they were easy to reach. Thus, cities that were on or near waterways or good roads (and had access to natural resources) were more likely to be larger and wealthier than a settlement that took days to reach due to poor roads or treacherous mountains. Geography and economics are not the only two reasons for a capital’s location, of course.
Population played a role as well. Sometimes a state’s capital defies the logic of geography and economics. The reason for that can be politics, such as putting a capital in a central location, or a capital in one community and the university in another.
Because state law generally has a more direct effect on your life, it is especially important to know about your state government and where and how the laws are made — thus, it’s important to know where your state capital is!
Both because state governments deal with a wider variety of issues and because state officials represent fewer people, writing to state government officials is arguably an even better way to influence and seek policy change than would be writing to one’s member of Congress.
- Print a copy of the letter writing guidelines for each student.
- Provide each student with a template.
- A rubric is available if this is a graded activity.
- Find the name and address of your state’s governor, which will be in the state capitol . (Alternatively, you could look up the office of the state legislator or legislators representing where your school is located.)
- Have business envelopes and postage so that the students are able to mail their letters.
The Teaching Materials for this exercise includes a rubric (Q43 Letter Rubric).
- Letter writing is generally a solitary activity. However, depending on the age and/or skill level of the students, you may want to have them work in pairs. a. Divide the class into pairs based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group that has mastered the material. Group C students are prepared to extend their knowledge. Pair those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).
- Explain to the students that they are going to write letters to their state governor (or legislator) to find out where he or she stands on an issue that is important to the students.
- Brainstorm with the students on possible topics that would be relevant to write to a state legislator about: state taxes, crime, policing, infrastructure, school, traffic laws, gun laws, civil rights, healthcare, licensing, etc.
- If the students are struggling with this, then ask them about current events. How do they feel about a political happening? Why do they feel this way? Why do they want their governor or legislator to support this issue?
- Be aware that some students may wish to write about personal topics but may not bring these up during the brainstorming session. To make sure that they realize that they can write about the topics, end the brainstorm with a statement about how the list they see on the board is not exhaustive and that they can choose any topic they wish.
- You may wish to emphasize the following:
- You are the only person, other than the governor or legislator, who will read the letter.
- You are not grading them on the topic they choose. The goal of this exercise is to write a letter and make their voices heard. It is not to choose a topic that everyone likes or agrees with.
- Write the name and address of your state’s governor on the board.
- Review the letter writing guidelines with the students.
- Have them create an outline or rough draft on the template before writing a final copy.
- Circulate throughout the room as the students complete their letters to check for understanding and help as needed.
- Have them write the final copy on a clean sheet of loose-leaf.
Below are two discussion prompts that can be used by teachers in a classroom setting.
- The first discussion prompt will be one that is designed to support students that are not really understanding the content in a way that would help them to answer the test question.
- The second discussion prompt will be one that is designed to further student understanding of the content by making real-world connections, including connections to current events and historical events.
State capitals are where the government of each state is located, especially the legislative chambers where the state’s laws are made. Sometimes state capitals are found in the largest or richest city in a state, but in other cases, state capitals are small and sometimes situated far from economic power. But they are where the political power in your state is and where most of the government that affects your day to day life happens—so if you want to write a letter to a legislator or a governor, you need to know where the capital is to send it to!
Every state has a governor who oversees the state’s government. How can you find out who your state governor is? What do you know about the office and your state’s current governor? If you are not familiar with him or her, how can you learn more?
Traditionally, a state’s capital was chosen based on its location and role in the state’s economy, the ease of traveling to it, its population size, and sometimes a balance between government institutions (such as giving one city the university, and another the capital). These were useful measures in the past, but do you think that they are useful today? If you had to select a new city for your state’s capital, what factors would you consider and why?