National Council for Geographic Education

Ninth graders and AP® Human Geography Top Ten List

Top Ten Tips for Teaching Political Geography
by Sharon Shelerud

I find Political Geography to be one of the most, if not the most, difficult units to teach to freshmen. Their knowledge base of history is weak, their “world" is small, and they don't know much about current events. I find I have to spend a lot of time just reviewing basic information in order for them to understand the geographic concepts of this unit. My tips for this month are what I do to help students learn the basics.

1. Students need to create a chart for the different types of government. Be sure to include a definition and current examples for each and the positive and negative attributes of the various types of governments. On my chart I have: military dictatorship, absolute monarchy, limited monarchy, oligarchy, representative democracy (republic), direct democracy and anarchy. For each, I have students include; head of state, decision maker(s), source of power and how it is acquired, length of rule, who determines political freedoms and 2 -3 current countries which are examples of each type of government. After completing the chart, students should be able to use current events to point out examples (both positive and negative) about how that government type works in that country. 

2. Review U.S. History. Put up a timeline and keep it up during the unit. My timeline starts with Plymouth Rock and ends with the current war in Afghanistan. Other examples of events on the timeline are: French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I, Depression, World War II, Cold War, Civil Rights Movement, Korean War, Vietnam Conflict, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Iran - Iraq War, etc. I have student groups research one of these events an place their information (when, who involved, where it occurred, effects then and now) on the timeline. 

3. Shapes and Types of land divisions and states. I go over metes and bounds, long lot and township and range for land divisions. For shape of states, I have them define and find current examples of fragmented, elongated, perforated, prorupted, compact, and land locked. 

4. Most students think that Europe's borders have always been the same. To illustrate how European borders have changed over time, I show them the power point at the bottom of the page, found at this link: 

5. They need to know where countries are located! If you haven't done so already, do give them a country location test. For mine I give them regional maps, with each country numbered. Then on the answer sheet, they write the country name after the correct number. I do require them to spell the countries correctly. 

6. Colonialism and Imperialism - I have them color a world map showing who owned what during the Colonial period. We then look at when the colonies became independent states and then look at their level of economic development. Is there a correlation between the two? Why or why not? This provides another nice segue into current events. 

7. Students need to be provided with a list of supranational countries. You will need to spend time explain the European Union to them. I have them color a map of EU countries and then have pairs of students research one EU country. We do a mock EU meeting to discuss economics and immigration. This is a nice way to have them review population concepts. 

8. You need to teach devolution. I really like Kuby's "Breaking up is hard to do" which deals with the breakup of Yugoslavia. I have used Kuby's "Iraqaphobia,” too. Both help students to understand why countries break up, and some for the reasons for conflict within countries. 

9. Electoral Geography. What a great time to teach this. Choose your maps carefully, as this can lead to heated debates. Google 2012 Election Results maps to find the map(s) that are right for you. 

10. I teach the Heartland theory to students and have them determine if they think the theory is valid today or not. This is a good way to wrap up this unit, as it requires them to use current events, the idea of devolution and development concepts. I assign the reading, "Revisiting the Pivot: the influence of Halford Mackinder on Analysis if Uzbekistan's International Relations." This reading is found in "The Introductory Reading in Human Geography."