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Curriculum Review, January 2013 | Go to article overview
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Exploring Geography: 10 Fresh Ideas

It's easy to feel like your lesson plans and activities have become stale after teaching them for too long. Consider these 10 fresh ideas and resources from the New York Times Learning Network to give your geography and social studies teachings a new spin:

1. Geography Bingo--Create a bingo card with each space describing a task that will acquaint students with geography study. For example, have them search for an article describing certain countries, identify places on a large map or describe the climate in another country. Once five spaces in a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line have had their tasks completed, students have BINGO! Find a board to inspire you at http://graphics8.nytimes.com/im-ages/blogs/learning/pdf/2012/GeographyStandardsBingo-LN.pdf.

2. Mental Maps--Talk about how we memorize the routes we take each day. For example, your students likely have "mental maps" of their route from home to school, or through the hallways to each class. Discuss the science behind mental mapping and how scientists think we're at risk for losing the skill, thanks to technology's influence. Consider this article to move your discussion: http://ideas.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/19/can-gps-help-your-brain-get-lost/.

3. Defining Maps--Discuss the different kinds of maps we use for different purposes and allow students to identify which maps are best to use in which scenarios. Talk about the different kinds of symbols, images and technologies that accompany maps. Create an activity that has students designing their own maps for things like their drive to school or throughout their homes.

4. Exploring Boundaries--International borders and state lines can sometimes seem arbitrary and can be confusing for students. Examine how states, territories and countries determine their borders and discuss the kinds of things like bodies of water and mountain ranges that contribute to the creation of boundaries. Consider viewing the History Channel's How the States Got Their Shapes documentary series or playing the interactive online game (www.history.com/shows/how-the-states-got-their-shapes).

5. Cultural Perceptions--Lead students in a discussion of stereotypes and perceptions that we have and come to accept about people and places around the world. Where do stereotypes come from, and what harm can come from harboring them? Also discuss cultural implications and how they vary from place to place. For example, consider gestures we make, like the peace sign. Would citizens of Africa recognize the gesture to be friendly as well?

6. Global Economy--Discuss the topic of globalization and what that has meant for jobs and the global market over the years. Talk about how the many natural disasters recent years have seen might have had an effect on such things. The Times suggests: "Ask students to make up a fictional American company that produces a very desirable electronic product, and appoint themselves to the job of vice president in charge of logistics and supplies. Write a memo to your boss recommending a long-term strategy for ensuring that your supply chain is never interrupted for long by an international disaster."

7. Travel Bugs--When we talk about different locations around the world, we talk about more than just the region's place on a map and weather. Lead a discussion about culture, national history and people. Have students write travel journals about their own vacations to different places. Or, ask students to peruse travel magazines and research different countries. Have them write fictional travel logs about a visit to these faraway places, using imagery that brings readers on their trip along with them.

8. Evolving Environment--Many of your students are probably familiar with the term "global warming" and our planet's Ice Age. Talk about environmental change and gather students' ideas on why and how it happens.

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