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Creative ideas for teaching geography

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Teaching geography shouldn't be limited to textbooks
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Simple and creative ideas for teaching geography make it fun

Are you looking for creative ideas for teaching geography? Here are a few ideas for taking geography out of the textbooks and into your students' world.

A little background on why ideas for teaching geography are so desperately needed

Year after year, educators and journalists alike have bemoaned the lack of geographic knowledge among our nation's young people. A Houston Chronicle article earlier this year reported that "Only half of fourth-graders correctly put the following in descending order of size: North America, the U.S., California and Los Angeles."   The article was based on the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) report on the levels of geographic knowledge among our nation's school children.

Forget the book.  You have the world.

One of the least effective way to teach geography is with a text book. If your goal in teaching geography is to improve students' knowledge of the world, why not use the world as your teaching tool?

Focus on ways to make the learning meaningful, instead of more to be memorized.  Here are some effective...and affordable...ways to do just that.

Take one big map, add postcards

Before the days of the Internet, people often had pen pals in other countries.  A few pockets of that still exist, most notably PostCrossing.  This free-to-register website lets you sign up to participate in postcard exchanges with other members across the globe. 

Register for an account, then gather some postcards from your local area.  Hang a large world map on the wall (inexpensive ones are available at most educational supply stores) and have the students mark the places your class sends cards, and the places from which you receive cards. 

Tie the locations into mini-lessons on the history, language and culture of the country. Students who see the map every day, and must find locations to match up postcards will learn far more quickly than if you were teaching geography from a book or worksheets.

Plan a trip-of-the-week

Many teachers have had students create a mock itinerary as a way of learning both geography and planning. But once the assignment is over, the information is quickly forgotten.

Instead of a major itinerary assignment, have your students draw locations from a jar each Monday.  Give them the school week to locate their spot on a map, plan a route from your city to the chosen location, and find three or four things they would like to see there.

These mini-assignments will build world geography knowledge through-out the year.

You are here

Sometimes kids don't realize that geography isn't just about far away places. 

One of the ways to build a picture of the world is to start where you are. Begin with a map of the school, with your classroom marked "You Are Here." 

The next week, expand it to a map of your neighborhood, your city, your county, your state or province, and then your country. Week by week, move into continents, hemispheres, images of your location relative to other countries and continents. 

By the end of the year, you students will not only know where they are, they will have a good grasp on where every one else is as well. 

For older students, consider adding an assignment that involves a location in which an ancestor lived. Because it's unlikely they would know an address, have them start from the smallest unit they do know, be it a city, county, or country.

Think outside the box...and outside the book

Other ideas for teaching geography include using food and recipes, interactive globes, visits to embassies and popular geography games like "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego." 

So close the book.  And open the world to your students.

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