Geography frequently takes a back seat to history in the social studies classroom, but teaching geographic literacy is essential if students are going to understanding the challenges and opportunities of our complex world.
We have created 10 activities for teaching about geography using Times content, all related to the National Geography Standards, which were produced by the Geography Education National Implementation Project.
Our list is a grab-bag of ideas — from designing maps to analyzing border conflicts — and teachers can use the activities in any order, or as a road map for tracking ongoing coverage of geography-related issues.
1. Start with Geography Bingo: Use this BINGO card, which lists many of the geography standards, and find examples of stories from The New York Times that take on topics like migration, culture and ecosystems in various ways. When you have a diagonal, horizontal or vertical row of examples, you have “Bingo!” Students can search either a print copy of the paper or the online archives. (Each of the concepts in the squares was taken from the National Geography Standards.)
2. People use mental maps to understand the world. Every time you memorize a route to the grocery store or plot a route through the subway, you’re using a mental map. It’s one of the key tools a geographically skilled person uses to navigate their world. Read these stories on the science of mental mapping and the risks of losing such skills because of technology. Then ask students to think of a time when they got lost or figured out how to find something, drawing and annotating their own mental maps to tell the story. Post them in a classroom “Atlas of the Mind” exhibit.
3. Some maps are better than others. What exactly is a ‘map,’ and what does it do? Ask students to define the term. Then look at these examples of maps in The New York Times that use technology, symbols or images to broaden our understanding. Ask students to explain what each map shows, and how it conveys more information than a simple road map. Then students can brainstorm and design their own maps of a place they know well, a location described in a film or novel, or an imaginary place, using similar methods to convey detail and enhance people’s understanding.
4. Groups struggle over boundaries. Palestinians and Israelis have struggled for generations over the question of borders. Earlier this month the United Nations General Assembly voted to grant Palestine nonmember observer status, just a week after the latest cease-fire in the conflict and 65 years after the U.N. first called for the creation of separate Jewish and Arab nations in the land then known as Palestine. Why has it taken so long to draw one map? Ask students to brainstorm the factors that have kept Palestinians and Israelis from reaching a final agreement on territory and borders. Then watch this series of five videos, noting the arguments and obstacles cited by each side. Does the conflict seem intractable, or do you see signs of progress?
As a culminating activity, ask students to look for other examples of boundary conflicts in the Borderlines blog at The New York Times, and hold a class contest to find the most interesting or compelling examples that no one has ever heard of.
5. Culture affects perceptions and stereotypes of other places. Everyone holds opinions about other cultures, and they can easily lead to misunderstandings or disputes. Lead students through a safe introductory discussion of stereotyping. Then read highlights from this interview of a business executive who has learned from his mistakes working in Asia and this story about perceptions about immigration in Europe, and discuss the main points or lessons of each story. Ask students to search the archives and track coverage in The New York Times for examples of stereotyping in all cultures, gathering examples and making presentations on how people can resist or counteract this all-too-human tendency.
6. The world’s economy is interconnected, for good and ill. It’s old news that globalization has sent many American jobs overseas. But how exactly does the process work, and what happens when there’s a glitch? Watch this video on the iPhone economy, which explains what happens when the United States gains (or loses) 1,000 manufacturing jobs. Then read stories about how floods in Thailand and an earthquake and tsunami in Japan threw a monkey wrench in the global supply chain. 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. Geography isn’t just about places on a map; it’s about the people, culture, history and landscape of those places. And every vacation or travel story provides an opportunity to gather information and describe those places. Read some examples of colorful, descriptive writing in the Travel Section of The New York Times, like the Frugal Traveler blog and the Journeys columns. Then ask students to write their own travel stories about a place they’ve visited, either locally or farther from home, using vivid examples and description to help readers fully imagine that place.
8. People change or modify the environment for better or worse. Since the dawn of time, populations have grown and expanded. Read about the growth of cities within the Brazilian rain forest, and watch a video about efforts in Paraguay to protect similar woodlands. Then explore the Dot Earth blog at The New York Times to find more stories about the effort to balance environmental and human needs, like this project by scientists to map gas leaks in cities. Ask students to pick a topic related to humanity’s management of the environment and global resources, track coverage and identify the most promising solutions, presenting their findings in a Sustainability Fair.
9. Physical systems affect or threaten people. From storms and earthquakes to global warming, it’s clear that the physical environment exerts a powerful effect on people. Sometimes, as with Hurricane Sandy, the impact is destructive. But environmental challenges also offer opportunities for people to create new industries and systems to provide a safer future. Brainstorm with students on whether the New York City metropolitan region ought to take steps to prevent future storm-related flooding, or simply move the city to higher ground. Then read this story on floodgates in Connecticut, a proposal for inflatable subway-stoppers and this Room for Debate feature. As a culminating activity, students can write letters to local officials suggesting the wisest policy.
10. People settle or migrate to new places. People make decisions on where to live for all kinds of reasons; some are pulled to a new destination, while others are pushed or blocked from leaving by factors beyond their control. Divide students into small groups, and assign each group to read one of these stories about migration trends within the United States, Asia, Europe and Latin America, or find their own stories in the archives of The New York Times. For each story, students can fill in a Post-it note under the heading “Pushed,” “ Pulled” or “Blocked,” summarizing the situation and posting it on a class map of the world. Each group can then present their findings to the class.
Common Core ELA Standards, 6-12
1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.
Speaking and Listening
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively and orally.
4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.
Questions about issues in the news for students 13 and older.
Teaching ideas based on New York Times content.
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