National Council for Geographic Education

Ninth graders and AP® Human Geography Top Ten List

Top Ten Ideas for Teaching the Population Unit
By Sharon Shelerud

I hope everyone’s year is going well.  By now you all have a good sense of the general ability and commitment level of your students.  The following ten ideas could be used with all grade levels, but I have found all of them to be very effective with freshmen for learning the content and helping them develop the time management and note taking skills necessary to be successful in AP Human Geography.

1. Give students a take home Free Response Question, or FRQ.  I give them a very simple one and set the format of numbering the responses so that they are answering the question they are being asked in each section. These steps can help students organize their thoughts.  Choose something (a building, store, etc), and then:

 A. Identify it

 B. Tell me where it is located using relative and/or absolute location

 C. List 3 – 5 geographic reasons that explain why it is located there. 

This quick exercise gives great insight into their writing ability and if they understand geographic reasoning.  I do this as an end to the first unit and as an introduction to the population unit.

2. Keep giving ON (open note) Quizzes every week or every two or three sections.  It is extremely important to set the tone for time management skills early in the course. 

3. Have students color and label maps of the most populated regions of the world.  On the back of the map, list and explain geographic reasons that would explain why one of the regions is as populated as it is.  In pairs have them share their ideas and then compare them to the characteristics of an area that is sparsely populated.

4. Assign readings on population trends around the world.  Rather than taking notes, students will write three “ah ha” statements, three questions the readings created in their mind, and three things the student disagreed with or made them feel uncomfortable.  The purpose of this exercise is to get them to think as they read and not just write down facts.

5. Explain government policies regarding population growth. I do no give them a lot of detail nor do I spend time debating them; rather I focus on what each policy does, where the policies are being implemented and what the potential consequences are for each policy.

6. Have students work with the Demographic Transition Model so they really understand it.  I have a lesson for this that has been very successful.  It entails students sketching the DTM, finding population pyramids for each stage (I have them include three years for each pyramid so they see the pattern over time, which really helps them to understand trends).  I also introduce Wallerstein’s Theory and Rostow’s Stages of Development.  This helps students to understand how influential population is on a country’s development.

7. Add the epidemiological transition model after students have mastered understanding the DTM.

8. Take a break between population and migration.  I will give an ON Quiz at the end of the population section to check student notes and understanding.  I do combine my population and migration chapters into one test.

9. Review U.S. migration patterns and push and pull factors.  Do not assume they know this!!!!  The New York Times U.S. Immigration Interactive map:, is an excellent source for teaching these topics when supplemented with a timeline of U.S. immigration policies and laws.

10.  At the end of this unit, be sure to give students an FRQ on population and an FRQ on migration.  The more often you can have students practice FRQ’s, the better.

*****Bonus idea.  Have students write a migration story that illustrates one of Ravenstein’s laws of Migration.  Have them identify that law in their notebooks, and then switch stories with someone else and “guess’ the Law the stories illustrates.  (Thank you to Lisa Sanders and Cindi Patten for this idea)

If anyone would like any further ideas for teaching the population unit, please contact me at