Fun maps; geography puzzles and crafts.

These challenging activities make middle schoolers into map readers.   

Atlas Alphabet 
Challenge small groups to find a country, capital city, river, or mountain range that starts with each letter of the alphabet. When they’re finished, have students gather as a class and share their responses. The twist is that groups receive points for unique answers only. If more than one group has “Austria” for example, they must cross out the response and no points are given. Each team that has a unique response earns two points. If only one team has a response and no other group has any country, capital city, river, or mountain range for the same letter, the team earns three points. The group with the most points wins!

Geographic IQ
Make two stacks of index cards. One stack should have an image of a globe on each card; the other stack should have red Xs. Divide students into small groups. Take turns asking each group a geographic question, such as “Which is the largest ocean?” “Name a country on the continent of Europe.” “What is a peninsula?” If the group gives the correct answer, it gets a card with a globe. If wrong, the group receives an X. On additional turns, groups with correct responses may choose to either receive another globe card or pass an X card to another team. Award small prizes to the team with the most globe cards and to the team with the fewest X cards at the end of the game.

The Fashion World
Invite partners to check the labels on their T-shirts to see where they were made. Do the same for shoes. Explain that in a globally interdependent world, we have goods from many parts of the world. Using pins and notecards, mark and label on a world map the countries students have identified. Challenge kids to find additional objects in their homes that came from different countries. Tally and graph the goods to see which country exported the most products to your classroom and community.

Geography Puzzlers
Invite partners to create “geography puzzlers” by researching three clues about a mystery place in the world. The clues should range from hardest to easiest. For example: I am thinking of a place that touches the Pacific Ocean; this country is an island; its capital city is Manila (the Philippines). Once pairs are finished, have them share their puzzlers with the class.

Geography Concentration
Have groups create several pairs of index cards with geographic clues on one side and answers on the other. The trick: The answer to the first question should go on the second card, and vice versa. Then ask groups to swap cards with another group. Students take turns turning over pairs of index cards to find matches. The turn continues as long as they match pairs.

“Get the Facts” Board
Give students a template with the following headings: Mountain, River, Resource, Continent, and Cool Geography Fact. Have each student select a country and research the information to fill in the template. Post the templates on a bulletin board. Periodically, read one of the “Cool Geography Facts” aloud, and have students try to guess the country.

Sports on the Map
Why are the L.A. Lakers, the NBA basketball team, called the Lakers? There aren’t lots of lakes in Los Angeles! But there are in Minnesota, where the Lakers started out. Make a list of other professional sports teams, and challenge students to brainstorm the geographic origins of the teams’ names.
Some teams to get you started: Utah Jazz (team originated in New Orleans), Indiana Pacers (Indianapolis 500), Houston Astros (NASA Space Center is in Houston), and Denver Nuggets (Colorado gold rush).