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, and language.



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., comprises four constituent countries.

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

  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 refer to different things. To better understand these terms, you first have to understand the geography of the U.K.

The U.K. is an island country, detached from mainland Europe and surrounded by water on all sides. It comprises the most significant and second-largest islands, the British Isles, a group of islands off the northwest coast of Europe.

The U.K. borders 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 more oversized U.K. island and Northern Ireland.

The larger island consists of England, Wales, and Scotland. The second-largest island comprises Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which are not considered part of the U.K.

Now that you know the region's geography, you can better understand the names given to the area. The United Kingdom refers to the four constituent countries that comprise the country (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 is the largest country in the U.K. and is 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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A warm oceanic climate characterizes the U.K. 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?

As the U.K. is one of several smaller countries, you may wonder how each country operates and what government oversees everything.

The U.K. is 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, the legislative (law-making) body in the U.K.

A parliamentary democracy is a government run by an elected parliament representing 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 essential 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 speaks 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, a time of massive industrial and technological growth, and has remained a leader in industry and technology ever since. Manufacturing continues to be a significant industry in the region because companies such as Jaguar are based in the U.K.

Today, the natural energy resources it offers have become more critical to the U.K.'s economy. 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.

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

Review what you have learned as you read What’s the Difference Between England, Britain and the U.K.?. This article references the E.U. E.U. stands for European Union, a coalition of European countries working together to unify Europe.

You can learn more about the E.U. in the Got It? section. As you read the article, answer the following questions on a separate piece of paper.

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

You probably noticed several countries worldwide have their governments and status but wish to be linked to the U.K. somehow.

  • Why do you think that is?

Move on to the Got It? section to learn more about the E.U. and the role the U.K. plays in it.

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