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How to Teach Geography in a Fun Way

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?  Okay, I’m being sarcastic, but we need to teach geography because geographical knowledge among elementary students is sorely lacking!

How I taught Geography in a Fun Way

But why is geographical knowledge important?  History and Science!  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 basic geography on a world map for his History class!

How can you understand animal adaptations if you don’t know about biomes with different landforms and water bodies?  The answer is:  teach geography!

Why should you teach geography?

So, where do you start to teach Geography?

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 and other passages about landforms and maps. The Social Studies text covers basic landforms 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.  You can read more about how I use this APP HERE.

I also use various read-alouds, which are useful for developing the vocabulary.

Use these books to teach geography

Though California has just adopted a new Social Studies/History Framework, the third-grade section 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.
  • Using a PowerPoint I created to introduce the landforms and bodies of water and give them basic definitions of each landform and body of water.
  • Have the students make a Mini-Book of the landforms and bodies of water
  • The students create a 3D landform using salt and flour dough
  • Integrating videos and other technology, such as QR codes
  • Having the students practice labeling maps

Last year I created a basic Landforms and Bodies of Water PowerPoint covering 14 landforms and 6 bodies of water.   I added animation, sound, and music! I also created a printable and a mini-book.

I used this PowerPoint to teach geography

How does the PowerPoint Work?

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. I did this on purpose because I 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.

PowerPoint, Posters, Printable and Mini-book

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.  I call it a “kit” because it includes a PowerPoint, posters, vocabulary cards, printable and mini-book, and a project.

Salt and Flour Map Project to Teach Geography

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 cut down…though any piece of cardboard will do).

Making salt and flour maps for landforms and bodies of water

You have to ensure the students press the dough down firmly to get the dough to stick to the cardboard initially.  From there, they sculpt it into a landform or body of water and make it 3D.  They don’t have to cover it since we would also paint it. Drying takes a day; then, I have the students paint it.

salt and flour maps to teach geography

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 do stay up all year and never fall apart!

salt and flour maps

Directions for making the salt and flour maps are included in the Landforms and Bodies of Water PowerPoint Teaching Kit.

Another Focus Area When You Teach Geography is the location!

Finding one’s location on a map is important!  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, the United States, and North America.  They should learn which states are California’s neighbors and some big states like Texas, Florida, New York, and others.  They should learn to identify the general location of important cities in California, including their own.

Using QR Codes to teach geography

Usually, I give each student blank maps of the world, the USA, and California. Then, I project each map and help them fill it out.  This year, I tried something different.  I found links to world, USA, and California maps online.

Using QR Codes in my 1:1 Classroom

I turned these links into QR codes (like barcodes) and 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 used the filled-in online maps to fill in their blank maps.  I felt this was more beneficial because the students 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

Get a FREEBIE to Teach Geography using 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 live outside California.

Sign up for a FREEBIE QR Codes

Sign up for my NEWSLETTER below, and I’ll email you the link to the FREEBIE.

Here’s How the QR Codes Work

You must open the PDF file in Adobe Acrobat Reader 11.0 or above.

To use the California version, print out the QR code 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, 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 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.

Final Student Homework Project

The culmination of this unit is a homework project.  I have the students create a photo album from a template. They must select six landforms or bodies of water to illustrate (no printing from the Internet, though actual personal photographs are allowed) and write a description or definition on the back of each photo.

Camera Homework Project

Then, I give them a camera template 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 visited or a made-up story).  They also have to include a souvenir (actual) or make one.  When the project is turned in, they share it with classmates.

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

What are your favorite ways to teach geography?  Share in the comments below.

Also, follow my Pinterest Board on Teaching Geography in Elementary in Elementary Grades!

Don’t Go Yet!

Are you new to the 1:1 classroom setting? Then, you’ll want to read my Valuable Tips for the 1:1 Classroom.

Check out how I use Google Classroom to present at Back to School Night for Parents.

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How to Teach Geography in a Fun Way
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