Here are 30+ hands-on ways to teach geography, ranging from geography games to the layers of the earth with cake, without a textbook!
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30+ Ways to Teach Geography Without a Textbook
1. Learn about the layers of the earth with cake.
Here’s a full tutorial on recreating the layers of the earth through cake, which includes the crust, mantle, outer core, and inner core. (if this sounds too hard, try the same concept with play dough!) You can also build the layers with LEGOs for a mess-free version!
(On the subject of the earth, while doing some Earth Science homework, I came across this video describing how earthquakes happen – using cheese in a can and graham crackers. Definitely beat whatever my textbook was trying to say.)
2. Piece together the continents.
Here are some free printables you can use to recreate the globe, with color-coded labels to easily remember which continent is which! They’re aimed at early elementary students!
3. Get an Encyclopedia and/or Atlas.
In third grade, I had memorized all of the states and capitals with a reference sheet in the back of a dictionary and a large map of the US.
Here are a few noteworthy encyclopedias, great for kids:
- Visual Encyclopedia of US Landmarks (with over 500 pictures)
- World Encyclopedia of Flags
- National Geography Student World Atlas
4. Learn about geography through literature.
In elementary school, the Girls to the Rescue series taught me SO much about other cultures, from food to currency! The series is a collection of folktales, fables, true stories, legends, and more of courageous girls around the world. (I can still remember quite a few of the stories in there.)
I think my favorite thing about this series was it was able to highlight the wit and strengths of the girls included, without knocking the boys/men in their lives, making this a great series for girls and boys.
6. Learn about a culture through music.
Music speaks to the soul. Look up the country’s national anthem, some current pop songs in that country’s language, or some classical music! It’s also interesting to learn about that country’s native instruments.
7. Learn about each country’s flags.
Did you know that the red dot on Japan’s plain white flag means something? And that the black, red and gold on Germany’s flag symbolizes the country’s history? Just as America’s flag has a unique history, one interesting way to learn about other country’s is through their flag! Here’s all of the country’s flags in a coloring book!
8. Watch a foreign language movie.
I like watching the kid’s show Arthur in Hebrew, and always prefer watching my favorite movie, Life is Beautiful, in Italian over English. This may be better for older students – but foreign language movies can be a gem, especially when watched in their native tongue.
9. Combine geography and history.
I’ve always been able to memorize geography better when it had a story connected to it. For me, history has been that story! Reading stories (true or not) from someone who has lived in that country has been one of the easiest and natural ways to learn about the world around me. (There are a million ways to teach history without a textbook, including historical movies and historical books.)
10. Use apps.
The Apple app store is full of free and paid geography games and interactive maps, for a variety of age ranges! (Here’s a good list.)
11. Learn the US states through games!
Here are a list of great games that include all 50 states:
- US State Bingo
- USA Map Puzzle (51 pieces)
- Scrambled States of America card game
- Sequence: States and Capitals version
12. Sculpt the different countries and continents.
Aimed at younger kiddos, whether it be with play dough or cooked spaghetti, recreate the different continents and countries with a tangible activity.
13. Learn the US states through an electronic map.
Great for ages 5 and up, this giant electronic map allows you to press each state, and up comes facts about each state! All 50 states are included, and there’s about 500 facts and quizzes.
14. Have a geography Nerf war.
With Nerf guns, get a giant world (or US) map and have one child name a country, and another child hit the target!
15. Use flashcards to teach habitat.
Use flashcards to teach the seven different habitats with this free guide, for grades K-3.
16. Learn about other cultures through food.
Pinterest and Google are filled with a variety of authentic ethnic foods! What a certain culture eats can tell you a lot about their lifestyle, beliefs, and climate.
17. Learn about other cultures through art.
Like music and film, art is a unique way to learn about a culture’s history. It’s interesting to see how a culture’s art has impacted their world.
18. Learn how to use a compass.
With our modern conveniences of phones, it’s easy for kids to never learn how to use a compass.
19. Collect quarters with each state on them.
I was given this state quarter collection book as a kid (Yes, I’ve always been a nerd.), and was able to collect coins with each state on it!
20. Create a 3D town.
Sometimes, the best way to learn and teach geography can start with your own neighborhood. Create a 3D town to help young learners explore the different people in their community!
21. Or, build a photo map.
With a similar concept, create a photo map of your town!
22. Learn about land, air, and water with jars.
In this preschool Montessori activity, learn about land, air, and water with this hands-on introductory geography activity.
23. Learn a foreign language.
Learning a language can open up so many opportunities in life!
24. Color maps.
Here is a set of free blank maps, great for coloring, for the US, and for each continent. They are an easy and natural way to teach geography.
25. Create landmarks with LEGOs.
Pull out the LEGOs to recreate famous landmarks! Draw some inspiration from these 25 epic LEGO landmarks.
26. Put together continent boxes.
Use all 5 senses to put together these continent boxes, filled with everything you should know about that continent.
27. Build landforms with air dry clay.
Build landforms with air dry clay and paint! This post also has a variety of other cool ideas aimed at first graders, but that can be used with multiple grades.
28. Create your own atlas scavenger hunt.
Build your own atlas scavenger hunt, great for competitive kids. There’s also a million ways you can teach geography with this, to fit different grade levels.
29. Participate in a geography bee.
Or, create your own with these 1,575 questions!
30. Make your own globe.
Whether it be paper mache or clay, create your own globe!
31. Learn map skills with your everyday world.
Google maps has almost eliminated the need for physical maps, but they can be helpful! Encourage map skills in elementary students.