National Council for Geographic Education

Ninth graders and AP® Human Geography Top Ten List

Top 10 Tips for Teaching Cultural Geography
By Sharon Shelerud

I have found cultural geography to be a tricky unit to teach ninth graders.  It shouldn't be a surprise, as we cover topics that are very near and dear to people’s hearts and values.  My advice is for you to develop an understanding of your community and your students and work with that as you teach this unit. 

1. Teach students what culture is.  Many ninth graders have no clue what culture they belong to or what cultural traits are.  I give them a list of cultural traits and then as a class give examples of them from our culture. (I will often start with the United States and then look at how Minnesota is unique.)

2. Make the language part of this unit fun!  I bring in terms that were popular when I was a teen-ager back in the seventies and then ask them what term they use for the same idea today.  This serves as nice lead into language hearths, diffusion, etc. To teach language family trees, I give each student an outline of a tree and then we fill it in for the Indo European language.  This helps them to visualize how languages fit together.

3. You have to teach students about the major religions.  Be sure to focus on the spatial components of each religion – how it diffused, growth and decline, locations of each religion, etc.  They really know very little, so have them fill out a chart of the major ideas, beliefs, and people and how you would see each religion in the cultural landscape.

4. Emphasize religious hearths and diffusion patterns.  This is the spatial information that they need. Maps of War – History of Religion has a nice interactive map that shows hearths and diffusion and isfound at:

5. Show maps of actual cities to help students understand enclave and exclave. This site has a good map to use of New York City:

6. Explore your local community’s cultural landscape.  Create a class poster of photos students take of the landscape.  Discuss why things are located where they are.  If time take a virtual tour of another community.

7. Class discussions can be stymied by students being “too” politically correct.  Have a discussion about stereotypes and generalizations.  I tell students stereotypes are about judgment, where generalizations are based on facts.

 8. Sexuality topics – KEEP IT SPATIAL!

9. Folk/Local vs. Popular Culture.  I use the book “Material World” by Peter Metzel for this.  Students can give you the definitions of these terms, but they struggle to see them in the real world. The more visual examples you can give them the better.

10. Diffusion and cultural change.  Have class discussions on how the Western culture has spread around the world and the concerns and conflicts that has brought to cultures.  This can also be tied to current events.

These are some tried and true things I do in my class to help students understand the complex concepts of culture.  We move quickly through this unit, one chapter per week, so I have to keep things very concise, but clear.  If some of your students are still struggling with note taking and time management, keep up with those unit calendars and open note quizzes.  If you have any questions, thoughts or ideas for a future column, please email me at: