National Council for Geographic Education

Ninth graders and AP® Human Geography Top Ten List

Top Ten Ideas for Teaching Agricultural Geography
By Sharon Shelerud 

 The agriculture unit is one of my favorite units to teach. The problem I have is there are so many tangents to go off on; it is easy for me to lose my focus. The ten ideas I have listed are what I do to make sure the students are getting the information they need, as well as to keep me focused. I do have my AP students do an agricultural project designed to have them reflect on their own eating/shopping habits. This has been one of the most interesting and meaningful projects for my students. I look forward to what they will discover every year.

1. Start the unit by having students read Jared Diamond's, "Worst Mistake Ever Made" article. This sparks their interest and helps bring in information from previous units. Class discussions can last from a few minutes to an entire hour, so plan out how much time you want to spend on this.

2. You will need to teach the First Agricultural Revolution. I use National Geographic's, "Guns, Germs and Steel" Episode One for this. I have also used the Special Features section on this DVD set, found on the second DVD. The maps do a good job of showing where certain crops and animals were first domesticated, and how it relates to human settlements.

3. When teaching the Second Agricultural Revolution, make sure you talk about the Industrial Revolution. Since I am teaching agriculture before economics, I give students a short reading that gives an overview of the Industrial Revolution, so they are able to see the interconnection between the two events.

4. You must teach von Thunen's Model. It fits perfectly when you are teaching the Second Agricultural Revolution. Once they know the model, I have students make a choropleth map of the 5 major crops and 5 major farm animals in Minnesota. Using Minneapolis/St. Paul as the market, they are asked to determine if von Thunen's model is still relevant today and explain why or why not.

5. For the Third Agricultural Revolution, I start by having student create a map of crop production around the world. The Goode's Atlas has excellent maps for this. We then discuss how the Green Revolution has affected these patterns.

6. Commodity chains are a concept that needs to be explained to students. Give them more than one visual representation of it, so that they are able to really understand it and explain it. Relating commodity chains to U.S. food production helps student understand the agricultural production patterns of the United Sates. The USDA maps are excellent for this. The Agweb site is also very helpful for gathering data;

7. Current events are must in this unit. Topics to be covered would be how the drought is affecting U.S. food production and how the hot weather is affecting food production and distribution around the world. I have included a link to a recent article in the New York Times:  Analysis of Koppen's Climate Map and a World Agriculture Production Map will generate discussion about future agricultural production and distribution.

8. Looking at food availability at a local level is an interesting topic to students. Have them find Food Deserts within their city or state and then discuss the health issues related to this. A great site for this type of information is the USDA's Food Environment Atlas found at: I also use this site to have students create public service announcements and posters to educate the other students about food and health issues.

9. Looking at the geography of different grocery stores is an eye opening experience for students. When they see how much or how little space is given to certain food types in different grocery stores and then look at the income of the areas surrounding those stores helps them to understand why some people eat healthier than others. If you do this be sure to have students look at stores that are considered to be more affordable and those that are viewed as more expensive.

10. A great way to move from agriculture to economics is to research foreign country's interest of agricultural land in Africa. The Economist has a good article to begin this research;

Bonus idea: With the AP Exam only a few months away, I am giving my students short articles/readings every other day to help them increase their background knowledge. This is also a good way to have them use concepts, terms from previous units. I start the class by passing out the reading s and then giving them about 7 - 8 minutes to just sit and read. I find most of my articles on the AP Human Geography Reader Facebook page. Please send ideas for future columns, questions or comments to Sharon Shelerud at