Helping Elementary Students Learn About Geography
31 Jan, 2015. 0 Comments. . Posted By: Kristen Smith

At my school, each grade level has a “cultural focus” and spends a few months studying their focus area in an integrated unit. We are very excited that this year our focus is China! Over the next couple of months, our kindergarteners will learn all about the people, the geography, the animals and the cultures and traditions of China. My team and I have been working hard to create a completely integrated unit for our students. We kicked off our study this week and the students are OVER.THE.MOON excited to continue learning.

To begin our unit, we watched the brief introduction of the documentary “Wild China” found on Netflix. My students were amazed at the beauty and the animals that live in China. There is a great video available on youtube that you could have your students watch to showcase the beauty of China. (Stop it after the intro.)


After watching the brief video, I charted all of the things that we already knew about China. This year I have one little boy who knows Mandarin and he was so excited to share what he knows about the language. We have learned how to say “hello” (ni hao {nee how})  and are practicing counting to ten!

Throughout the next few weeks, we will be receiving letters and videos from two characters that I created. Oliver and Reagan will send us messages as they travel through China. Thus far they have introduced us to the new land that we will be studying.

To help my students understand  where China is, we have been working on learning all of the continents. I saw the most amazing blog post the other day and just HAD to replicate Stephanie’s fabulous map. On her blog Imagine Our Life she so graciously offers the pattern for this amazing map.

Stephanie's beautiful map from Imagine Our Life

Stephanie’s beautiful map from Imagine Our Life

I created a similar map for my students to use throughout our unit. To begin, I went to Jo Ann Fabrics and purchased these materials:

1. 1 yard of dark blue wool blend felt ($4.99)

2. 1/2 yard of “beige” wool blend felt ($4.99/yard)

3. stiff felt 8×10 sheets of yellow, orange, pink, green, red, brown ($1.49/each)

4. stiff felt 16×20? (I’m not sure the exact dimensions of this one– it was large) of white

5. fabric glue

6. the matching colors of embroidery thread ($.45 each)

I must preface this project with telling you that I have never sewed before in my life. However, I was so inspired by this blog post that I just had to try it. I am really proud of it for it being my first time sewing and my students LOVED the lesson.

To begin, I printed out Stephanie’s template and then cut out all the pieces I would need. (1 colored continent, and 2 cream colored pieces of each continent.)

I then sewed the land “control” pieces to the blue felt. You don’t have to do this part but I wanted to so that we could review where the land pieces were on the map and where the water is.  In our lesson, I also used this to review the terms continent and ocean.

teaching geography to elementary students.009

After sewing all of the control pieces down, I then sewed a backing to each of the colored continents.

teaching geography to elementary students.004 teaching geography to elementary students.006

Each continent follows the “Montessori” colors when teaching the continents. As our lessons continue, my students will begin to recognize the colors of the continents along with the shapes of them.

Here is an upclose look at each part of the project.


I’ll be honest, the entire project took me about 8 hours (a great use of one of my snow days!) but I’m sure if I actually knew how to sew it would’ve gone much faster. Also, I still need to go back to the control map to add the islands that I missed. (Tanzania, New Zealand, etc.) At this point I am not too worried about them because the purpose of the map currently is to help my students master their continents and where China is in the world.

When I presented the lesson to my class, I begin by singing our continent song and then had my students help me match each continent to the control map. After each new continent was introduced, we reviewed the names of the ones we had already placed on the map.

teaching geography to elementary students.005Then, as an extension, my students colored in a map using the same colors as our map pieces.

It was one of those lessons that make you smile thinking about it. My students were totally engaged and really enjoyed it. Afterwards, during exploratory centers, many students chose to match the continent pieces again and again.

Next week, we are going to review where China is, learn how rice is grown, and all about the Great Wall Of China. In our sensory table my students have been exploring rice this week and next week there will be nomenclature cards hidden in the rice with our Chinese vocabulary words.

china unit-sensory table

If you would like the nomenclature cards, you can get them for FREE! Simply click on the picture below to get taken to the Google Document.

china nomenclature cards.001 Next week we will also learn how to play a singing bowl. Once my students match all our new vocabulary words, they can attempt to get the bowl to sing.

I can’t wait to share more of our thematic unit with you. I hope you are having a great weekend!

If you are interested in my integrated All About China unit, you can purchase it HERE. It is perfect for getting ready to study Chinese New Year. It even comes with pre-written lesson plans for your convenience. 

No Comments Yet

Leave a Comment