Teaching Resources

Geography as a Discipline

“Geography is the study of spatial aspects of human existence. . . . Geography has much more to do with asking questions and solving problems than it does with rote memorization of isolated facts.
[It] is an integrative discipline that brings together the physical and human dimensions of the world in the study of people, places, and environments. Its subject matter is the Earth’s surface and the processes that shape it, the relationships between people and environments, and the connections between people and places. “1

1(From Geography for Life, National Geography Standards, 1994. (c) National Geographic Research & Exploration, 1994, on behalf of the American Geographical Society, Association of American Geographers, National Council for Geographic Education, and the National Geographic Society.)

Geography for Life: National Geography Standards were written with the collaboration of several professional organizations involved in geography education and published in 1994 by the National Geographic Society. A list of the 18 standards is available here. The second of edition of this important document was released at the end of September 2012 and is available from the NCGE Store at www.ncge.org. A substantial portion of the document is available on-line, along with other geography resources, at National Geographic’s education website.

The Five Themes of Geography: Location, Place, Human-Environment Interaction, Movement, and Regions have been the traditional way of organizing geographic content. The National Geographic Society suggests activities related to each theme.


Virginia‘s History and Social Science Standards of Learning, supplemented by the “Curriculum Framework,” outline the knowledge and skills in geography that should be mastered by students at each grade level. However, local school divisions have considerable control over their curriculum, which means that some offer a free-standing geography course at the secondary level and some do not. What follows is the state-recommended sequence of courses:

  • In grades K-3, the SOLs identify geography as a separate instructional strand.
  • In grades 4-7, geography content is integrated into other history and social science courses.
  • In grades 8-10, geography is:
    • identified as a subject called World Geography
    • integrated into the two World History courses: World History to 1500 AD and World History since 1500 AD
  • In grades 11-12, some geography is integrated into Virginia and US History and Virginia and United States Government.


Check out some of these other sites for teaching resources:

The Road Map Project: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/education/programs/road-map-project/
The Road Map Project brought together experts in geography, education, and research from across the U.S. to create a set of landmark reports focusing on key issues for educational improvement: instructional materials for students, education of teachers, assessment, research, and public attitudes. These reports will chart a course for the large-scale improvement of K-12 geography education in the U.S.

GeoCapabilities: http://www.geocapabilities.org
A set of resources to develop geo-literacy.

The intention of GeoCapabilities 3 is to support teachers in developing their curriculum making capacity and in so doing enable them to engage with important curriculum questions such as what kinds of geographical knowledge are taught in schools, who decides and why, and what kinds of pedagogies are needed to teach powerful disciplinary knowledge (PDK) to students.

1. Setting the scene … GeoCapabilities (1.28-4.00)
2. Origins – Capabilities (4.30-9.31)
3. How do Capabilities relate to education & powerful knowledge(9.31-13.36)
4. What is Powerful knowledge? (13.36-16.13)
5. GeoCapabilities Project and the Anthropocene (16.14-24.11)
6. The human epoch (24.11-28.28)
7. Social inclusion and powerful knowledge (28.28-32.50)
8. Powerful knowledge and the GeoCapabilities Project (32.50-37.47)
9. A future 3 curriculum (37.47-41.12)
10. Concluding questions (41.12-43.20)

GEOGRAPHY: The Science of Our Worldhttps://www.geography.com/.
A new (2018) site developed by a collaboration between the American Association of Geographers and Esri

Virginia Geographic Alliance Map Portal
Maps prepared as layered pdfs and developed for Civics and Government, Elementary Social Studies, World Geography, and World History

Esri GeoInquiries for World History: Collection of 15 interactive map lessons: http://education.maps.arcgis.com/home/group.html?id=c02fe8a2fabf4b908f970130d9bddc5c

Virginia Department of Education: History and Social Science
Standards of Learning Documents for History & Social Science – Adopted 2008
SOL Institutes – VDOE provided professional development for school divisions and their teachers to support the increased rigor in the 2008 History and Social Science Standards of Learning. School divisions and teachers are encouraged to utilize the professional development resources to improve student achievement through quality instruction.
The History & Social Science Standards of Learning (SOL) are designed to develop knowledge and skills in history, geography, civics and economics to prepare students for informed participation in shaping the nation’s future.
Standards of Learning Assessment Resources, Outside Resources, Professional Development, Professional Organizations

All of the DOE web pages were updated in early 2013.

Library of Congress sites

Our Spatial Brains. Excellent site for geography teaching resources across all grade levels.

Ten Tips for Teaching Economic Geography to 9th Graders
At first, economic geography may seem daunting (and boring) to ninth graders. Sharon Shelerud and NCGE offer several activities and Web sites helpful in teaching the key concepts of economic geography by providing background information for students while engaging them in the learning process.

Failed States and Geopolitics. Commentary by VGA member Brennan Kraxberger about the world’s mosttroubled places.

Global Shipping. Interactive visualization of global shipping in 2012.

The Geography of Poverty, presented by MSNBC, is a work in progress (in 2015) about towns and cities in the United States with high poverty rates. The site features an interactive map, photographs, and text as a virtual journey is taken across the country.

Link here to Barbara Crain’s PowerPoint presentation “Romani People,” given at the 2012 NCGE National Conference on Geographic Education.

Scoop it! Geography Education. Site curated by Seth Dixon of the Rhode Island Geographic Alliance. Sources for geography in the news, updated daily, in attractive and interactive newsletter format.

Scoop it! AP Human Geography. Site curated by Allison Anthony, AP Human Geography Instructor at Heritage High School, Henrico County, Virginia. Information comes from Seth Dixon (see above), Worldcrunch News and  other international news sources.

Scoop it! AP Human Geography–student contributions. Another site curated by Allison Anthony, AP Human Geography Instructor at Heritage High School, Henrico County, Virginia, with links suggested by her students.

All Over the Map: 10 Ways to Teach About Geography, by Tom Marshall and Michael Gonchar, The Learning Network, The New York Times.

“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. [The authors] 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.” Go to: http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/04/all-over-the-map-10-ways-to-teach-about-geography/.

Teachers’ Domain, a free digital media service for educational use from public broadcasting and its partners.

Geocapabilities. Designed to help teachers develop as leaders with teaching geography as the main focus. http://www.geocapabilities.org/

Investigating Your World With My World GIS: A Collection of Guided Inquiry Exercises for Explorers of All Ages. This GIS software works on both PC and Mac platforms. Each chapter has its own page, where users can download a PDF of the chapter together with that chapter’s data. (Chapter 11, which explores how use GIS in the history classroom, was authored by VGA’s own Chris Bunin.) The collection is  available for free download from the National Geographic Education website: www.natgeoed.org/MyWorldGIS.

BBC Bitesize Geography contains modules on physical environments, human environments, and global issues. Check out other resources on the site, including The Atlantic Slave Trade.

Our Changing World from Fedex. Cartograms and information on a variety of global topics.

Geographically yours, a collection of photos from around the world by Don Zeigler.

Earth as Art, a collection of NASA satellite images from across the world. Also a free iPad app that goes with the book. Both can be found here: http://www.nasa.gov/connect/ebooks/earth_art_detail.html

Virginia Water Radio.” Virginia Water Resources Research Center. Index of all audio clips currently available can found at link.  Each clip is about 3 minutes long and introduces a concept related to water/the environment and goes on to make it relevant in Virginia.  The clips are organized by theme (e.g., History, Birds, Fish, Weather, etc.).

Interactive cartograms and data sets for teaching and learning geography, economics, and more: http://show.mappingworlds.com/

Esri Story Maps http://storymaps.esri.com enable you and your students to create rich and interesting presentations and stories. A series of Esri Story Maps videos walks you through

    • “Why use maps for telling stories?”
    • “What is an Esri Story Map?”
    • “How can I use the Esri Story Maps galleries and resources?”
    • “How can I create my own Story Map from the templates provided?”

The playlist begins here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hi_xeoTt3s0&list=PLiC1i3ejK5vsS8gJ8BLkhAjqAYXAVLFID.
Each video is between 5 and 9 minutes long.

Storytelling with Maps from ESRI. A collection map-based-stories across many different themes (architecture, sustainability, culture, disasters, destinations, history,  science & technology,  and others) in instruction.

Tornadoes story map: http://storymaps.esri.com/stories/2014/tornadoes/

 You can pan and zoom the map to explore, click on the graphs to see annual totals, and click on tornadoes to get individual statistics.  If you zoom in to larger scales, you will see the tornado touchdown points become lines indicating the tracks.

You can search on city names, for example, if you wanted to investigate the pattern tornadoes in Moore OK or Greenburg KS for example, or particularly devastating ones.

 The graph and statistics change based on the zoom level and region that you are examining on the map, encouraging some really interesting questions and analysis.

Alaska Earthquake 1964 story map from USGS: http://alaska.usgs.gov/announcements/news/1964Earthquake/ 

Teaching about oceans? See Blog by Dr Dawn Wright with an extensive list of story maps

Map of Life. A demo version of a Web-based “Map of Life”, intended to eventually reflect the distribution of all plant and animal life on earth, has been released by a team of researchers from Yale and the University Colorado at Boulder. You may search by species, viewing a map of all known distributions, or may view a list of all species records within 50 to 1,000 kilometers (30 to 620 miles) of any specific spot on the map.

What’s Missing? Perhaps a counterpart to “Map of Life,” this site let’s you examine by place or through time the impacts of human activities around the world. An innovative memorial designed by Maya Lin, using science-based artwork (visual media and sound).

Earth Right Now.  NASA. Excellent source of information and images regarding the physical earth and environmental issues.

Map Apps. For those with IPhones and IPads, a source of history maps of the world.

TeachersPayTeachers.com: a source for lesson plans for a variety of subjects for $5.00 or less. Some are free.

Population Reference Bureau. A good source for population data, maps, and discussions of issues.

World Population History. Interactive maps, information, and illustrations depicting the growth of the human population through time.

From Joseph Kerski, Past President of NCGE: Reflections on Why Geography Matters, a blog at http://blogs.esri.com/esri/gisedcom/2011/12/09/everyday-geography-365-reflections-on-why-geography-matters/

Also from Joseph Kerski: 12 YouTube videos he produced in 2011 dealing with a variety aspects of geography and geography education:

1. Why geography education matters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESHQh2WFTJM
2. A personal vision for the NCGE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBLNHpPP5y4
3. Why is Fieldwork Important? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTT3hPVoCoY
This was mentioned on 12-30-2011 on Glenn Letham’s GIS User site as being one of the 10 best GIS movies of 2011!
4. Why Scale Matters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blF0fXMCFZU
5. What does a Sit n’ Spin have to do with geography education? Reflections on Change: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDjtopiY6-k
6. The impact of freeways: It is all because of geography: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-6BXe4N_zU.
7. Siting a Ski Area in Colorado: Geographic considerations using spatial analysis and GIS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89fdwNUMbSo
8. The K-T boundary and scientific mysteries: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5f238uDzvI
9. Examining past, present, and potential future sea levels from a geographic perspective: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSX1LOW432M
10. Geographic perspectives on livestock, climate, and land use: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29vSMLpUN-Y
11. Geography and Poetry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OZon9mq2d4
12. Geography Matters, including 1 minute elevator speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8L6LWMAOQIA

But his personal favorite of 2011 might be his spoof on It’s A Wonderful Life from a geographic perspective: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MDZFBaUt-c
Or perhaps Swimming to Wisconsin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBn707ZAWTo

And don’t forget My Wonderful World with its support for teachers, parents, and students.

More resources available under specific courses or fields of geography. See AP Human Geography, GIS in the Classroom, STEM programs and news,Virginia Studies, and World Geography pages.

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