Thursday, February 21, 2008

United States Geography Unit

February 21, 2008

I'm teaching a K-2 class I call "Great States" for our enrichment class program this session. Our classes run for 10 weeks (1 hour/week), so I've been able to divide the sessions into the seven geographical regions, plus an introductory week, a closing week, and a whole class on Tennessee. I realized after the first week that I totally forgot about Washington, DC. Good grief! That's what it gets for being a district, whatever that is.

I'm having a great time with this class. My goal is to have a brief discussion of each state in the region, with some fun facts (like that toilet paper was invented in NYC); read a short book; have a regional snack (e.g., dried blueberries and cranberries for New England); and then either play a game or do a craft. I had visions of being able to play games like Great States or Scrambled States of America, but that was an ambitious thought for this K-2 crew of 10 boys and 4 girls.

A huge amount of the fun in planning classes for me comes with the research. I love finding books, especially, and the abundance of information on the internet is astounding. In fact, the amount of information on the internet is overwhelming frankly, so I tend to stick to a few solid books. I go to the library each week to find the story books, but I have a few geography books at home that I use each week and would recommend for any U.S. geography program:
* Trail Guide to U.S. Geography (this one is great because it has separate lesson suggestions for beginner, middle, and high school levels)
* Maptime....USA
* and my favorite, The United States Cookbook. The cookbook has a recipe for every state, but it also has interesting food facts and other tidbits.
* I also use a book by Frank Schaffer called Learning About U.S. Geography (grades 1-2), but it is out of print. This one has great black-line reproducibles, but these are easily found on the internet.
* There are other books that look fabulous for teaching U.S. geography, like Kids Learn America and The State By State Guide and Smart About the 50 States, but I've found plenty of great stuff with the books I already have plus the internet.

Of course, the very best site for all things geography is Enchanted Learning. I use this extensively. Each week I copy and paste the map of the state plus its nickname, capital, flower, tree, etc. Enchanted Learning has a lot of great crafts, too.

For books, I just go to the library and search the U.S. shelves and then do more searches for easy readers. For example, we read Gail Gibbons' Surrounded by Sea: Life in in New England Fishing Island during our New England region day. One series that is absolutely phenomenal is called Discover America State by State. Our library carries all of these, and they are fantastic. From Y is for Yellowhammer for Alabama to C is for Cowboy for Wyoming, this series hits the highlights and often little known facts of each state in over 50 gorgeous books (some of the states have counting as well as alphabet books). The website on the link above lists all the books and has a free downloadable student activity guide for each book. The books are amazing enough, but these guides are a really great resource. Unfortunately, the books are a bit too long and detailed to read in a class setting with wiggly kids. At home with an elementary age child, the books would be totally appropriate, however.

We have a traveling bear named Sam that goes home with a different child each week, along with a notebook. Each child has a chance to write about (or dictate to mom or dad) some travels they have taken with their family. The next week, we read their travelogue first thing. I put a big map of the U.S. up on the wall and give all the kids a U.S. map placemat (available at Walmart for less than a dollar). They can follow along on their classmate's travels on the map. The kids really look forward to taking Sam home, and it's fun to hear about where the kids have been.

I love geography, but I've always put it in the "we'll do it if we can get to it" pile of our homeschooling, pretty much with things like Latin, speech memorization, art and music history, and math. (Kidding on the math!) Teaching a class at co-op has insured that my youngest is at least getting a good survey of the states. Now if only my oldest could remember whether Chicago is a city or a state.... (kidding. sorta.)


  1. Great list of resources! We're using an almanac and a couple of other US resources.

    We still have problems with what's a state and what's a city. And sometimes countries! :-( I guess it takes time. Repetition, repetition, repetition!


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