And free resources to help you do it!
The Amazon River is in Africa. Dallas is a state. You can drive to Hawaii. Yes–HIGH SCHOOL students have all made these comments in my class. It is no wonder why they have trouble understanding things they read in their book when they have no idea where the story is taking place or how that could influence the book.
If you have read this blog post for a while, you know I am a huge believer in the importance of developing background knowledge. The above examples are REAL and I’m afraid too many students lack the basic knowledge to fully comprehend what they are reading, including basic geographical concepts.
If you were teaching or a student in the late 1980s, you may remember a book by E.D,Hirsch, a University of Virginia professor who wrote about a common body of information he believed every American should know. The book was Cultural Literacy. Whether or not there is a canon of essential information each student should have, I do believe helping our students to get the most from their reading involves activating the background knowledge they have and helping them fill in any gaps.
Real or virtual field trips are one way to develop background knowledge. One source is Common Sense.org. which includes trips to museums, and historical sites. Short videos from sources such as National Geographic or History.com can give your students a quick view of an area.
Frontloading a student with images, artifacts, historical maps, photographs, and interviews can help them to make a connection.
Students wanting to learn geography will enjoy the Sheppard Software site.
Google Lit Trips provides 3D literary field trips. Students travel with characters in stories common stories for elementary through high school. This link gives you a PDF giving a step by step set of instructions to walk you through the process.
World Geographic Resources from the Smithsonian asks students to click on one of the continents and then explore engaging online resources.
Seterra is a free geography website (there is a premium version, but not necessary for the quizzes) which provides quizzes on US States and Capitals, countries on each continents, geophysical regions, and much more.
Warning–some of these are a little addictive!