Your Classroom Olympics - Geography and Flags February 01 2010

The Winter Olympic games bring athletes and citizens together from all over the world, and offer us a wonderful opportunity to expand our students' understanding of the world we live in. Build on previous knowledge of geography appropriate for your students' age level and introduce new concepts with these fun classsroom activities! 

The Birds-Eye View

This is the perfect opportunity to introduce or review the concept of the Birds-Eye View. I like to tell my students to imagine that they are birds themselves, and that the term "Birds-Eye View" means exactly that - the view from the perpective of a bird flying through the air and looking down on all of us and how we live.

If you have younger students, start with your classroom. If a bird was looking down on your classroom, what would it look like? Sketch the perspective on a piece of chart or butcher paper. Then expand outward - what if a bird was looking down on your neighborhood? What would it look like? Start the sketch by drawing in the location of your school and moving out from there, drawing in prominent places around your school.

Education Place has a great Community Map for student practice that employs a Map Key. Use this map with your students, then draw in a map key for your neighborhood map if you haven't included one already.

Review the Geography

The geographic terms you use for this lesson will depend on the age-level of your students. Choose terms appropriate for the age level and connect them to maps already drawn - Education Place has a variety of maps from which to choose.

No matter what age level you have, it's important to build on what your students already know. If you have younger kids, you might decide to focus on a neighborhood or community map, and terms appropriate for this kind of map would be streets and their names, specific buildings or places (i.e. parks), and a map key.

For older kids, however, it would be appropriate to review or introduce more specific map terms. Some of these include specific oceans, rivers, mountains,  continents, countries/borders, map keys or legends, and the compass rose (which is fun to draw, by the way). You could also include the concepts of scale or latitude and longitude, either of which would lengthen your lesson considerably.

The "Design Your Own" Lesson

After reviewing or introducing geography concepts, the fun begins! This geography lesson plan is based on students creating their own fictional place and mapping it out. Depending on their age level, you could require your students to design a neighborhood/community, state, country or even a world from a birds-eye view.

After you decide which kind of map your students will make, you'll need to figure out what needs to be included. If it's a community map, will you want street names, community places like parks and the post office, or homes? If it's a state, country or world map, will you require rivers, mountains, ocean names and a compass rose? What about a capital city, additional city names, or airports? What about a map key or legend, latitude and longitude, or scale?

When I've decided what they need to include, I usually write it up on a sheet for them to brainstorm what kind of fictional place they are creating. First, they need to decide on a theme - I almost always use "Chocolate...The Best State" (or country) as an example (no, they can't use it). On chart paper, I draw a large outline of a Hershey's Kiss, which is the shape of my state. Then I draw in different examples of geographic terms I'm requiring, adding different ones for fun - one of my favorites is "Cocoa Falls."

They soon get the idea, and write their own ideas on the idea sheet I've created for them that includes what is required on their maps. Then they get to work sketching a rough draft on notebook paper. The final drafts of the maps go on 12"x18" white paper or poster paper, and at the end of a school week, I give them time to share their maps. Then they're displayed in the hall for everyone to enjoy!

The Flag

A made-up community, state or country would be no good without a flag!

Keeping with the winter Olympic theme, I like to require that the flag use at least one of the following colors that appears in the Olympic Rings: red, black, green, yellow and blue. The colors are special since at least one appears in the flag of every nation of the world.

The flag must also clearly represent their country, so the colors and designs must carry with them special meaning. They can be shared at the same time as the maps, and can also be displayed with the maps in the hall.

The Winter Olympic games provide wonderful opportunities to bring real-world learning into the classroom. In this case, geography and flags are the focus, helping to expand your students' understanding of the world as a larger community.