Fun, Effective Ways to Teach Geography

Who wouldn’t benefit from a review of geography? My latest YouTube lesson on the U.S. states and capitals put me to the test. I covered this material back in 2008, but a request came for an update, and I felt I could extend and improve my presentation. First, I had to remember everything. The last time I studied this was about three years ago when my daughter was preparing for her fourth grade test on the 50 states and capitals. Two years before that, it has been my son’s turn.

Standing in front of the camera in 2020, I still flubbed the pronunciation of a few capitals I rarely say. I had to refilm my pronunciation of Topeka, Raleigh, and Montpelier. I also failed to notice early on that the map I had found on Pixabay (intentionally or unintentionally) switched Oregon and Washington! I inserted it into my video without catching that mistake. That initial oversight was a result of giving too much attention to other aspects, like phonetic transcriptions. Later I replaced the map and accurately pointed to the location of each state. In short, I definitely benefited from covering this topic again. I could pass the fourth grade test with a solid A!

But why would ELLs be motivated to cover the same material?
– If they’re living in the U.S., familiarity with the states and capitals strengthens their ability to understand and make geographical references. From the news to domestic business exchanges, state names are frequently mentioned.
– All ELLs can use state names as an exercise in word stress. In my video, I demonstrate a search for patterns, for example, stress based on syllable count. (Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Oklahoma, etc.)
– All ELLs can benefit from seeing how one spelling can result in a limited number of variations. (E.g., /nəˈvædə, nəˈvɑdə). In my lesson, I argue that one variation may not be right or wrong; we must learn to accept and understand variations.

Is it really necessary to memorize the entire map of the USA? No. Fluency doesn’t require one to be a whiz at geography, but a general idea of how Americans view the country geographically gives ELLs the right mindset to ask questions and engage in conversation. After showing different ways to divide the country into regions (East Coast/West Coast, the Midwest/the Southwest, and so on),  I suggested questions for clarification: “You’re from Arizona? Is that in the Southwest?”

I also included state nicknames and postal codes. The former can be a talking point. The latter are useful if you send and receive mail with any regularity. Sometimes I’m curious where my Amazon deliveries come from! A quick look a the return address label satisfies my curiosity.

So, how can geography be further packaged into a usable format for ESL instruction? Take a look at my U.S. Geography_handout. Enjoy!

Featured photo by GDJ retrieved from

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Madan Mohan Gupta says:

    Thanks a bunch, I must say that all the resources provided in the blog are Interesting as well as informative. Enjoyed watching the video too.

    1. That’s really good to hear. Thanks, Madan.

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