National Council for Geographic Education

Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, Second Edition

The National Geography Standards

Geography for Life was first published in 1994 by the Geography Education National Implementation Project (GENIP). The second edition was released in 2012. Geography for Life includes three major components which together represent the most current conception of what it means to be geographically literate.

Geographic Perspectives
Geographers have different perspectives to frame their understanding of the world. In particular, students of geography learn to approach the world from the spatial perspective and the ecological perspective. The spatial perspective asks, “Where is it? Why is it there?” This perspective is concerned with spatial patterns of both human and physical phenomena. The ecological perspective looks at the world as a web of relationships between living and non-living elements. The ecological perspective is concerned with these connections and relationships among and between complex systems such as human societies and ecosystems.

Geographic Knowledge
The 18 geographic knowledge standards are grouped by 6 Essential Elements: 1) The world in Spatial Terms; 2) Places and Regions; 3) Physical Systems; 4) Human Systems; 5) Environment and Society; and 6) The Uses of Geography. Each knowledge standard is introduced by an essay describing how the standard fits into the overall vision for geographic literacy. The second edition further delineates knowledge statements and performance statements for 3 grade bands: 1) (up to and including) 4th grade; 2) (up to and including) 8th grade; 3) (up to and including) 12th grade.

Geographic Skills
The 5 geographic skills describe how students systematically conduct geographic investigations. By practicing these skills students become actively engaged in "doing geography". The five skills sets are: 1) Asking Geographic Questions; 2) Acquiring Geographic Information; 3) Organizing Geographic Information; 4) Analyzing Geographic Information; and 5) Answering Geographic Questions. Students will draw upon critical thinking skills such as inferring, analyzing, hypothesizing, and predicting.

These components should not be considered in isolation. If students learn only geography content, they may score well on fact-based tests, but will not be able to reason geographically in new and different situations. If students focus on skills alone without understanding geographic perspectives, they may not be able to correctly formulate a geographic question to investigate. 

Geography Standards and Excellence in Geographic Education
The standards represent the consensus of the geography education community around what students should know and be able to do by the time they graduate from the 12th grade. While every state has adopted geography curriculum standards based on Geography for Life, most students in the United States will not have had enough explicit geography instruction to meet all of these standards unless or until they enroll in an undergraduate program. Curriculum developers, K-12 teachers, and parents can help mitigate this problematic situation by making every effort to increase their own understanding of the value and power of a geographic education.

What is geographic education?
• Use standards-based lessons and materials
Formally study geography education in a degree or certificate program
Geography & Common Core Connection
Advocate for geographic education 

Obtain a copy of Geography for Life 

Order copies on behalf of a store or organization
Order copies for an individual
View content online 

Use elements of Geography for Life in instructional materials or professional development products
All permission requests to use or reproduce content should be directed to:

National Council for Geographic Education
1101 14th Street NW, Suite 350
Washington, DC 20005 
Phone: 202-216-0942 
Fax: 202-618-6249