7 Great Books for Teaching World Geography

Teaching World Geography is rewarding in many ways. Teaching geography in middle school and high school allows you to travel through time and space, leading a room full of eager World Geography students to new cultures in faraway places. Geography doesn’t have to be maps and memory drills; instead, interactive geography lessons can merge core content, images, diversity, technology, and emotional accounts, transporting your students across the world while remaining safely in their seats in your classroom. Boring geography studies are sure to go in one ear and out the other, but integrating these 7 great books for teaching world geography into your lesson plans will provide a new perspective on an otherwise difficult topic.

Reading full length books in World Geography can be a great way to address core content, integrate diversity, and practice skills. These seven books are at the top of my list when teaching my Geography students. I love the images the first one suggests!

Today’s teachers are on the brink of innovation, utilizing today’s technology with new teaching strategies, classroom community techniques, and other exciting lesson plans and ideas to integrate into their classroom. However, World Geography is still often seen as a topic of repetitive regurgitation. Memory practice and drills frequent the lesson plans of World Geography teachers, but your students aren’t likely to retain their geography knowledge once they leave your classroom. Instead, using these 7 great books for teaching World Geography will transplant your middle school and high schools students to a different place, allowing them to absorb general social studies topics while learning, and remembering, world geography.

7 Great Books for Teaching World Geography

1. Where Am I Wearing?: A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes – Kelsey Timmerman’s Where Am I Wearing? transports readers alongside journalist Timmerman as he researches the manufacturers of his clothing, encountering poor working conditions and the poverty that riddles many of the workers he meets. Check out the 2012 version for bonus content updating the reader on a fair trade shoe factory.

BONUS! Have students research the countries of their own clothing, and design and share Paper Dolls Around the World with their classmates. You may be teaching teenagers, but they’re sure to engage in a tactile activity like coloring!

2. Material World: A Global Family Portrait – Material World, by Peter Menzel, Mann, and Kennedy, follows over a dozen photographers as they co-mingle with families from other cultures. Illustrating the cultural similarities and differences with striking photographs, Material World provides faces and names with whom your students will connect.

3. Women in the Material World - By Faith D'Aluisio and Menzel, Women in the Material World accompanies Material World: A Global Family Portrait, interviewing and intertwining with the lives of women around the world. 

4. The Power of Place: Geography, Destiny, and Landscape - By Harm de Blij,The Power of Place examines the importance of the culture and physical location into which a person in born. He explores language, technological advances, medical risks, environmental challenges, and more, while stressing the current political and social stance on geography.

BONUS! The Power of Place pairs great with any geography lesson, but integrating it early into a complete World Geography course will ensure a solid foundation for your geography students!

SUPER BONUS! Have students research a country and hypothesize about the differences they would encounter if they had been born in that country. Share with the class!

5. Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash - Garbage Land presents a nontraditional approach to exploring and learning geography. Author Elizabeth Royte studies garbage consumption around the world. Though teaching about trash isn't commonplace, this book provides a vital look at an aspect of culture and geography which is often overlooked.

6. Hungry Planet: What the World Eats - Like Material World, Menzel's Hungry Planet follows thirty families worldwide, taking an intimate look into their shopping carts, their kitchen cabinets, and on their dinner tables. Menzel studies what kind of groceries each family buys but also delves into the familial traditions that occur around the dinner table.

BONUS! Have students read excerpts from all three Menzel works (Material World, Women in the Material World, and Hungry Planet) and make charts to compare and contrast the clothing and food from different countries.

7. Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story - Douglas Preston, scientist and adventurer, uprooted his life in 2012 to set off on an exploratory expedition to find the White City, also known as the Lost City of the Monkey God, in Honduras. Preston recounts his experiences on the expedition, intimately discussing Honduran culture, the history behind the curse of the Lost City, the scientific findings of the journey, and the life-threatening disease that he and his fellow scientists contracted.

Reading full length books in World Geography can be a great way to address core content, integrate diversity, and practice skills. These seven books are at the top of my list when teaching my Geography students. I love the images the first one suggests!Though most traditional World Geography lesson plans include memory drills and skills practice, hoping that students will grasp the knowledge they are repetitively studying, they may not retain this knowledge. An interactive approach to teaching World Geography is more effective in presenting a point of view that your students will retain. Using these 7 great books for teaching World Geography alongside interactive lessons like this Five Themes of Geography Centers Investigation Activity, students will transport across the globe, experiencing and understanding other cultures, and building a strong foundation in geography that they may otherwise lack.

Happy Teaching!

Michele Luck

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