6 Questions to Make Geography Fun Essay

Today a co-worker walked in my room, looked at the physical map of Europe I had up, frowned and said, “Is that boring to teach?” I smiled and said “absolutely not!”  Done right, lessons on physical geography fill the class with excitement, wonder and a sense of wanderlust. They make geography fun. It can be the next best thing to an overseas vacation. The world is a huge and wonderful place, and one that should make our students go “Wow!”

We can make geography fun by providing context. And if you make geography fun, you make knowledge sticky. It won’t leave their brains. Without context geography is just an abstraction, lines and symbols on maps that leave their brain almost as soon as they enter it. If that happens, before you know it you’ll see your student on Jay Leno’s jaywalk all-stars and feel sad inside.

To provide context, I study geography through this question: How does geography shape the people that live there? I use 6 smaller questions to study that. Each question provides a different lens they can use to understand physical geography.

Note: I always study a continent by breaking it down into major geographical features, and then assigning small groups of students to research. It’s much easier to wrap their minds around the Nile River than all of Africa. I’ll write about different project ideas tomorrow.

1.) Don’t just tell me how big it is, what can you compare it to?
Strangely, numbers aren’t the best tool for helping us understand the size of things. The problem with numbers is there are so many of them. Oooh the Shara Desert is 3 million square miles you say? That sounds really, really big.

But everyone will grasp the idea of it’s size better if you say the Sahara Desert is the size of the United States. Now that I can grasp! Take Mount Everest, 29,028 feet above sea level is impressive, but I’m more likely to remember it’s about 20 Empire State Buildings tall. Context matters.

(Also, I just was informed by a student that Russia is the size of Pluto, which should be the definitive nail in Pluto’s planet coffin.)

2.) How do people dress there and why?
Here I’m asking about the climate, and how people uniquely adapt to it. Here you start to touch on what makes travel so fun, different people, different cultures, a different way of doing things.

3.) What animals live there and how people make use of them?
Camels providing transportation, meat and milk, sheep providing wool, fish for eating, the list goes on and on.

4.) What grows there, and what do people grow there?
Is it a jungle, a grassland, a forest? What grows naturally? What do people grow there to eat?

5.) What do people eat there?
Don’t let them say McDonald’s. Globalized conglomerates don’t count. This question can be the basis of some very delicious research projects.

6.) Are there any unique ways of building houses or types of transportation there?
As suburbs spring up and more and more people start driving, sometimes the answer to this question is no. But when the answer is yes, it’s usually pretty awesome.

With these questions, students still have to study the size, location, climate, vegetation, etc of any given location. But they make geography fun and let them study it in a very real, very human context that they can understand. In the process they’ll discover something, that makes them go “Wow.”

High School
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