Teaching Geography in Upper Elementary

Teaching Geography in Upper ElementaryUse this Geography Lapbook while teaching geography in upper elementary to help your students build a solid foundation of geographical concepts. 

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? That question sure does take me back.

I’m not sure if any other TV show highlighted the importance and ‘cool’ factor of geography better than that show.

If you’re unfamiliar, during an episode of the popular PBS hit show Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, students would answer geography-related questions in an attempt to win the coveted prize of going on to the final round where they would race around a map of continent and place markers on a variety of cities, countries, and states in an attempt to win the ultimate prize (which was usually some techie gadget that was up and coming for the time…interestingly enough, many of those gadgets are super outdated, if not completely irrelevant, now).

Nevertheless, that show helped put geography education on the map…literally.

Geography is such a huge topic! With over 190 countries in the world and many bodies of water, landforms, and cultures to explore, this topic can go on and on. How do we even know where to start?

When teaching geography in upper elementary, we don’t want to overwhelm our students with the topic. Instead, we want to introduce a few topics at a time, so they can wrap their minds around one piece of this giant world puzzle before moving on to the next bit of information. 

One of the best methods I’ve used to teach geography in upper elementary is the Geography Lapbook.

Exploring the World with the Geography Lapbook

The Geography Lapbook includes a variety of reading passages and visual notes that help teachers introduce their students to geography content while keeping all the notes organized for easy reference throughout the unit.

Where to Start?

I start teaching geography in upper elementary with a bird’s-eye perspective. Meaning, that rather than zeroing in on details, we begin by looking at the world as a whole.

We focus on continents, the placement of the major landmasses and bodies of water on a map, and how they are identified.

Geography Topics

During an upper elementary geography unit, students should be exposed to a variety of topics related to the world’s geography.

Some of the topics I focus on in my own geography unit include:

  • landforms
  • bodies of water
  • continents & oceans (Pangaea)
  • compass rose
  • hemispheres (equator & prime meridian)
  • maps
  • latitude & longitude
  • “Where I Live”

All of these topics are covered in great detail within the passages and foldable parts of my Geography Lapbook.

Teaching about Pangaea

One of the first geography topics I like to teach my students about is how our world came to look the way it does now. That is why the lapbook includes a reading passage all about Pangaea. Teaching about Pangaea opens up other aspects of geography such as tectonic plates, and how they affect the world’s landmasses.

From there, students can use the lapbook to study different kinds of landforms and bodies of water using pictures, definitions, and even more reading passages.

Teaching Directions and Locations

In addition to learning about how the world is formed, students also need to know how to describe where places are located in relation to each other. That is why the Geography Lapbook includes reading passages and interactive notes that focus on identifying the different hemispheres and how to read a compass. By the end of this geography introduction, students will understand how longitude and latitude are used to describe the location of a place on a globe.

My Location

One of the most important lessons I like to include when studying geography, and one that I give plenty of space to in the lapbook, is about where my students live, and how their location fits into the grand scheme of geography. I’m constantly amazed that students don’t know where they live in the world. That is why there is a whole flap dedicated to this topic in the lapbook!

You’ve Got to Start Somewhere!

Although it’s a huge topic, teaching geography in upper elementary doesn’t have to be difficult or overwhelming. When we focus on the key elements that make up our general understanding of geography such as location, directions, hemispheres, landmasses, and bodies of water, students can then grow in their understanding from there.  

You never know, maybe Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? will have a comeback, and one of your students will be a contestant! The 1990’s version of me is almost grinning at that thought.

Teaching Geography in Upper Elementary

Additional Learning: Where in the World Cups

For more information on teaching geography in upper elementary and helping students understand where they live in the world, check out this blog post about stackable geography cups. This fun visual activity helps students understand that the city they live in is situated within a state, which in turn is part of a country, which is located on a continent, etc., zooming all the way out to the Milky Way Galaxy. Learn more by reading about Where in the World Cups!


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