Using “country units,” many schools and homeschooling families work through the alphabet and study one country for each of letter: A for Argentina, B for Brazil, C for China, D for Denmark, E for Egypt, etc. When kids (and adults!) learn about new countries, it is an exciting journey into a faraway land… it is the thrill of discovering new species, new flavors, and new celebrations… it is learning new ways to communicate to new friends around the world- and in the end discovering universal values and experiences. Here are some excellent resources to start your country units. Whether you do decide to follow the “ABC” model, or simply want to dip your toes into the country pool, challenge yourself to choose lesser known countries to give your students a wider variety of exposure to people and places.
Choose Your List of Countries
It helps to get organized before you start, so that you can file away ideas and activities for countries as you find them in your research. Make a list of the countries that you are going to study, and roughly decide how long you will study that country. Sometimes it is effective to tie the geography studies to other units that you will be studying in other disciplines (for example if you are celebrating Chinese New Year in January, choose Hong Kong, and if you are studying the rainforest another month, choose Costa Rica to correspond). Finally, instead of studying the countries together, some schools decide to let each child choose one country to investigate and subsequently present to the class or at an international fair.
Involve kids in the decision! Maybe their best friend just moved to Australia, their grandma is from Germany, they love Chinese food, they are into the World Cup and Brazil is doing well, or their favorite animal is the lemur (ahem, my daughter)- whatever the reason, if they are interested accept their input.
Decide Content Topics for Each Country Unit
Look at the different topics you could cover, and choose areas that suit your needs. For example, many 3rd graders learn about the habitats of animals around the world, and some 4th grade students learn about the genre of biographies. Interdisciplinary lessons are effective in teaching, and tying lessons into the country unit allows teachers go more in-depth. Deciding the topics before starting allows students create a portfolio of the year’s projects, with consistent material in each unit. Here are some possible topics to cover in the country units:
|Possible Topics:||Examples of Activities:|
|Physical Map and Landforms||Salt dough map|
|Flag||Decorate a flag|
|Famous People||Biography book report|
|Popular Food||Cooking activity
or restaurant visit
|Stories||Read a folktale|
|Music||Listen to traditional music|
|Animals||Learn about habitats|
|Famous Places||Make a travel brochure|
Other topics to research and activities
Learn about famous inventions, world religions, traditions, celebrations, or current political leaders, listen to traditional music, make a craft, play a popular sport, watch a video or documentary.
Determine Final Presentation of the Unit
Sometimes there is no need to gather and grade the country unit projects from throughout the year, because the value of the unit lies in the enriching global experience. Other times the final presentation of the unit is assessed with a rubric and incorporated into a grade for the class. Whether students are creating a display on one country, assembling a binder of country information sheets, or taking a written test- decide beforehand and clearly explain your expectations.
Maps and Atlases:
Barefoot Books World Atlas. Barefoot Books never cease to amaze and excite our imagination, and their new World Atlas raises the bar. Divided into geographical region, each section is packed with facts and snippets of cultural information, using fold-out booklets and art-quality illustrations of wildlife, architecture, and natural wonders.
National Geographic Education: Map-Maker. This amazing resource has customizable maps to print with the features and size you need.
National Geographic Beginners World Atlas. This colorful atlas is for kids ages 4-7. For kid 8-13, try National Geographic World Atlas for Young Explorers. The accurate and detailed maps and images are interactive when you open the special web site that coordinates with this atlas.
Google Earth is the reigning king of armchair travel. Explore popular and cultural landmarks from your computer in amazing imagery. Here is an example of Google Earth partnering with UNESCO to allow you to “tour” UNESCO sights from the street level, on your computer.
TIME Magazine (for Kids) has information on countries around the world (such as Nigeria, above) on their web site, and also published short magazines that highlight “people, landmarks and geography of places around the world through photographs, maps, diagrams, charts, folktales, language and activities.”
National Geographic Kids is an amazing, interactive resource that includes videos, pictures, important facts, history, government, maps, and even e-cards from a myriad of diverse countries (such as Guatemala, above) around the world. This is a must-see resource! (I promise I don’t work for them).
The US CIA’s World Factbook is a wonderful resource for education and research, for teachers and students:
The World Factbook provides information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities. Our Reference tab includes: maps of the major world regions, as well as Flags of the World, a Physical Map of the World, a Political Map of the World, and a Standard Time Zones of the World map.
To learn more about attractions, cultural landmarks, heritage sights, etc, visit the directory of official tourism web sites of hundreds of government tourist offices and visitor bureaus from around the world. Students can also write to official embassies and asking specific questions about traditions, history, important attractions, etc. One time my ESL students invited a consulate representative to our school’s international week, and he not only accepted the invitation, but stayed to speak to the students about his country!
Discovery Channel has several countries highlighted in videos, like “Brazil” above. Infoplease has country profiles with basic information. ABCteach has a lot of worksheets and coloring pages related to different countries and continents.
Flags of the World has the flags organized by geographic location. Once you find the country you need, you have the option to print the coloring page in a small, medium, or large format. This World Flag Database is in ABC order.
These templates for country study lapbooks allow your students to pick and choose which information to include. In your lapbook, you might include a copy of the money used, beautiful, free photos from around the world, or include some words in the native language of your country.
Animals and Habitats
EnchantedLearning.com has a fantastic biomes/habitats page with definitions and worksheets related to animal habitats around the world.
Animal Planet, a web site from the Discovery Channel, also has a searchable database with animals A-Z from around the world.
National Geographic Encyclopedia of Animals (left) is a great resource for animals facts paired with incredible photographs.
Children Around the World
Children from Australia to Zimbabwe: A Photographic Journey around the World shows with detailed photographs and interesting text how children live in several countries on each continent, plus their favorite activities and sports, and where they worship.
Where Kids Live Around the World offers several resources to view homes and children’s bedrooms from a wide variety of countries.
Enjoy studying other countries and exploring the diverse cultures from your virtual trip around the world!