The United Kingdom

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12615

What is the United Kingdom? Is it a country? Yes. Is it a bunch of countries? Yes. Is it a kingdom? Sort of. Learn more about this island nation's history, government, money, language, and ... Brexit!



learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Why is the United Kingdom called that?
  • What is united?

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, also known as the United Kingdom or U.K., is a country composed of four constituent countries.

A constituent country is a small country that is a part of a larger political entity. The four constituent countries that make up the U.K. are:

  1. England
  2. Scotland
  3. Wales
  4. Northern Ireland

Take a look at the maps below. Find each of the countries that make up the United Kingdom.

  • How would you describe the relative location of the U.K. in relationship to mainland Europe, the continent it is a part of?
  • How would you describe the geography of the region?

Write your responses on a separate piece of paper.

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The United Kingdom, Great Britain, or England?

The terms "United Kingdom," "Great Britain," and "England" are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to different things. To get a better understanding of these terms, you first have to understand the geography of the U.K.

The U.K. is an island country, meaning it is detached from mainland Europe and is completely surrounded by water on all sides. It comprises the largest and second-largest islands that make up the British Isles, a group of islands off the northwest coast of Europe. The U.K. is bordered by the English Channel to the south, the North Sea to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the northwest. The Irish and Celtic Seas sit between the larger U.K. island and Northern Ireland. The larger island consists of England, Wales, and Scotland. The second-largest island consists of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is not considered part of the U.K.

Now that you know the geography of the region, you can better understand the names given to the region. The United Kingdom refers to the four constituent countries that make up the country as a whole (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland). Great Britain or Britain refers to the largest of the British Isles, which consists of England, Wales, and Scotland. Finally, England refers to the largest country in the U.K., which is a part of Great Britain.

What is the weather like in the U.K.?

Take a look at the Köppen climate map below. The Köppen climate classification system is one of the most commonly used systems for identifying climate zones. It is named for the person who invented it, Russian climatologist Wladimir Köppen.

  • What type of climate would you find in the U.K.?

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The U.K. is characterized by a warm oceanic climate. The country receives a lot of moisture from the surrounding seas and ocean, meaning precipitation is common throughout the year. The surrounding bodies of water also play a role in moderating the temperature, making for cool winters and summers.

How is each constituent country governed?

Seeing as the U.K. is one country made of several smaller countries, you may be wondering how each of these countries operates, and what government oversees everything.

The U.K. is both a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. A constitutional monarchy is a government where a monarch is the head of state (the public representative of a country) and a prime minister is the head of government. The prime minister oversees Parliament, which is the legislative (law-making) body in the U.K. A parliamentary democracy is a government run by an elected parliament that represents the people. The capital of the U.K. is London, England, and it is there where you will find the government and its leaders.

Big Ben

In 1999, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland were given regional governments. Most of these regional governments have power over issues in their countries such as healthcare, education, housing, transportation, the environment, and agriculture. Scotland’s Parliament also has the power to increase or decrease the British income tax rate within Scotland by up to three percentage points. While the regional governments are given some power, the British Parliament still maintains power over foreign affairs, national defense, social security, and economic policy.

  • Why do you think it is important for each country to have its own regional government?
  • Why do you think England does not have a regional government?
  • How do the parliament and regional governments compare to the federal and state governments used in the United States?

Write your responses on a separate piece of paper.

What language do people speak in the U.K.?

The official language of the U.K. is English. 98% of the U.K.’s population speak English as their primary language. The remaining 2% speak Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, or Polish as their primary language.

How does the U.K. make money?

Innovation, technology, natural resources, and leading industries have led to the U.K. being one of the wealthiest regions in the world. The U.K. led the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s, which was a time of massive industrial and technological growth, and has remained a leader in industry and technology ever since. Manufacturing continues to be a large industry in the region because companies such as Jaguar are based in the U.K.

Today, what has become even more important to the U.K.’s economy are the natural energy resources it offers. Not only does it offer large coal reserves, but it also has large oil reserves in the North Sea. North Sea Oil is one of the most well-known oil companies in the world.

In addition to manufacturing and energy, the U.K. also plays a role in international trade through agriculture, fishing, and forestry. The U.K. also has a large tourist industry because millions of people travel to the U.K. each year to experience its geography, history, and culture.

Now, take some time to review what you have learned by reading What’s the Difference Between England, Britain and the U.K.? (Erin Blakemore, You will see the article reference the EU. EU stands for European Union, and it is a coalition of European countries who work together to unify Europe. You will have an opportunity to learn more about the EU in the Got It? section. For now, as you read the article, answer the following questions on a separate piece of paper:

  1. How far away is Great Britain located from the mainland of Europe?
  2. What is the official language in Wales?
  3. What are three territories that belong to the U.K.?
  4. What is a crown dependent country?
  5. What is the Commonwealth Realm?

You probably noticed there are a number of countries throughout the world that have their own governments and status but wish to be linked to the U.K. in some way.

  • Why do you think that is?

Discuss your response to this question with your teacher or parent.

Now, move on to the Got It? section to learn more about the EU and the role the U.K. plays in it.

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