It is not challenging to make geography class fun and engaging if you use some of the ideas below. Unfortunately, Social Sciences get a bad reputation for being boring – which is the farthest from the truth. Gone are the days of independently reading the textbook and silently writing the answers in your notebook. Geography classes today thanks to technology and creative teaching strategies can be fun.
Ideas On How To Make Geography Class Fun
VR Field Trips
To have students engage with a virtual reality (VR) field trip you will need a Google Cardboard or cheaper alternative per student or for a group of students. 6 of these VR viewers make for a great station activity in your classroom. Students will need to download a VR app for their phone (with parent permission and adhering to district tech guidelines as many apps are 18+). If your school has a tech budget any app ready device such as a small tablet, cheap smartphone or iPod would work. Once the tech is set up students search the field trip name they are to attend and put the VR viewer up to their face. Then they can walk around the room and view the location in 3D as if they are really there. Possible apps: Google Cardboard, Google Expeditions, Within VR, YouTube VR. Want more VR apps? Read this list from The Guardian.
Geography lends itself nicely to simulation activities – examining rocks, dirt, minerals, soil. I also saw this great lesson online where the teacher gives each student a chocolate chip cookie and a toothpick. Students must extract the “minerals” (chocolate chips) from the mountain (cookie) , usually only a toothpick. They have to be careful not to completely destroy the mountain (cookie). What parts of your curriculum could be explored through a simulation?
Cut and Paste Lessons
Students need to talk and work with their hands to stay engaged at school. I like to use cut and paste activities a few times a year to give students time to work together with their peers while trying to match the lesson content together. Turn your vocabulary or definition lessons into an interactive cut and paste activity with students cutting apart items that then need to be matched up before gluing. Always tell students to raise their hand and get their work checked over by a teacher before the final glue.
QR Code Vocab
If you want a more tech-focused lesson – have students review and learn new vocabulary and concepts using QR codes. I create QR codes and post them up around the room or on a Google Slideshow. Students then use school technology or personal tech to scan the codes which then show embedded information on the device. I use QR codes in vocabulary scavenger hunts to launch new units. Students get to get up and move around the classroom, work with their peers and acquire new vocabulary/concepts. QR codes can also be embedded into Hyperdocs, Google Docs, Google Slides and other tech programs for virtual use.
Interactive Notebook Lessons
Another cutting and pasting activity is replacing a simple graphic organizer with an interactive version of the organizer that requires students to cut, fold and paste. I use a few of these types of lessons each year to add variety to my note-taking methods.
Geoguesser is a fantastic website where students are put in a location around the world and have to use geographic clues (landforms, trees, vegetation etc) to guess where they are. This is a favourite in my class because the whole class can participate. I give each student scrap paper (goos paper) and then we all write down our guesses together. I ask for volunteers to share their guesses – but their guesses must be backed up by evidence from the photos. What a fantastic cross-curricular literacy link!
The internet has connected teachers all around the world. Make connections with another class and set up a time to have a Skype, Zoom or Google Meet. Each student in both classes gets 1 question they can ask the other class. After all of the questions, students have to guess where the other class is located.
Virtual Field Trips
No permission slip needed for students to visit places that are too far from your school. A quick Google search of the topic with the words “virtual field trip” will yield results. I have linked a few websites so teachers can get ideas for virtual field trips they can go on with their students.
Google has a plethora of tools for Geography teachers. I have linked two popular tools below for you to explore.
- Google Maps – students can view local, national and global maps as well as use the street view or satellite views over certain areas.
- Google Earth – students can explore the Earth and create their own custom trips with placemarks.
Videos are a great way for students to learn information. But be very mindful of how long your video is. No one wants to watch an 11-hour documentary. I really like the videos created by the YouTube channel Crash Course Kids. Many school districts pay for streaming video services so check with your media resource teacher or school librarian to find out what might be available for your classes. Read 12 Ways A School Librarian Can Help Classroom Teachers.
Students love to give their opinions and I want them to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts in my classroom. I use this Hot Topics Assignment to get students exploring controversial issues related to Geography. Students are responsible for researching a “hot topic” of their choice and then leading the class in a structured discussion/debate. Possible topics: hybrid cars, recycling, oil sands, offshore drilling.
A huge push in the Social Studies realm has been for more inquiry-based lessons. I have students complete at least four inquiries per year in my History and Geography classes.
Want more information on inquiry?
- Check out this blog post on Inquiry and Project-Based Learning.
- Check out this video from John Spencer What is Inquiry-Based Learning?
- Read this monograph.
I love using virtual or in-person gallery walks to get students thinking about different topics and concepts. Below is a brief outline of how to conduct a gallery walk in person or virtual.
- Post several large sheets of paper around your classroom or the hallway, each is a “station” in your Gallery Walk. On each piece of paper showcase one of the following: a question, textbook reading, picture, quote, map, etc.
- Divide your class into groups of 2 – 4 students. There should not be more groups than stations. Set a visual timer so students know when it is time to rotate to another station. I give students 3-4 minutes per station depending on the activity.
- Each group visits each station and responds to the question or other things on that station’s paper. Students can write their thoughts on the main paper or they can have a graphic organizer to collect their thoughts and share during the class discussion.
- Once students have visited all stations, have them return to their seats and discuss what was written at each station as a class.
- This can be completed virtually using Hyperdocs or a Google Slideshow. Each Gallery Walk station becomes its own Google Slide and students use technology to view the slideshow and respond in a digital or paper document.
When I need to cover a lot of different topics I create stations for my students to rotate through. These stations can be completed in person with paper and a Chromebook at each table or virtually using Hyperdocs. Each station is related to one specific topic with a specific task for students to complete before they leave that station and rotate to another. I mix up the activities at each station so they are not all readings or watching videos. Use some of the ideas from this blog post to create your station activities.
I have created two Geography units that I have used in my classroom and have been used by classrooms around Canada and the world.
Physical Geography (landforms, natural resources, natural disasters)
Teachers are provided with 37 in-depth lessons to help their students explore and understand physical patterns in a changing world as well as natural resources around the world use and sustainability.
Physical geography topics covered: landforms, water systems, vegetation regions, climate regions, challenges presented by the physical environment. Natural resources topics covered: types, issues, extraction methods, perspectives on use, the impact of use, environmental concerns and energy types. Buy this resource here. This resource is aligned with the 2018 Ontario Social Studies Curriculum.
Human Geography (population, environmental issues, human’s impact on the Earth)
Teachers are provided with 32 in-depth lessons to help their students explore and understand global settlement patterns and their effect on the environment as well as lessons on economic development and quality of life. Buy this resource here. This resource is aligned with the 2018 Ontario Social Studies Curriculum.
This article has provided 14 different ways to make geography class fun for teachers and students. Do not try to add all of these ideas to every lesson or every unit you teach. Select 1 or 2 to try out this school year and add more as you become more familiar and comfortable with these concepts.