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Identifying Patterns: Why Do Some Flags Look Similar?

Flag map of the world

Flag map of the world [via Wikimedia Commons]

If you look at any image gallery of the flags of the world (such as the one provided by CultureGrams), you’ll notice that while there are a wide variety of colors and symbols on the flags, there are also some obvious similarities, especially among flags from the same region. These similarities in flag design often reflect a common cultural, political, or religious heritage among the countries with those flags.

Help Students Understand 6 Common Patterns and Themes in World Flags
Use the CultureGrams Flag Gallery to get students started exploring similarities among the flags of the world. Can your students spot any patterns or themes in world flags? What do they think the reasons are for those similarities? (Tip: If students need help understanding the meaning behind the colors and symbols of world flags, check out the helpful explanation on each CultureGrams World and Kids country landing page.)

While there are many patterns to be found in world flags, here’s a quick overview of six common themes:

  1. The Union Jack. The Union Jack is the name of the flag of the United Kingdom, and variations of the Union Jack appear on the flags of some countries and territories that were formerly (or are currently) associated with the United Kingdom. These include Australia, Fiji, Montserrat, New Zealand, Tuvalu, and Niue.
  2. A star and the color red. Many current communist countries include a star/s and the color red on their flags. The star/s typically represent ideas associated with communism or socialism, and the color red stands for revolution. Countries whose flags incorporate this symbolism include China, North Korea, and Vietnam.
  3. The star and crescent. The star and crescent became common during the Ottoman Empire and are now considered traditional symbols of Islam. Flags that use these symbols include those of Algeria, Azerbaijan, Comoros, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives (crescent only), Mauritania, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
  4. The Pan-Arab colors. The Pan-Arab colors are green, red, black, and white. These colors first came from the 1916 flag of the Arab Revolt. A subset of the Pan-Arab colors are the Arab Liberation colors (red, white, and black, with green less prominent), which came into use in the 1950s. Flags with Pan-Arab colors are those of Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, West Bank and Gaza, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Sudan.
  5. The Pan-African colors. There are two sets of Pan-African colors: (1) red, green, and gold, based on the Ethiopian flag, and (2) red, black, and green, based on the 1920 Pan-African flag. Countries may incorporate one or both sets of Pan-African colors into their flags. Not all countries that use the Pan-African colors in their flags are in Africa; some are countries elsewhere with strong African heritage. Flags with Pan-African colors include those of Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Benin, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Togo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, and Guyana.
  6. The Pan-Slavic colors. The Pan-Slavic colors are red, white, and blue. The colors were decided on at the 1848 Prague Slavic Congress and were based on the colors of the Russian flag. Countries whose flags use the Pan-Slavic colors are Croatia, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

What themes and patterns did your students find in the flags? Did they notice the six mentioned above? Did they find others? Let us know on Twitter how your students did by tweeting us at @CultureGrams!

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