National Council for Geographic Education

Top Ten Ideas for Teaching APHG to Ninth Graders

Top Ten ideas for Starting your Freshmen AP Class
Sharon Shelerud

Happy summer everyone. I hope you are all enjoying some time to get energized for the upcoming school year. Now that the AP Exam scores and reports are out I’m sure many of you have started thinking about what lies ahead. Here are ten suggestions I have to get your Freshmen AP class off to a great start.

1. Take time to look over the AP Exam Report. Celebrate what you/your students did well and reflect on how to improve the parts that did not go so well. Take the time to reflect without being critical of yourself. This will put you in a more positive state of mind, which allows for more creativity and openness to new ideas.

2. If you had students do summer reading, be sure to do something with it the first couple days of school. If not, you could have them do something with the Five Themes of Geography or Patterson’ Four Traditions. Doing something meaningful right off-the-bat will enforce the idea that your assignments are important.

3. Be sure to review some basic geography – latitude/longitude, physical features, climates, map projections, etc. Don’t assume they will know these. Often these basics trip them up in later units. 

4. Be sure students know countries. As we saw a couple of years ago on a FRQ, many AP students did not and it cost them points. Part of my summer assignment is for students to learn the location of countries and then on the first Friday they are in school, they take a 100 point country test. Past AP students suggested this as they felt memorizing 100 countries over the summer was (1) beneficial to know for the other units, and (2) easier to do over the summer when they didn’t have the AP work plus the work of their other classes.

5. Vocabulary is key. Require students to make flashcards the first unit. I use the De Blij text, and the vocabulary for the first chapter is important. When they make their flashcards don’t just let them write the definition in the book or in the glossary. What I have found successful is to assign flashcards and then on the due date I will ask students to explain a word and have them write the definition in their own words. We do about 5 or 6 as a class and then they work in small groups for about 30 minutes. Then I will ask if there are any words they want me to clarify. The next day I give them an ON (open note) Quiz on the vocabulary. Students learn right away they have to understand the terms and not just be able to spit back a definition.

6. Models are also important for them to know. Remember this year’s first FRQ? I have written about this activity many times, but I LOVE IT. The Most Notable Geographers Post Activity. Some people do this assignment using power points/prezis or Fakebook. I like the posters. I hang them up in my room and they stay there all year. I think this visual helps my students remember the models. This activity is on the AP Resource site.

7. Be organized!!! Set up that first unit calendar and share it with students and parents. Stick to that calendar as much as you can. You set the pace and students have to adjust to it. Remember it is always easier to get more lenient as they year goes on than become more strict.

8. Along with positing the calendar, you have to decide what to do about extra credit. I’ll be honest; I don’t have an answer for that one. I play it by ear. This is the first time many of these students have had to work in a class. They are used to being in every activity and still get A’s. If I offer extra credit, it is related to a poor test score or a poor assignment. Some times I let them correct wrong test answers with some reflection on why they got the question wrong. Sometimes I’ll let them redo an assignment so they can grasp a concept. As the year goes on I am less likely to give extra credit. But this first unit, although you want to set a tone, you also want to work with students.

9. Background knowledge and poor study habits are the two biggest issues with freshmen I have seen. Include information from U.S. and World History and other subjects when possible to help them increase their background knowledge. Make sure your pacing is reasonable and fair. I usually give students two days to read and take notes on a section of a chapter. Expecting them to do a section overnight does not go over well this early in the school year.

10. Have FUN!!!!!! Be sure to include games, humor and time to have fun in your class. These students are stressed, whether they show it our not, and they need to loosen up and laugh. You are their coach, they need to know they are on your side and doing fun activities helps to build that relationship.

These are just some things that have worked for me. I hope you find them helpful. There are many talented people teaching AP HuG. Helping each other is a main characteristic of these teachers. Only by working together will we all become better, and that is what is best for students. Many thanks to all who have helped me!!!

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