Friday, 22 June 2012

Geography Games

Photo source: NASA (posted on Wikimedia Commons)
If you follow my educational posts, you may have noticed that we play a lot of games. This is intentional. When children play, they explore and learn. Learning is natural and child-driven. Our adult agendas often serve to slow down learning, despite our good intentions of focusing on skills development. When we lighten up and embrace children's own natural ways of learning, we can become partners and guides.

Having said that, sometimes our society works such that kids need specific information at a specific time. Geographical knowledge is one example of this, although the subject might easily come up on its own after watching a documentary, trying out a new restaurant, or meeting a neighbour from a different land. Since most of us cannot afford to travel the world and explore many places in person, a few games may be in order.

For those of you who are hooked on integrated unit studies (I am, although my children do not like to learn this way), I have included some ideas for one at the bottom of this post.

Alphabet Geography

either alphabet dice, such as those found in Boggle, or slips of paper each with a different letter of the alphabet kept in a container that can be shaken
a world map with location names (or a more detailed country, province etc. map depending on your intended focus)
note paper and pencils or laminated lined paper with wipe-off markers
optional: a timer

Choose a letter by rolling a dice or selecting a slip of paper. All players must write down as many place names as possible that start with that letter. When the time is up (3 minutes recommended), players check their answers against the map. If a player cannot show where one or more of their selections is located on the map, that selection does not count. Award a point for each correct place. Play for several rounds, over several days. The first game is the baseline. A player wins by gaining a higher score than their most recent game. Overall winners at the end of the series are those who have scored the highest cumulative amount, OR who have the highest final score, depending on the needs of the group.

Where In the World Am I?

Students use their understanding of cultural and physical features of places to aid teammates in figuring out their mystery location.

Large and detailed World Map
various atlases, cultural, ecological, geological etc. references (library books can supplement your own)
a small pebble, bingo chip or similar
a timer (optional)

Students break into groups of 2-5 people per group. The first team decides who will be the first to travel. This person is blindfolded and must toss the marker onto the world map (which is to be lying spread-out on the floor or a large table). The teammates must spin the map as the traveler tosses so that there is no chance of the traveler knowing the general area it must have landed.
While still blindfolded, the traveler may ask yes/no questions about the culture, climate, ecology, terrain features, etc. of the place they are at. The goal is to figure out where they are in the least amount of time possible.
To make it more challenging: students must name a reference in literature, music, visual art, traditional clothing, or other art-related aspect of the country and must first use this to name the country or region before narrowing down the location any further with additional questions.
Alternatively, choose both a place and a time (you can toss a marker onto a timeline for this), and get some history happening here too!

Note: since the planet is 2/3 ocean, it is likely that a large number of tosses will land in the ocean. You can deal with these in several ways:
- if there is a nearby island, use this as the landing spot
- let the person guess until it is obvious they are in the ocean, and perhaps make it necessary to determine which ocean and whether it is tropical/temperate etc.
- have the person toss again until they hit land

Grocery Store Geography Study

This field trip unit helps make connections between food, climate, ecology, farming and trade with extensions that include budgeting, cost, measurement, history, population distribution, and many other areas.

Organize a trip to a grocery store. 

For the first try at this, it is best to start in the produce section. Ask your students to choose at least five different types of produce to research. Now they find these in the produce section and record their country of origin. Be sure they double-check with any stickers or other labels right on the fruit, as the larger signs may not be accurate.

Back in the classroom or home, have the students make small labels of pictures of their produce and, using sticky tack, place them on the map according to the country from which they came. Repeat this at different times of year. When do apples come from nearby? Which produce is tropical? What kinds of produce could you grow where you live? What edible plants grow naturally in your area? What produce had to travel furthest to reach you?

Look up the climate of the various countries. Can you see a pattern in what grows best in each circumstance? Why don't bananas and mangoes grow in Canada? Why don't they make maple syrup in Africa?

Try this several times, visiting a local farm, a farmer's market, and/or an Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Jamaican, European etc. grocery store. What different produce was on offer? Where was it grown? Where do you think it originally grew? How does this affect the cooking styles of different cultures? What might be on the menu in a Chinese restaurant? Italian? Indian? African? Add as many different cultures and regions as possible.

For younger students, or as a first start of an extended unit:

Have a grocery store scavenger hunt. Divide students into small teams of 2-4 students. Distribute lists of items with different categories on them, such as tropical fruit, root vegetable, something from China, something grown close by, something with more than ten ingredients, something they think every student in the group would like, something with vitamin c, something that has protein, something that is a complex carbohydrate, something you can eat raw, something on sale, etc. Make sure students write or draw their answers rather than collect them, as the "put away" component isn't nearly as popular as the search! Also, do not make this time dependent, as this can encourage running and pushing in even very reserved students. If you suspect this might become an issue with your group, try staying all together and slowly walking through the store aisle by aisle together as they quietly and secretively note their finds.


Maslow hierarchy of needsDiscuss what our basic needs are as human beings. Encourage students to brainstorm their own answers and share and discuss as a group. If you wish, you can introduce Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs (the link here is much more detailed than the image I have included). Once you have a basic list that the class has agreed upon, discuss how this might influence human settlement, both in the past and in the present. Refer to population maps and historical maps to see how accurate your predictions really were.

Integrated Unit Extensions:

Have students find a recipe and make a list of needed ingredients, then visit a grocery store to cost it out and, ideally, purchase the ingredients. You may give them some guidance here: it must be a type of salad, a soup, a type of cookie, etc., but then let the students decide on the details. Provide some strict budget guidelines. This is a great time to introduce the concept of cost per unit, both in terms of purchasing ingredients (encourage groups to share ingredients and pool their resources to buy in bulk), and also in figuring out the total cost per unit of their finished recipe compared with a prepared version of the same or similar item. Back at school, arrange for access to the staff room for groups of students to make/bake/cook their recipe. Share the food with the class at an end-of-unit potluck party. To include language arts, have the students create menus and/or write restaurant-style reviews after the party.
The skills used here include arithmetic, measuring (volume, temperature, currency, etc.), co-operation, negotiation, detailed planning, recipe research, reading for meaning, budgeting, sharing, and I'm sure there are many others I've forgotten! 

Planning Notes

To make the trip run smoothly and to ensure your continued welcome, ask the store manager when the least busy time is, and try and use this to schedule your trip. Group students into teams. Remind them that they are to be courteous and polite, refrain from running, and wait their turns. If your group needs extra support, be sure to enlist help from parents and other adults as needed. This could be an opportunity to discuss adult perceptions of children, how these may or may not be fair, and how their own behaviour could help influence these perceptions. Some kids may want to discuss ageism, so you may wish to ensure you give them enough time to discuss this very relevant issue.