Most young children in our classrooms have not yet experienced much of the world around them. Unless they have moved or traveled a lot, for most children, their experience of the world includes activities within their local community such as school, extra-curriculars, and local stores. Children may recognize or may be able to name the Earth when a picture is placed in front of them, but having a clear understanding of the vastness of the world, is a concept most littles do not yet know.
Focus on the Big Picture
When I taught lower elementary, I liked to focus on big picture geography, and in particular, the seven continents. To look outside the bubble, our little ones first need to understand the big picture. The land and features of places all around the world have differences and similarities. Where we live for example, does not have lions, tigers, or kangaroos. The major landmass in which we live may feature mountains, and so may other places around the world. Being able to view images of the features of the earth can open our student’s eyes to the big picture.
Using Google Earth in the Classroom
I like to approach our study of the Earth’s major land masses with the focus on each of the seven continents. It helps to start with the continent in which we live.
To begin, I pull up Google Earth on our classroom projector. I first discuss the earth, point out what makes up land, and what makes up the oceans. Then I type in the location of our school into the search bar. The world suddenly spins, and zooms in to the location of our school. This immediately captures the attention of the entire class! Students are amazed when they can see the playground and the school building from an aerial view. For children that have never been in an airplane, this experience alone is absolutely fascinating.
Then we zoom back out, so we can view the entire world again. I explain that the land mass in which we live is North America. From there, we look at how this compares to the rest of the world. We talk about how we are just a tiny little spec on this entire piece of land.
Next, we look at specific features that make up North America. We open our mini books and record information about each of the features that are included in the slide show I display. I like to take time to zoom in on Google Earth to various features, like the Great Lakes for example, so that students can see where this is located in relation to where we live.
Building an Understanding of our World
Many times, students will share out that they have a relative or friend that lives far away. This is a great opportunity to look up their state or location using Google Earth. Yes, this takes time, especially when we have a class of 30 kids all wanting to look up their relatives on Google Earth. But is it worth it? Yes. We don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to engage our students and help them better understand geography.
Using Differentiated Informational Text
I then break my students into small groups for reading. Because I have a wide range of readers, I use differentiated reading passages. All my students are essentially reading and gaining similar knowledge about the continent of study, but at their level.
Informational text tends to be higher level because of the use of new vocabulary. I use pocket chart cards to discuss new vocabulary before sending my students out to read. Differentiating the text makes this content available for all my students.
We then answer questions about the text and discuss as a class. If you want to grab a free sample of my seven continents reading passages, check it out here: The Seven Continents Reading Passage & Comprehension Questions FREEBIE
Building Classroom Community
I follow this same method through each of the seven continents. This is also a great time to embrace and celebrate students that once lived in another country or have family living abroad. Maybe that student has personally experienced some of the features being discussed-- what a special moment to highlight your student and build classroom community. And while we could go even more in-depth into a cultural study, and family unit, the first goal for our young kiddos is to have a big picture understanding of the world.
We wrap up our unit with our globe project. Students get to “show what they know” through this craftivity.
Students cut out and match the continent map with the proper header. They then write out facts they learned that pertain to each of the seven continents. This can be used as an assessment tool, or for bigger kiddos, this can be used as a research project. Students can do additional research on the computer or use books or magazines.
Want to do this in your classroom? Check out the details here: The Seven Continents Unit