Where in the World is Geography in an Elementary Classroom?

Teaching geography to elementary students is essential.


Does anyone teach Geography anymore?  Why can't students look at a map and recognize the state they live in?  The country they live in?  The continent they live on?  Do they at least recognize the Planet Earth?  Ok, I'm being sarcastic, but geographical knowledge among elementary students is lacking.  But why is geographical knowledge important?  History!  How can you teach or learn about historical events if you don't have some basic geographical knowledge.  Even my seventh-grade son had to review some basic geography on a world map for his History class!

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Teaching geography to elementary students is essential.


So where do you start?  In third grade it is the first unit I teach.  I integrate Language Arts with Social Studies by using the Social Studies text as our reading material as well as other passages about landforms and maps.  The Social Studies text covers basic landforms found in California (I am in California).  I take pictures of the pages from our Social Studies text (Reflections) on my iPad and use the PDFexpert app to project them for shared reading.  I also use various read-alouds which are very useful for developing the vocabulary.


Teaching geography to elementary students is essential.



Though California has just adopted a new Social Studies/History Framework, the third-grade section it continues to state that third graders should study landforms and how these landforms have shaped the history of California.

So how do I teach these landforms, bodies of water and basic map skills?
  • My read-alouds have been carefully chosen to introduce the vocabulary and general knowledge
    • My shared reading focuses on the definitions of each landform and body of water
    • I use a PowerPoint I created to introduce the landforms and bodies of water and give them basic definitions of each landform and body of water
    • I have the students make a Mini-Book of the landforms and bodies of water
    • I have the students create a 3D landform using salt and flour dough
    • I integrate videos and other technology such as QR codes
    • I have the students practice labeling maps
    • I have the students make a Me on the Map flap book to learn their locations on the map

    Last year I created a PowerPoint with the basic landforms and bodies of water.  I used it with my class and I felt it was lacking, so this year I added animation, sound, and music! I also created a printable and a mini-book.  Those activities took the place of similar activities I had done before but now it was fully integrated with the PowerPoint. 



    Teaching geography to elementary students is essential.



    The PowerPoint covers 20 basic landforms and bodies of water.  The order in the PowerPoint is alphabetical, but the printable is not!  So each time we came to a new landform or body of water, the student had to find the corresponding illustration.  That was on purpose because I really wanted them to pay attention to the details of the landform or body of water.  Under each illustration, we also listed 3 - 4 keywords that would describe the landform.  These words would then be used later to fill in a Mini-Book on the landforms and bodies of water.


    Here's a video showing how the PowerPoint works:




    As part of this resource, I also made a poster for each landform and body of water.  I used these to quiz the students during in between moments of the day.  Then I hung them up in my room to be used as a resource for the rest of the year.  You can find all these resources HERE in my Landforms and Bodies of Water Teaching Kit.



    Teaching geography to elementary students is essential.



    Every year I also have the students pair up to create 3D versions of the landforms.  I use a basic salt and flour recipe to create a play-dough like dough to have the students create a specific landform or body of water on top of a shoebox top (or a shoebox that's been cut down...though any piece of cardboard will do).  You have to make sure the students press the dough down firmly to initially get the dough to stick to the cardboard.  From there they sculpt it into the landform or body of water and make it 3D.  They don't have to cover all of it since we would also be painting it. It takes a day to dry, then I have the students paint it.  Once the paint is dry, I put very strong book tape on the back of each shoebox top and tape them to the wall near the posters of the landforms.  They actually do stay up all year and never fall apart!



    Teaching geography to elementary students is essential.




    Teaching geography to elementary students is essential.



    Another area of focus is just understanding one's location and where to find yourself on a map!  We make a Me on the Map flap book in which they list and draw the following:

    • Home Address
    • City
    • State
    • Country
    • Continent
    • Planet
    I also want them to be able to look at a map and recognize basic map shapes:  California, United States, and North America.  I want them to know which states are California's neighbors as well as some of the big states like Texas, Florida, New York and others.  I want them to be able to identify the general location of important cities in California, including their own.



    Teaching geography to elementary students is essential.



    Usually, I would just give each student blank maps of the World, USA, and California.  Then I would project each map and I would help them fill it out.  This year, I tried something different.  I found links to a world map, USA map and California map online.  Then I turned these links into QR codes (which are like barcodes).  I made a special sheet with the barcodes and instructions on what to do.  The students used the built-in webcam on the Chrome Books to scan the QR codes and then use the filled in online maps to fill in their blank maps.  I felt this was more beneficial because the students actually had to pay attention to map shapes and details.  Some even wanted to fill in all 50 states!

    Here's a video of one of my students using the QR codes






    I've created a FREEBIE that contains the 3 QR codes (world, USA, and California) and an editable PDF version so you can add your own state if you're not in California.



    Teaching geography to elementary students is essential.



    The only requirement to use it is to open the PDF file in Adobe Acrobat Reader 11.0 or above.  To use the California version, just print out the QR codes sheet and make copies for the student.  Then provide them with blank maps of the world, the USA, and California.  

    Here are links to blank maps.




    If you are not in California, just use the 2nd QR Code sheet.  You will first need to find a link to a map of your state.  Copy the link and go to qrstuff.com  It will generate a QR code image for you to insert into the field on the second QR Code sheet.  Detailed instructions are provided in the FREEBIE.



    Teaching geography to elementary students is essential.



    The culmination of this unit is a homework project.  I have the students create a photo album from a template in which they have to select 6 landforms or bodies of water to illustrate (no printing from the internet, though actual personal photographs are allowed) and then write a description or definition on the back of each photo.  Then I also give them a camera template that they cut out and glue onto an empty butter box.  They can decorate the camera any way they want.  Another requirement is to write a story about visiting a landform (one they've actually visited or a made up story).  They also have to include a souvenir (actual) or make one.  When the project is turned in, they get to share with classmates.

    So there you have it.  This unit lasts about 4 weeks.  Now the students are ready to study history!

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