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The Federal Census: Why People are Counted lesson plan


Since 1790 the United States government has taken an official count of the country’s population every ten years. Uses for census data range from providing for the safety and security of the population to determining representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. In this lesson students will realize how census data are collected and how that information has an impact on their lives.


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competency 5


Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12


Mississippi History Now article, The Federal Census
Maps of Mississippi’s Congressional districts in 1992 and 2001
Internet access


Students will:

  • Realize how the U.S. Census is conducted;
  • Determine why the census is important; and,
  • Identify the impact the census has on Mississippi.


Allow students to recall what they know of Hurricane Katrina, the devastating natural disaster that struck Mississippi’s coastal area in 2005. Then, have them respond to the following questions in regard to the storm:

  • Why would it be important to know how many people lived in Mississippi’s coastal areas?
  • How important are accurate numbers?
  • What data would be useful in determining the economic impact the hurricane had on the area?

Continue by asking students how the population of the United States and its territories (and Mississippi) is counted. Tell them that the census provides vital information about the population of our country and state, and that it is extremely important that everyone in the United States be counted.


In small groups, have students discuss these questions:

• What do you know about the U.S. Census?
• Why is it important?
• Why would some people hesitate to participate?

NOTE: Teacher may wish to have students explore Activity 2 “Census Crisscross” and Activity 4, “A-maze your Friends,” at the Census Bureau website.

In order to understand the census and why it is important, assign students to complete a 5Ws Chart as they read the Mississippi History Now article. They will work in small groups to determine WHO is counted; WHAT information is collected; WHEN the count takes place; WHERE it occurs; and WHY it is important.

Allow student to “practice” what they have learned in a Think-Pair-Share or a Talk It Out activity with a partner. Teacher may wish to administer a brief quiz to hold students accountable.

Have students write in their notes the following structured paragraph and use the Mississippi History Now article to fill in the blanks.

“Information collected during a census provides a ___ of the country. It is a ___of what each ___ looks like. The census count from Mississippi determines for the next ___, how people are represented in ___ and ___ government, and how federal ___ will be ___ to the state. Two primary uses of census information are ___of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and ___ of Mississippi legislative districts.”

(Check to determine that students understand any vocabulary that is unfamiliar.)

To help students understand the concept of reapportionment and redistricting, create PowerPoint slides or transparencies of maps showing Mississippi’s congressional districts in 1992 and 2001. Students should immediately notice the difference in the number of district seats. Have them research the population of Mississippi as determined by the 1990 census and the 2000 census at the Census Bureau website. Let them discuss the ramifications of the state’s loss of a Congressional seat after the 2000 census.

Census data also determine how federal monies are distributed for public use. After reading the two lists of federal funding from the Mississippi History Now article, students will write in their notes any of the programs that they think benefit Mississippians. They should add a brief description of the purpose of each program in their own words. Emphasize the point that the percentage of funds that Mississippi receives is based on its population. Assign students to research each program on the web to determine if the state participates in the program and, if available, the specific amount of federal funds received. Students will correct their lists as the research progresses.

Call attention to federal funds spent for education programs, such as those mentioned near the end of the article. Ask a school official to bring a report to the class showing the amount of federal money received by the district and how it is used to improve the education of the community.


Students will design a “CENSUS” acrostic using terms that indicate what they have learned about the census. They will exchange these with a partner and will write a sentence explaining each term on their partner’s acrostic.


1. Group participation
2. Completion of 5Ws chart
3. Participation in partner activity
4. Completion of Structured Paragraph
5. Completion and accuracy of Census Acrostic


Have students check the Hurricane Data and Emergency Preparedness web page to understand the connection between natural disasters and the Census Bureau. Clicking on the Hurricane Katrina button on the site will show specific census data relating to Mississippi, as will the Social Science Research Council website.

Students will write a “letter” to the editor of their local newspaper or an internet blog stating why everyone should be counted at census time.

Obtain the latest census figures and compare them with the 2000 data. How will the state be affected by the new numbers?

All websites accessed December 2010.

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