AIM: Establish a basic standard of geographical literacy for secondary students.

Please note: the maps displayed on this page are courtesy of:

Daniel Feher

Japanese and Korean eighth graders meet this challenge of geographical literacy – American high school students fall far short of this goal. Have state departments of education and social studies teachers stopped expecting our students to learn this most basic information? Only 24% of U. S. secondary students take a Geography course – in most cases geographical concepts and knowledge is allegedly infused into the general social studies curriculum. Infusion as a process is limited at best and wholly inadequate at worst.

GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES / QCC OBJECTIVE 1 – Identify the major regions of the world (BST-1, 2, 3, 4: QBE-4. 5. 6)

  1. Locate and label on a map of the world the seven continents, four oceans, and other major bodies of water
  2. Locate and label on a world map the twelve major regions of the world, and describe other kinds of regions of the world.
  3. Point out special features of each of the different types of regions
  4. Explain how the existence of many types of regions can bring peoples of the world closer together but also separate people(s).

QCC OBJECTIVE 2: Classify the major regions of the world according to climate, politics, economics, religion and language (BST – 1 – 4, 10, 13, 14: QBE – 54, 61.

  1. Identify the major regions of the world based on geographic similarities and proximity
  2. Associate the major world regions with their climates and natural Resources
  3. Classify each region according to 1anguage and religion.


  1. Construct a map series on Africa depicting each regions climate, political system, major religion, and language.

Chinese version of world map – why is China placed in the center of the map and the U. S. located in the far eastern sphere?

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVES: The student will be able or expected:

  1. To locate / identify on a map(s) of the world and spell correctly at least 70% and preferably 100% of the countries of the world, selected states, important cities, and major bodies of water

410 = A / 100%

370 = A- / 90%

330 = B- / 80%

300 = C- / 73%

287 = D- / 70%

285 or below – retest and display competency.

  1. To accurately locate and record 410 basic entities in individual map packet for purpose of nightly study aid to eventually satisfy world map, test grade requirement. For all teachers who possess computerized geography curriculum with teaching component, geographical literacy aim can be applied accordingly.

  1. To begin viewing the world in geographical terms and concepts and apply to related subjects such as culture, hunger, and overpopulation.

KEY CONCEPTS: Prefixes inter, intra, trans > universe(al), planet(ary), earth, world, globe(al), map, topography, contiguous, hemisphere, climate, political region, continent, nation(al), state, territory, boundary, capitol, groups, tribe, ethnicity, land, possession, urban areas, culture, civilization, patterns of living, needs, wants, values, division of labor, economy, money / capital, property, trade / commerce, markets, trade, routes, relations between nations, advantage, power, war, exchanges, bodies of water, ocean, sea, gulf, river, lake, harbor, bay, port.


A large standard wall map has traditionally been the primary classroom resource for a traditional / classical learning objective. Please be sure that the map is centrally located on the front wall for easy student visibility from any area of the classroom. Students with visual or attention-deficit problems should be encouraged to sit in the front two rows.

There are a number of very good geography education software programs that include teacher-centered lessons for instruction and student self-teaching applications. The teacher determines the best practice for their students – the goal is for students to become geographically literate – teacher decides how best to achieve it. Feel free to exceed suggested 410 items total.

Individual reports can be prepared from online sources. Have the presenter show the location on the world map or typical globe style map.

Student Presenter Report Form – task can be done electronically also using specialize software.

Plastic inflatable globes are recommended to add fun to the lesson by injecting a physical element to what can become a very tedious experience. The safe, soft tossing of the globe from teacher to student presenter tends to help keep a teenaged mind on track.

If instruction is applied through a traditional approach, three map packets per student need to be reproduced. The first packet is for use in class for the purpose of recording the 410 entities and as a nightly study aid. The second set is for testing after studying each continent. The third is for the test of the entire world upon completion of the unit. The marking / grading of map packets tests is a tedious challenging process for the teacher.

I usually introduce the learning opportunity by announcing what I intend to accomplish, then tell the students; “I am the last person in your lifetime who will help you to finally learn this basic knowledge. After this class, you will have to learn this information on your own, a daunting task to say the least. Remember, knowing the world map is your own passport.”

That was normally sufficient – the students recognized the value of my offer and took me up on it. Upon completion of the unit, many students thanked me for bothering. Now and then I run into a former student in a restaurant and they invariably tell me that as difficult as that unit was, it helped them in life. Hearing that usually makes my day.

Six student lessons in addition to the map packets are included in Unit 1.

The Real World, a lesson on the Peter’s Projection Map developed by German Historian Arno Peters. The map illustrates that the typical Mercator Projection is ethnocentric because it presents Europe as virtually the same size as South America when it is only half as large. In any flat map, distortions increase as one moves farther from the equator. Gerhardus Mercator placed the equator well below the center of his map, so the ‘north’ appears larger than the ‘south’ though the south is in fact twice as large as

the north.

Mercator Projection Map

The Real World is best used with handout #3, Whole Earth Baby Boom ,that drew the nations size and borders proportionally to their population totals.

Proportional Population World Maps (above, below)

Handout #4, Food Power: Who Has It and Who Most Needs It, illustrates all nations proportion of the food supply they grow and corresponding control of grain trade.

Scientific Food Web – Global Multi-Level Analysis

World Map of Organic Agriculture

Population Shift: Ranking of 20 largest nations according to current population totals in year 2012 and projected totals by the year 2100. Prepared by the Population Reference Bureau, the list was selected to teach demographic trends that the world population will exceed 10 billion people by the end of the 21st century.


World’s 20 Most Populous Countries – 2012 and 2100:


2012 2100


4.Geographer Joel Garreau’s The Nine Nations of North America suggests that North America is really made up on nine distinct regional groups that are virtually nations unto themselves. Garreau also suggests that a new social, political, and economic order is emerging in North America that cannot be ignored.

World map packet:

Map of the United States of America – 50 states, 20 key U.S. cities, major bodies of water.

Map of North America and Caribbean Sea region:

Map of South America:

Map of Europe – Identify European Union States

Map of Asia and Australasia:

Instructional Strategies:

Unit 1 offers students a final opportunity to acquire geographical literacy before leaving high school. The need to address this deficit will require a lot of hard work and dedication on the part of the classroom teacher. But the effort will be worth it, the payoff being a foundation of knowledge from which to build multiple layers of related concepts on.

The teacher must clearly articulate that geographical literacy is expected, and that student mastery will require daily attention and nightly study. After the goals, objectives, and class requirements have been stated, the teacher should distribute the standardized forms for individual student reports. Parents should take an interest in their child’s geography challenge and support the weeks long process.

The reason for standardizing the research format is the certainty of variation in the length of student’s reports. An equitable system for assigning the 410 entities must be instituted and the expectation that each student has a responsibility to their class to stay on task made very clear. Students should also be instructed that the eventual map test and ten or more short reports are worthy of major test and grade status.

Thus begins an educational odyssey that will take about two weeks for already well prepared classes and three or more for average to basic students. Given the ignorance that U.S. students display of their own country, it’s wise to begin the survey of the fifty United States, even at the risk of reinforcing an America-centered view of the world. The teacher should illustrate the length (time) and quality of an individual report with demonstration lessons. One may begin with New England, if so desired, and then identify the region’s major city(s), in this case, obviously Boston.

As students gain the knack and their presentations improve, the teacher’s role should change to simply guiding the lesson and occasionally adding a supplementary fact, story, or related trivia. The level of student interest throughout this long task cannot be divorced from the teacher’s own factual knowledge of the world. If teachers are role models, then the teacher needs to appear more knowledgeable than their students.

Teachers should encourage student creativity, including the use of rapping to spur morale, interest and performance. Whatever it takes to stimulate interest should be attempted. Consider videotaping exceptional reports to show other teachers and future classes how this lesson can be fun as well as educational. Integrate social media into the learning process to text or tweet geographical factoids.

Each student report should begin by identifying the country, state, province, or city and the area or region it is located. Its size should then be given and compared with an American state for the purpose of association. An example is France, population 55 million, being roughly the same size as Colorado, 5 million people, or Bangladesh’s 140 million or Indiana’s 5.5 million. This aids retention and also helps keep eyes from glazing over at repeated descriptions of “square miles” only.

A country’s Gross National Product (GNP), all the goods and services it produces in a year, and a state’s gross product (GSP), should also be presented in comparative terms. Example: California’s population is approximately 35 million yet its GSP / GNP is about the same size as India’s whose population is roughly forty times as large.

Per capita income (PCI) is obtained by dividing an entity’s population into its gross economic product. PCI is listed after population and GNP so as to help students to link and compute the two concepts. The importance of PCI is to assess a nation’s standard of living and level of wealth per citizen as measures of well being.

Regardless, statistics expressed solely in numerical figures can be misleading. Which country is richer? Japan and the U.S. have roughly similar per capita incomes but the Americans income purchases nearly 40% more living space, food, and goods.

Japan’s 127 million people live in a land the size of California but with nearly four times the population density. If Japan’s mountains are removed from the equation, the inhabitable land is reduced to the size of South Carolina which has about four million people. The PCI is a useful but limited tool for determining how wealthy a country is because it does not take into account quality of life, purchasing power, environmental quality or many other factors.

A nation’s political and economic systems are mutually linked and listed accordingly. Students should describe each country’s political system in the various forms and shadings they take: democratic (electoral, parliamentarian), dictatorship (communist, military, religious or junta).

Economic systems should be presented as capitalistic, socialistic, communistic, or mixed (capitalism tempered by degrees of socialism; communism stimulated by measures of capitalistic incentives). Example: U. S. economic beliefs shape political values (modified welfare capitalism). In Cuba, it is the reverse as Marxist – Leninist politics shape economic values.

The actual political leader of a nation is not always the official chief of state. In some cases, there is a power behind the throne that is the real authori­ty and should be noted along with the figurehead. Example: Deng Hsiao Ping, Chino’s leader in the late 1970’s, retired to the role of “adviser'” in the l980’s, yet continued to wield power behind the scenes. Until the 1989 U.S. invasion, Panama’s Gen. Noriega control of the army allowed him to brush aside democrati­cally elected governments. Politics, of course, is a volatile arena. People die, power erodes, and situations change rapidly.

The value of a nation’s currency is dependent on the strength of its economy vis-à-vis the other countries of the world. Domestic factors such as low unem­ployment, inflation, and interest rates are signs of a solid and stable economy and investors, as a hedge against inflation, may wish to trade currency holdings.

Countries that successfully export (favorable balances of trade and income) may try to drive down the worth of their currencies to make their export goods more price competitively. Example: Germany, an export powerhouse and creditor nation (loans out more money than it borrows) has huge amounts of currency reserves in private and business bank accounts. This allows Germans to buy foreign products at more favorite rates.

However, German goods have such a fine reputation that people often buy their products more on high quality then price. This situation can lead to a cyclical scenario in which too high prices lead to sluggish sales, rising unemployment, and stagnation. The usual practice is to then weaken the currency to make exports cheaper and thus more price competitive.

Political map of Germany and its sixteen states

Lesson: Learn the 16 states of Germany, a Federal Republic.

The reason behind identifying the year established is to he1p students gain a sense of a country’s historical dimensions. A nation’s age may exp1ain its discon­tinuity or re1ative politica1 immaturity. Students must develop sensitivity if they are to fairly evaluate a nation’s level of progress or stability. Example: Israel is a 3,700 year old civilization that reestablished itself in 1948 as both a culture of antiquity and a hi-tech economy. America is a comparatively new society (406 years) whose government has been in power longer than any other in the world (223 years).

A nation’s language{s) is a major part of its identity. Past colonialist and imperialist powers spread their languages around the globe resulting in some tongues being shared by hundreds of millions of people (English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, and German). Thousands of other languages exist in more isolated places and are rarely heard beyond their borders.

In multicultural societies, a common language acts as a type of cultural glue. Example: Israelis have immigrated from more than 200 countries so the Hebrew language acts as a measure of unity; to much lesser extents so do Yiddish, Ladino, Arabic, Aramaic, Spanish, English, Russian and German.

English would provide a similar bonding role in Canada were it not for the presence of a large French speaking population in Quebec (35% of Canada). The Quebecois, a conquered people as a result of the French and Indian War 1754 – 1763, expressed strong nationalist stirrings in the 1960’s that moved Canada to adopt a policy of bilingualism.

However, two decades of increasing immigration from Asia, Central Europe, the Caribbean, and Latin America has changed Canada into a multicultural country and rendered the previous policy divisive and increasingly irrelevant. Canada has higher proportion of their people being foreign born than the U.S.

English has become the primary language of global commerce and American English the nucleus of the global mass culture. Key Discussion Question: Does the U. S.’s great size, leading economic role, and language being widely spoken make Americans indifferent towards learning foreign languages? Draw conclusions from the fact that millions of Russians speak English while maybe twenty thousand Americans know Russian.

It’s debatable whether to first explore a nation’s history or culture. If one thinks culture, then begin with religion(s), maybe the heart and soul of any nation­al culture. Help students to recognize how important an organized set(s) of beliefs play(s) in any society. Example: Iran where the Shiite branch of the Moslem faith is a central part of political life in an Islamic Repub1ic. Also, where religion is a divisive force such as Northern Ireland and Lebanon, an agent of social change as reflected in Central and South American liberation theologies, an image of the national psyche such as Italy, Poland, Saudi Arabia, or repressed by the state as in North Korea.

Any analysis of a culture should include a description of the nation’s orga­nized patterns of living and how they shape societal values. Example: In India, Hindu’s reverence of the cow as a sacred animal, or one’s place in society, may limit upward social mobility.

Islamic Republic of Iran

The pervasive influence of Christianity in America (90%) determines national holidays (Christmas, Easter), values (separation of church and state to protect and purify the former); Judeo-Christian ethics of hard work, faith, and riches as blessings. Note that the former multi-national Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were often described as inassimilable assemblies of tribes.

The history of any nation relates the role that the country has played in the world since its inception. Students should identify past nations that existed in the area, and major events or individuals of a land that indelibly shaped its place in history. Example: England formed the Canadian federation as a reaction to America’s healing after the Civil War and the possible annexation of its neighbor to the north.

Some nation-states were great imperial powers that declined – Spain, Portugal, England – or once vulnerable peoples who evolved into superpowers – U.S. and Russia. Students need to be aware that 130+ states have come into existence since World War II, a mere 65 – 70 years ago, and for many reasons have yet to create a rich or great historical impact.

The development level of a nation may be expressed in numerous ways. Economists classify nations according to:

  • Rich – $20,000 PCI or higher
  • Comfortable – $10,000 to $20,000
  • Moderate – $5,000 to $10,000
  • Basic sustenance – $1,000 to $5,000, some measure of well being
  • Poor – less than $1,000, lacking basic life resources

Nations may also be classified as:

  • Advanced industrial states – U.S.A., Japan, Germany, Korea, Singapore
  • Highly industrialized states – Great Britain, Australia, Belgium, France, Brazil, India
  • First world – Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, Switzerland and soon Estonia, Chile, Czech Republic

Some states experience changes in status or go through transitional stages. Costa Rica, an average income state, has seen its high quality of life decline a bit. Singapore went from middle level to highly-developed in twenty years.

Sri Lanka was once a poor country with a high quality of life – twenty years of civil war demolished what made it remarkable – food and medical security despite low incomes.

In listing a country’s industries or major products, a student should be careful to also include how the trading of goods and services between nations impacts both of them. Example: Coffee is a major crop of predominately agricultural Colombia but few of that nation’s farmers become rich from growing the beans from which it is made. Cocaine and marijuana cultivation, in comparison, may return up to eight times the yield of coffee. This economic reality is a major source of the flood of illegal drugs so common in American cities today.

Colombia is located in the northwestern section of South America

Investigate and discuss reasons for trade imbalances with the Pacific Rim nations (“Four Asian Tigers” – Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore) and how to resolve the problem without resorting to protective tariffs. Students must be made aware that a prosperous future is linked to their country’s:

1. Producing better quality goods

2. Increasing exports

3. They’re becoming successful international salespersons.

The memorization process is usua11y aided by associating the item or con­cept to be 1earned with an interesting fact. Therefore the student is expected to identify and present unique facts or attributes about an entity that may increase the likelihood of retention. Example: 28% of all Argentines are of Italian origin. This may explain their having the third largest per capita consumption of pasta in the world after Italy and Libya, a former Italian colony. Greenland, de­spite its name, is in reality a slowly melting block of ice. Danish explorers, wishing to capitalize on their discovery by propagandizing fellow Danes to move from their comfortable and pleasant little country, were possibly guilty of attempting the greatest real estate scam in history. Afterthoughts or facts and items that did not fit into any of the specified areas may be listed as an addendum or miscellaneous point.

Integrating Activities / Student Handouts

QCC Objectives 1 and 2 and the AF / AM Content Objective are:

Why has Greenland some times been referred to as the “Greatest real estate scam in history?”

Iceland only has ice in the center of country – why was it so named?

  1. Matched to Unit l’s aims of establishing geographical literacy and developing global per­spectives
  2. Need to be integrated into Unit 1 performance objectives, resource materials, and instructional strategies.

The MAP PACKET and STUDENT RESEARCH / REPORT FORM should prove more than adequate in furnishing the means to satisfy the Q6E/QCC/BST and AF/AM objectives. Provide each student with an individual map packet and research/report form (Student Handout #1), then introduce THE REAL WORLD (Student Handout “2: The Peter’s Map) in conjunction with a Mercator Projection wall map of the world. This learning experience (handout “2) is designed to:

  1. Illustrate how the Mercator Projection distorts the size of continents by pre­senting Europe / North America to be nearly twice as large as they really are.
  2. Further illustrate the proportional misrepresentation of Africa / South America, both nearly twice as large as shown on the typical classroom wall map.
  3. Help students to develop accurate global perspectives. Key Discussion Question: Does the skewed Mercator Projection map produce ethnocentric attitudes in Europeans and North Americans? Did Europeans falsely propagate the size of their continent to their colonized peoples in order to justify control?

POPULATION SHIFT (Handout #3), THE WHOLE EARTH BABY BOOM (Handout #4), and FOOD POWER: WHO HAS IT – AND WHO MOST NEEDS IT (Handout #5) were selected to help teachers:

  1. Strengthen map reading skills through novel ways of viewing the world.
  2. Introduce students to the more general problems of less developed countries such as poverty, hunger, and over-population
  3. Reinforce “a” and “b” though research of recommended case studies: China, India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Kenya, Mexico, Indonesia.

BEHOLD THE NINE NATIONS (Handout #6) may be best utilized as an enrich­ment experience while surveying North America. Geographer Joel Garreau’s point is that North America may contain nine unofficial nations: Quebec (fervent French Canada), New England, Foundry (industrial Midwest and Northeastern U.S.), Dixie (Southeastern U. S.), The Islands (South Florida and the Caribbean Rim), MexAmerica (Northern Mexico and the Southwestern U.S. from Texas to Southern California), Ecotopia (from San Francisco to Southwestern Canada on to Alaska), The Empty Quarter (intermountain West and Far North), and the Breadbasket (grain­ growing and industrial belt of the U.S. and Canadian upper Midwest and Great Plains).

A suggested follow-up or supplementary activity to BEHOLD THE NINE NATIONS is America 2: The Restructuring. The idea for this 1esson is based on the assumption that the fifty U.S. states were developed along seventeenth, eigh­teenth, and nineteenth century colonization patterns and technologies which are now obsolete and / or inefficient for the governing needs and realities of twenty ­first century America. Students are instructed to take into account technological advances – computers, instant mass communications, and faster transportation modes- and reconfigure the U. S. A. into a federalist arrangement ranging from perhaps fifteen to twenty-seven super states. The supposed benefits of

Example: U.S. restructured into the 38 states of America.

This political “perestroika” would result in:

  1. Less states to represent thus reducing the cost of the federal government
  2. Creating uniformly larger and more powerful states better equipped to compete in world markets.

Upon identification of positive and negative aspects, students should design and submit a creative and colorful new American federal configuration, presumably more streamlined than the present arrangement.

Garreau also made a case that China also had nine distinct regions that could be nations in their own right. Research and examine that idea.

List of Approximately 410 Entities Representing Geographical Literacy:

Any prescribed list is open to claims of subjectivity and this 410 item list is no exception. This recommended list is a sincere effort to establish a standard but teachers are advised to tailor the list to the needs of their students. For any list to be effective, it should at least comprise 200 countries, fifty U.S. states, ten Canadian provinces and two territories, and a representative cross section of the great cities of the world.

View of Vancouver, B.C. skyline

With all due respect for the contributions to humanity from rural and agricultural areas, it is in the cities that most economic activity is generated, trade initiated and carried out, and new cultural forms incubated. All listed cities were selected for a number of reasons – population size, economic reach, unique global role, or geographical, national, regional, or international importance. Of course, global perceptions and classroom realities vary so teachers are encouraged to shorten or lengthen the list as so desired.

View of Atlanta skyline at night from Buckhead

Those secondary schools equipped with computer labs are encouraged to employ the I. B. M. compatible software, P. C. U.S. A., and P. C. Globe. The colorful eye-appealing maps, graphs, music bytes and information-packed data bases enhance a TV generation student’s memorization processes. The computer sessions reduce tedium by providing a nice break from the classroom too.

Begin with P. C. U.S. A. Furnish students with a map of the fifty U.S. states and list of major cities, and then turn students loose to explore the software’s data ­bases. It should take about 1-2 class periods to cover America, then one to cross Canada via P. C. Globe. After that, discover the rest of the world starting with the Caribbean / Gulf of Mexico region, then Central and South America and so on until the entire world has been covered end learned.


Using the computer:

  1. Allows the mini-reports to be used as a selective enrichment process rather than the basic means of presenting information
  2. Drastically reduces the teacher’s having to resort to lecturing
  3. Relieves or at least limits student boredom.

View of Panama City, Panama

La Paz, Bolivia

Jerusalem: Wailing Wall and Dome of the Rock Mosque

Capetown, South Africa, has one of the most beautiful physical settings on earth.

Prague, Czech Republic

Revisions to list, nations in transition since 1988:

  • Czechs and Slovaks peacefully divorced in 1990 and both individually flourished
  • Leningrad was renamed St. Petersburg in 1992, its original name

  • Moldava is a Soviet-era holdover that historically was part of Romania until Stalin pulled it into Russia – currently a break-a-way mini-republic
  • Ossetia – South Ossetia is pulled into Georgia sphere, North Ossetia in to Russia’s
  • Austin should be added to any list of major cities of Texas