At the beginning of many elementary social studies textbooks, there is a section on the 5 themes of geography. Many textbooks arrange their lessons and units around the geography themes. When these themes of geography are first introduced, it is important to go over each one and explain them to your students. You can do geography lesson plans on each one–a great time to do this is the second or third week of school. Then when the 5 themes appear throughout the year, you can remind students of what they already learned at the beginning of the school year about these geography themes. Many teachers start their social studies year with map skills also, which easily tie into the themes.
Ideas for Each Theme
Here are the 5 themes of geography and some social studies activities and lesson plans to go with them. Each theme can build on the one before it or be taught as separate units:
Location – Places have absolute and relative locations. Absolute locations are the exact point on a map of places, using latitudes and longitudes. Relative locations are how these places are connected to others by technology, transportation, and waterways. Different geography lesson plans you can do with location are: teaching longitude and latitude lines and finding your city or a city students want to travel to; discussing how people travel from your city to others; and studying how technology connects major cities while more remote cities might not have these capabilities (such as a subway or bus system).
Place – All places have certain characteristics that distinguish them from other places. For example, think of Florida. When describing it, people say, “It’s hot, humid, has a lot of tourists, and beautiful beaches.” Start your geography lesson plans on place discussing your city and the characteristics of it. Then play a game with students where you say a place, and they write down the first three things they think of when this place is mentioned. They can easily play this game with each other during free time, too.
Human/Environment Interaction – Geographers study the positive and negative effects of how people interact with their environment. What are changes people make to the land or water that affect their everyday lives? Examples would be they build dams, create highways, and clear forests. You can study pollution with this theme, also. Students can make a list of how pollution harms their environment and how to help stop pollution. Students also enjoy creating “Stop Pollution” posters.
Movement – This theme of geography has to do with how and why people move from one place to another. A popular social studies lesson is to teach why many religious groups (such as the Pilgrims) moved to the New World. People’s movement from crowded cities is another question you might explore. An easy lesson plan is discussing why people first came to the United States and why they settled on the east coast. Then talk about why they moved out West.
Regions – The last of the 5 themes of geography often makes up an entire year of social studies curriculum for fourth graders. Regions is the study of sections of the earth and the characteristics that make them up, including industry, landforms, and water. Look at the region you live in with your students. What is your region known for? Make lists or create posters about your region.
When studying the 5 themes, which are often abstract concepts to elementary students, start with something concrete in their world–their community. When you discuss a concept they are very familiar with, it is easier for them to learn the new concept such as the geography theme of movement or regions. This method will also help students stay interested and focused in the lessons.