How I taught middle school Geography at our homeschool co-op

When I was tapped to teach 5th to 8th grade Geography last year at my homeschool co-op, I was really excited but totally clueless about where to start looking for a (preferably free) middle school geography curriculum. I really wanted to teach a fun class that opened my students’ eyes to the diverse beauty of God’s creation — both the physical landscape and the wide array of culture, architecture, food, customs, dress, race/ethnicity, and more.

I looked and looked and looked. I spent way more than I should have on geography textbooks. I looked across the spectrum of education styles, from the sweet Charlotte Mason Visits to… series to the very traditional school, workbook-y approach in the Discovering the World of Geography series. And, while I adore the approach in the Beautiful Feet series, it wasn’t going to work for our classroom setting. I really wanted the students to see, hear, smell, taste and touch each continent, so I decided to create my own lessons…which were primarily Google Slides presentations.

In order to stimulate all their senses, we threw a party after we completed each continent. Parents signed up to bring food twice during the year, and the kids loved tasting (or sometimes just smelling) the authentic dishes, we had fun music playing, and we played traditional games from those countries. We had a “show and tell” with student projects of their choice on the continent — they ranged from LEGO Aztec ruins to a handmade Asian restaurant menu to an essay on the fairy pools in Ireland. Some also brought in family souvenirs, which allowed the students to dress up in Korean hanboks, play African musical instruments, and try on authentic wooden Dutch shoes.

A student’s diorama of the Taj Mahal

As I started prepping my lessons, I began by using the Trail Guide to Geography as my framework…then I ditched it a few weeks in and just started creating my own. You can see that reflected just a little in the way these lessons are organized; it’s divided into eight units, one for each continent, and one introductory unit on Pangea, oceans, and other big-picture topics that Trail Guide wanted me to cover. We also had a fun one-off lesson on Christmas traditions around the world on our last class day before the winter break.

Interesting note: I originally planned to follow the order of the countries noted in Trail Guide, but the kids asked if we could start with something other than North America first. I think they were excited to learn about these foreign, exotic places! So, we voted and decided to go from largest continent to smallest.

I found that the kids focused much better when there was something tangible for them to be working on while I went through the slide presentations, so I brought in maps from Uncle Josh’s Outline Map Book for them to fill in as we went. Each student was asked to have their own copy of Merriam-Webster’s Student Atlas to work from as well. And we did some really fun crafts that I’ll share in the lesson plans as well.

Please note that this course was taught at a Christian co-op, so you’ll see many Christian faith principles expressed throughout these lessons. My personal schedule fluctuated throughout the year, so some weeks are “lighter” than others — with crafts instead of in-depth Google presentations. Those tended to be my students’ favorites! Scouts BSA has it right when they say, “Keep it simple. Make it fun.” Finally, I responded to the students’ requests as I went. They really enjoyed learning about each country within a continent, so you see that come out in the Europe unit.

Our free middle school geography curriculum

Week 1: Continents, Supercontinents, Latitude & Longitude (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 2: Oceans, Volcanoes & Layers of the Earth (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 3: Exploring the Ocean Floor (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 4: Central Asia (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 5: Russia, Ural Mountains, Climates + more (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 6: East Asia (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 7: South & Southeast Asia (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 8: Asia Party Day!
Week 9: Middle East (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 10: Africa Part 1 (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 11: Africa Part 2 (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 12: Africa Escape Room Game & Party!
Week 13: Christmas Around the World (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Note that the lesson says Feast of St. Nicholas is “today” because our class met on Dec. 6. Also, we had the kids leave their shoes in the hall during this class and filled them with candy and treats.
Week 14: North America: Canada & Greenland (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 15: North America: USA (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 16: Central America (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 17: South America Part 1 (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 18: South America craft day (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 19: South America Party!
Week 20: Antarctica (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 21: Europe overview (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 22: Scandinavia (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 23: Western Europe (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 24: Eastern Europe (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 25-26: Southern Europe (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 27: Europe craft day
Week 28: Australia & Oceania (Teacher’s Notes | Google Slides)
Week 29: Europe, Australia & Oceania Party!

Disclaimer: This class was designed to be a fun elective that opened up kids’ awareness of other countries and cultures. We did cover technical aspects of geography, like climates and landforms using those Discovering the World of Geography workbooks. But in general, it was not meant to be a comprehensive, academic approach to geography.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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