I seem to remember reading on PT quite some time ago about a teacher who used circles within circles to teach this. The largest circle would be country, inside that a good-sized circle to represent state, inside that one a smaller circle for city... tiny one for neighborhood. It shows them that they are a part of many communities at once. You could try it using your school, too. The whole school, all kids in the same grade...their class.
This is something I see students struggling with when they come to me as sixth graders.
It is such an abstract concept that young ones can really struggle with it.
The circle idea may help with the concept, but applying it may still be a challenge for some.
Once they are older, and are more aware of their surroundings - they seem to grasp easier by making it relevant to their own town/city, state, country, continent and so on.
Sometimes the young don't even realize what state they are in.
Shoot, I still have 6th graders who don't know their address at the start of the year. Scary!
Let me know if you come up with something good that works!
using concrete objects inside each other. A laundry basket for continent,a box for country, a coffee can for state, a mug for city and a clothespin for the person. Show the kids the clothespin and say something to the effect of :
This is you. You live in NYC (place clothespin in mug). NYC is in New York State (place mug w/ clothespin into coffee can), New York State is in the USA (place all into box) and the USA is in North America (place all in laundry basket). Having this unique visual can really help!
I have used this method to teach the food chain but it could easily be applied to this topic as well. Start with a big box/cylinder (like clorox wipes) this is your continent, next find something that will fit inside that (smaller coffee can) this is your country, now find a cylinder small enough to fit in the coffee can (state) and so on and so forth. Honestly I went to the dollar store and found boxes that go inside each other (think nesting dolls). I wrapped them in plain wrapping paper and wrote each stage on the outside. This method works like a charm, its visual and the boxes can only fit together one way so it drives the point home!
Have you tried the book Me on the Map? It is actually a first grade book but really breaks it down. Goes from me in my room all the way to me on my planet! I used it in first and second and had them make their own books using photocopied maps of our city and state. They drew the rest.