National Council for Geographic Education

Top Ten Ideas for Teaching APHG to Ninth graders


Teaching AP students How to Think and Talk Like a Geographer                                                               By Sharon Shelerud                                                                                                  

When you think about it, what we are really trying to achieve in our AP Human Geography classes, is to have students think spatially, to think and talk like a geographer.  Once students begin to think this way, the concepts, terms and models that are in the textbook are much easier for them to understand and apply to the real world.

At the beginning of the year and through out the year incorporate activities, lessons and formal assessments to help students view the world with a geographic perspective.  Listed below are ten things I have done that helped students to see the world through a geographic lens.

1.  On the first day of school have students describe the spatial distribution of your classroom.  Then wait. Some will be very confused and want you to explain what spatial distribution means, but don’t tell them.  Tell them to think about the words and write down the best description of your room as they can.  After about five minutes, have students share what they wrote.  Most will accurately describe the lay out of your room.  Inform them, they just used a geographic perspective to explain their reality.  (If any students still don’t get this, this clue they may not belong in an AP Human Geography class).

2.  Weeks of so later; assign students to create a map with written directions from their house to the school.  If students are not comfortable using their home address, give them five-business address to choose from to use.  The next day students share these with a partner.  A discussion on the importance of giving good clear directions and a good clear map will develop, as well as a discussion on how maps can ‘lie”.

3.  In class discussions, insist that students use the vocabulary of geography.  Be sure to model this as much as possible.  You want the language of geography to become a natural part of their everyday language.

4.  During the population unit, have students redesign the school, or community to fit the demographics of the place.  They will need to decide how to integrate people of various ages and ethnic groups, where to place services for these groups, etc.  The caution here is you could have students who want to segregate people who are different from each other. Be prepared to discuss this.

5.  In the culture unit, have students create a “where am I” power point, using pictures of the cultural landscape of a place.  Tell them to organize their pictures as you would organize clues for the game twenty questions.  The first pictures should be generic and then they get more and more specific.  Play this as a class and have winners for who correctly guesses each place first.  This is a fun way to get students to look at places and not just glance at them.

6.  Sometime during the first half of the course, require students to write a letter to the editor based on a geographic issue.  In the letter, they need to write about the issue from a geographic perspective.  Encourage them to use geographic terms when appropriate, but remind them they are not writing this to show how many terms they know, but they are writing this to make people aware of an issue from a geographic stand point.

7.  Current events are a tricky one for students.  They are good at explaining why events are occurring from a historical or political perspective, but have trouble doing it from a geographic perspective.  Start out by giving all students a short news story and have them write the explanation in class in five - ten minutes.  Then give them some options on what they could have said.  After sharing your explanation, students meet in groups of three or four and discuss what each of them wrote, and then, as a group, create a geographic answer.  For future assignments, I have students do this as individuals and turn in for points.

8.  Another version of this is to show a short video, like one of the Ted Talks, and have them write down how this talk is geographic.

9.  Encourage students to scan the Internet for geographic topics, resources, etc.  Have them share them with you and as appropriate share them with the class.  This could be an ongoing extra credit opportunity or just something they do for bragging rights.

10.  Take them on field studies, even it if is just a walk around the school.  Have them write down what they see and then hypothesize on why things are located where they are or what the landscape tells them about the place.  The more you can do this and relate what they are learning in class the more real geography becomes to them and the more they are to see the world as a geographer.

Please send all comments, future column ideas or questions to Sharon at