Teaching States and Capitals (Creative Solutions to Common Problems)

In a world full of flashy, fun in 15 second bursts, spending weeks learning and teaching states and capitals may not sound like the most interesting activity, so today we are identifying 3 problems that are typically associated with teaching this unit and possible solutions to overcome these common issues.

I’m just going to say it…teaching states and capitals is tough.

Despite the concrete and objective nature of the information, helping students learn, memorize, and identify the location of the states and capitals is something that is both time consuming and at times a little dull…but today, we are looking to help you with exactly those types of problems.

So, let’s identify the three most common problems typically associated with teaching states and capitals, and then provide solutions for dealing with each issue.

Problem #1: It’s a dull topic (that is unfortunately often required content).

Solution: Find fun and engaging tools.

Rote memorization is not something that comes naturally to students, and many students find the idea of memorizing information simply boring. Why memorize something they can ask Siri about later? 

To be honest…that is a good point, but it is also beside the point because teaching and assessing states and capitals is often required content in U.S. schools. So, rather than dwelling on the things we cannot change (at least not right now), let’s focus on what we can do right now.

Right now, we can find and implement fun and engaging resources like the States & Capitals study tool/envelope book.

If you aren’t familiar with my envelope books, take a gander at this blog post to learn more.

Envelope books are an excellent way to keep students motivated and engaged in their learning. It is a nice way to keep everything in one place instead of sending home lots of loose papers. The complete envelope book makes a terrific study guide and reference tool for U.S. states and capitals.

The States & Capitals Study Tool/ Envelope Book is intended to act as a study tool for students learning the state names, locations, capitals, and abbreviations by region. The kit includes pockets with flashcards for each of the 50 states and a lift and learn map for each region. This kit also includes quizzes with answer keys for each of the following U.S. regions.

  • West Region
  • Midwest Region
  • Southwest Region
  • Northeast Region
  • Southeast Region

In addition to using this as a study tool, you can also use the included flashcards and regional maps to create games students can play to keep the information fresh.

For example, you can print extra copies of the flashcards (without any information on the back) to create a matching game, or you can cut out extra copies of the blank regions and flashcards (all on the same colored paper) and do sorting games and activities or group races to see who can match the states to their correct region the fastest. 

Once you have the States & Capitals Study Tool/Envelope Book, use your creativity to inspire even more ways to use it!

Problem #2: It requires lots of memorization.

Solution: Break it down into bite-sized pieces.

These days, students live in a world where waiting and long-attention spans are rare. They are used to getting what they want on demand, watching shows and clips in 15 second bursts, and getting answers simply by asking their phone a question. 

So when it comes to spending longer periods of time on a topic, it isn’t that they aren’t capable, but they are definitely not used to it. That makes learning, memorizing, and reviewing the U.S. states and capitals particularly hard.

To combat this problem, we strongly recommend teaching states by region rather than in alphabetical order or even geographical order. 

When we are teaching states and capitals by region, students are getting the information in more bite-sized pieces. This is the main reason that the States & Capitals Envelope Book is broken down, studied, and assessed by region. 

All in all, it is more manageable for both students and teachers.

Teaching States and Capitals Facebook image with individual states shown in a variety of blues and browns with capitals identified with a starProblem #3: In some cases, there is lack of support at home.

Solution: Provide in-class partner activities.

Memorization and review are tough when students don’t have a strong support system at home. Often, students simply need ongoing repetition and practice to truly master a topic (like memorizing the U.S. states and capitals).

Unfortunately, we can’t depend on that review and repetition happening at home. There are many reasons why a child may not be able to review at home, so we won’t even begin to get into the why, but we can provide better solutions at school to combat this problem.

The easiest way to encourage more repetition is by partnering students up in class. Using partner activities, whether it is through matching activities like we mentioned earlier or even just reviewing flashcards, will give your students the extra support they need to memorize the states and capitals more quickly.  

In addition to having the extra support, being able to practice with someone else and have someone else invested in your learning can be very empowering for students.

Encourage activities in your classroom that truly allow your students to become invested in the success of their partner. In addition to providing necessary educational review and support, becoming invested in and caring about the success of a partner can also help to build empathy and a sense of belonging in your classroom ecosystem.

Using the resources in the States & Capitals Envelop Book, partners could…

  • review the flashcards as a daily bell-ringer
  • time each other as they practice identifying the states on the map after hearing the abbreviation from their partner
  • work together to sort the states by region
  • use whiteboards and the flashcards to practice spelling the state and capitals correctly
  • quiz each other using the included regional quizzes

This year, teaching states and capitals doesn’t have to be a big, dull void in your lesson planning. Instead, use the ideas in this post to make learning the US states and capitals a challenge your students will enjoy conquering.

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