How to Help Your Students Think Geographically – No Matter What You Teach

Michael Robinson, our 2019 West Tennessee Teacher of the Year and high school social studies teacher at Houston High School in Germantown, shares this second article in a three part series on resources for geography instruction.

“It is impossible to understand history, international politics, the world economy, religions, philosophy, or ‘patterns of culture’ without taking geography into account.” – Kenneth C. Davis, author of Don’t Know Much About Geography

Where in the world was this picture taken?*

What questions do students need to ask in order to discover the location of the photo above? What in the photo is different from where we live? What is the possible climate, language, and religion for the location? The purpose of this short activity is to have students think geographically, generate questions, and determine possible answers. This type of thinking does not only take place in a geography classroom. It can be incorporated across almost all other disciplines.

There are plenty of geographic resources, lesson plan ideas, and activities to help teachers support students’ geographic thinking no matter their grade level or content area. Here are a few of my favorites.


National Geographic Reference Library

National Geographic Reference Library

Here is a resource for teachers in all grades. There are over 4,000 activities, articles, lessons, maps, etc., for grades Pre-K to postsecondary. These professional-level resources include subjects such as biology, engineering, religion, physics, mathematics, and chemistry. It is an excellent way to incorporate geography into a wide range of other disciplines. 


United States Embassies and Consulates

There are over 170 foreign embassies in the United States. This website has links to all the embassies and consulates in the United States as well as in all countries around the world. By looking at the official country embassy websites, students are able to learn the country’s point of view on a variety of topics and issues concerning each individual country. The quality of the embassy websites varies from country to country.


TedEd – Geography

This website can be used for almost all school subjects. There is a search function, and the search for “geography” will show 98 total results, with 72 being specific lessons. There are lessons on a wide range of historical and geographical topics from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the day in the life of a Roman soldier. This site is a must for all teachers to find original and professional level lessons and videos. 


Why Children Still Need to Read (and Draw) Maps

This is an article by Deborah Farmer Kris for PBS that provides mainly elementary teachers with activities and books teachers can use to teach students about the importance of maps and community. There is also a list of books teachers could purchase for their classrooms. 


Our World in Data

Our World in Data

This blog provides access to maps, graphs, and articles on a wide range of topics, including population, health, food, energy, environment, technology, war & peace, politics, and education. The maps and graphs are high quality and show great detail. This is an excellent resource for maps and graphs to be used in lessons and student activities. 


Google Maps Education

This site has information on how Google Earth can be used not just with geography but also with history, science, space science, and math. Unfortunately, as with other websites, this particular website has some dead links. However, there are plenty of ideas of how geography can be interdisciplinary. There are also links to Google Street View for an eclectic set of topics from art to the Holocaust to Nelson Mandela.


Population Reference Bureau

Population Reference Bureau

This website has an updated data sheet with each country’s most current demographic details from population, birth rate, life expectancy, urban population, etc. This is an excellent resource that students could use to create charts and graphs. The website also has articles on topics such as aging, health and nutrition, gender, poverty, and more. Here is the link to 2018’s data sheet. 2019’s data sheet will be released in August or September.


Be sure to check back on Friday for the third and last post in this series: Do You Want to Play a Game? Interesting and Fun Geography Websites.

*Answer to where the top photo was taken: Bermuda, an island in the Atlantic Ocean where people drive on the left side of the road, speak English, use kilometers instead of miles, and are mostly Christians. All of this is a result of Bermuda’s being part of the United Kingdom.