teaching geography
16 Apr 2021

How Geography Can Teach Students SEL

Last week I had a video call with an old friend. We spent some time catching up on recent events, reminisced a little, and made plans to visit once the pandemic finally died down. There was nothing particularly exceptional about our meeting, except for the detail that my friend happens to live in Australia. In fact, our conversation made me realize how fortunate I was to have so many international acquaintances. Whether they hailed from China, Nigeria, or Ecuador, my friendship with these individuals helped me grow as a person and taught me so much about the world.

Thanks to technology, humanity is now more connected than ever. Yet, at the same time, it can feel like we’re all struggling to communicate. I’m not just talking about the pandemic. The last couple of years have done a lot to divide the country, and the effects are even making their way into the schools. As educators, we strive to build classrooms where students can build healthy relationships, even with people who don’t share their worldview. If we hope to stem this new wave of polarization, it might be time to get creative.

A Great, Big World

Social-emotional learning is key to our students’ relational development. By helping them build skills like social awareness and responsible decision making, we teach them how to interact, collaborate, and learn from people of different backgrounds. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. You can’t give out worksheets on self-awareness after all! Luckily, SEL can be introduced to students through the most unlikely of subjects: Geography.

Geography is about more than physical landscapes. Geography is about the people who inhabit these areas. It touches on who they are, their beliefs and traditions, their main source of industry, and how they spend their free time. By teaching your students geography, you’re essentially introducing them to a new culture and allowing them the chance to walk in their shoes. Cultivating this empathy can show students that regardless of where people come from, we are all more alike than we are unalike.

Mixing it Up!

Here are just a few ways you can mix geography with SEL in the classroom:

  • International Pen Pals: Start by going old school! Use one of these online resources to get your students connected with another class somewhere in the world. Encourage them to send handwritten letters to another student and ask them more about their country. What is the climate like? What holidays do they celebrate? What do they do for fun?
  • Virtual Interview: Do you happen to know an international individual? Invite them to meet with your class virtually and share a little about their country. What was it like growing up there and what brought them to America? Have them reveal some of the biggest differences between their home and the United States. Then, have them explain how both countries are similar.
  • Pop Culture Revolution: Entertainment is universal. Ask your students to choose their favorite piece of pop culture from another country and share it with their classmates. It could be a videogame, a piece of music, their favorite book, and so much more!
  • The Places You’ll Go: Randomly pick a place on a map using the Random Capital City Generator. Once you have your destination, have your students how far they’ll have to travel to get there. What language will they need to learn? What are some things they’ll need to pack for the journey? Best of all, are there any historically significant sites they should visit?

Help your students explore the world from the safety of their classroom, and give them the opportunity to see the world through a different set of eyes. Who knows, a little geography could be all they need to chart their course toward positive social-emotional learning!

We hope you are all staying healthy and safe during this difficult time. For more free educational resources simply follow this link. If you enjoyed this blog post, don’t forget to subscribe!

*Today’s image courtesy of National Geographic’s Student World Atlas. Get your copy today.