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How to Teach Geographic Features to 3rd Graders

In Virginia, third graders learn about important landforms, or "geographic features" from Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and North America. This social studies unit includes a lot of information and can be overwhelming. Don't worry, I'm here to help!

1. Introduce Geographic Features with Photos and Maps

I created a 25-slide PowerPoint that goes through every geographic feature included in the VA SOLs. They are grouped by continent, so you can use it throughout your unit and go at your own pace. Each slide includes a photo from that location, a map showing the location of the feature, and any facts students need to know. Check out the example slide about the Alps Mountains below! This resource also comes with student notes that accompany the PowerPoint.

2. Complete a Map of Each Continent

After we learn about each continent's geographic features, students create their own map of the continent, using the key. I demonstrate on my own copy, using an Elmo so students can see. I copy the maps at 85% size so they fit into composition notebooks. Once students finish their own maps, they glue them into their social studies notebooks. This is an important resource later on when we create our travel brochures!

3. Practice with Matching Cards

If you want students to remember each feature, you will need to practice and review a lot. One fun review game we do in my class is called Mix, Pair, Match. Students mingle on the carpet, exchanging cards with each other while the music plays. When the music stops, whichever card they are holding is theres and they have to find the match. For geography, we math the geographic feature to the description. Once students find their match, they sit down. When everyone is sitting, the round is over and we check the matches together.

4. End-of-Unit Test or Project

If you want to use a traditional assessment, I have one in my store. If you have more time, however, I highly recommend going the project route. My third graders LOVED creating a travel brochure to show what they learned this unit. For each continent, they picked one geographic feature to highlight. They wrote facts about the feature and showed where it is on the continent map. I allowed students to use their notes, so they didn't have to rely on memorization but still had to provide accurate information. I created a rubric also so students understand my expectations and how to earn an "A".

Have you ever taught this geography unit? I'd love to hear how it went!

Happy Teaching!

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