There are many ways to teach geography. You can use a textbook, curriculum guide, combine with history studies or integrate it with your other subjects. Whatever your choice, be sure to include activities. Most kids love creating their own maps from blank outline maps using an atlas. Geography is a good place to develop or refine memorization skills. It is also perfect for teaching basic research and use of reference materials. Be sure to teach geographical terms and key facts about each place, too. So where do you begin? Many people ask me which should they teach first U.S. or world? There are vigorous advocates on both sides with compelling reasons to support their opinions. I think it’s best to incorporate geography every year with literature, history, cultural studies, Bible, and science. However when you’re ready to focus on a study of geography it makes more sense to teach world geography the same time you cover world history and U.S. geography during U.S. history.
To understand world geography, start with the basics. Introduce the 7 continents and 5 oceans. [Note: Most people don’t realize that in 2000 the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) demarcated and named the 5th ocean. It starts at 60 degrees south latitude, extends to the coast of Antarctica, and covers over 12 million square miles. ] Teach basic map reading skills with an understanding of latitude and longitude. Go over the legend and meaning of symbols and color. Most atlases provide an overview in the beginning of the book.
Encourage students to memorize common facts about our world. Facts such as world extremes, countries and capitals, and more can be memorized through use of flashcards, crossword puzzles, and daily drills. You can find facts in an almanac, encyclopedia, Internet, or in some atlases. The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide has a handy set of cards you can print from the disk to use while memorizing world facts. Flashcards - Students can make flash cards for each continent listing the highest point, lowest point, area, numbers of countries, largest and smallest country, major rivers and bodies of water, deserts, and more. Use these flash cards to memorize facts about each continent. Add another card for facts about the world. Include longest river, highest and lowest point, largest country by area and by population, largest lakes, waterfalls, ocean areas, distance around the equator, distance to the moon and sun, driest and wettest place on earth, and more. Play games with these facts or create your own geography bee challenge monthly, as students learn about the world. Crossword Puzzles – Instruct students to make their own crosswords using the country as a clue and its capital as the answer. Any of the other data obtained, such as those listed above, can be used in a crossword puzzle as well. When students create their own crossword they’ll remember the facts better. To self-test or for geography drill, students answer their own puzzle or swap with others.
You may want to teach geography by focusing on one continent at a time. A good schedule could be something like this:
- North America (includes Central America) 4 weeks
- South America 2 weeks
- Europe 5 weeks
- Africa 5 weeks
- Asia 5-6 weeks
- Oceania 2 weeks
- Antarctica 1 week
- Literature 6-9 weeks (Read and map Around the World in Eighty Days or some other novel that covers the world.)
- Climate and weather patterns, hottest, driest, coldest, wettest places
- Countries and capitals
- Physical features
- Gems and minerals
- Popular landmarks
- Flora and fauna
- Natural disasters
- Food specialties
- Principle crops
- Major buildings
- Active volcanoes
- Population densities
- Current events
Schedule some time for review so you never feel like you’re behind. Sometimes your children may want to spend more time in an area because you have piqued their interest. By all means adapt your schedule to indulge those teaching moments.
While studying each continent students should learn about the physical features. This is a good time to focus on geography terms. If students learn 2 terms a week they will know over 70 terms in a typical school year. Make flash cards with the term on one side and the definition on the reverse. Or have students create an illustrated geography dictionary with the definition and a drawing or photography depicting each physical feature.
Study 3-5 or more countries for each continent. Learn about the culture, language, principle crops, bodies of water, economy, language, currency, form of government, and major religion(s). Identify famous people from science, arts, athletics, exploration and more from each country. Make sure they also know what countries and bodies of water surround each country of focus. Select from any of the following or adapt these suggestions to suit your own ideas:
- Cook a popular meal or a dish from the country.
- Use travel videos from the library to see the country, people, clothing, etc. Make a travel brochure highlighting the popular tourist areas of the country.
- Collect stamps or coins.
- Get a pen pal.
- Make a scrapbook of pictures, newspaper clippings and more.
With a simple set of outline maps, colored pencils, and a student atlas, kids can create their own personal set of maps that accurately depict your history and geography studies. Make a list of what you want on the map. Each continent map should be labeled with the following:
- Country names
- Major landforms – shaded with various colors
- Use brown triangle for mountain peaks
- Shades of green, yellow and orange can depict rising elevations
- Label mountain ranges, plains, deserts and more across the land
- Rivers, lakes and other bodies of water- draw and label in blue
Additional mapping ideas
Use separate outline maps and shade accordingly– take information from the thematic maps provided in the student atlas.
- Land usage
- Population density
- Natural hazards
- Natural resources
Literature? Sure! It’s fun to integrate geography and literature. If you add a novel set in the region you’ll find the study of geography come alive. Be sure students create a map of the places as the story unfolds. Watch for geography terms, and add new terms you have not yet taught.
These are some ideas and a framework for teaching World Geography. Start a geography co-op or join with another family once a week or monthly for students to share what they’ve learned. Prepare an international potluck meal and dress the part. Keep a geography notebook and show the notebook a lot. Your kids will never forget what a great time they spent learning geography. You’ll forgive me if I exaggerate a bit– we can always hope, huh! Cindy
This article uses concepts and ideas from Trail Guide to World Geography and The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide. Copyrighted material. It is unlawful to copy the contents of this page and put on your blog, computer or for any other use, without permission and due credit for the work. For permission contact Cindy through Geography Matters by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.