Let’s talk about islands. What are the largest islands in the world? How are islands formed? Where are the different types of islands located? A geography lesson for kids on islands, with facts, maps, and lesson plans for different ages.
Islands are a landform that can be found in oceans, lakes, and rivers. An island is an area of land not connected to a continent and completely surrounded by water.
- Small islands are sometimes called cays, keys, or islets.
- A group or chain of islands is often called an archipelago.
- An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef on top of an old volcano that has eroded.
There are two main types of islands: continental islands and oceanic islands. Continental islands are part of a continental shelf. For example, Great Britain and Sicily are islands that sit on the continental shelf of Europe. Oceanic islands are islands that don’t sit on a continental shelf. Oceanic islands are mainly formed by undersea volcanoes like Iceland in the Atlantic and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.
Top 10 Largest Islands in the World:
Island and Location
(North America). Located in the North Atlantic Ocean.
The largest island in the world, but the least populated country in the world (it is 80% covered by ice).
Though Greenland is still politically considered part of Denmark, people are mainly indigenous to the Arctic region. Greenlandic is an Eskimo-Aleut language spoken by the Greenlandic Inuit people in Greenland.
2. New Guinea
Located in the western Pacific Ocean. New Guinea is a part of the same tectonic plate as Australia.
The island is divided among two countries: Papua New Guinea to the east, and Indonesia to the west.
Scientists say humans inhabited the island as far back as 50,000 BC. New Guinea now has around a thousand different tribal groups and separate languages, which makes New Guinea the most linguistically diverse area in the world.
(Asia). Located in the South China Sea.
One of the largest islands in the world, about 3/4 of the island is Indonesia, with the rest divided between Malaysia and Brunei.
Borneo is itself home to one of the oldest rainforests in the world, around 140 million years old. This rainforest is one of the few remaining natural habitats for the very endangered Bornean orangutan.
(Africa). Located in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Africa.
Madagascar split from the Indian peninsula around 88 million years ago, allowing native plants and animal species to evolve that do not exist anywhere else on the planet.
Over 90% of this diversity hotspot’s wildlife is found nowhere else on Earth.
5. Baffin Island
(North America). Located in the northern Atlantic Ocean.
Straddling the Arctic Circle, Baffin Island has a coastal tundra that is home to abundant arctic wildlife.
This Canadian island has been continuously inhabited by Inuit peoples for thousands of years.
(Asia). Located in the Indian Ocean.
Sumatra is part of Indonesia, and forms part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.
Sumatra has a huge variety of plant and animal species but is losing large portions of its tropical rainforest due to deforestation to make way for palm oil plantations.
(Asia). Located between the Pacific Ocean (east) and the Sea of Japan (west).
The most populous island of Japan, the Greater Toyko Area, plus Kyoto and Osaka are all on Honshu.
The highest peak is the active volcano Mount Fuji, and Honshu also has frequent earthquakes.
8. Victoria Island
(North America). Located in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
Victoria Island is a frozen tundra with peninsulas and inlets. The population of the whole island is around 1800, and the people are mainly Inuit.
9. Great Britain
(Europe). Located in the North Atlantic.
Great Britain lies on the European continental shelf. It is part of the British Isles archipelago (with over 1,000 nearby, smaller islands, and the island of Ireland). The physical island of Great Britain includes England, Scotland, and Wales.
Britain Island used to be a peninsula, but when the ice age glaciers melted and sea levels rose, it became one of the largest islands in the world.
10. Ellesmere Island
(North America). Located in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
The Arctic Cordillera (mountains) cover a lot of Ellesmere Island, making it the most mountainous in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. In addition to mountains, there are fjords, a lake, and a massive ice shelf that is breaking up and melting.
More of the Largest Islands in the World
11. Celebes, Indonesia. 67,400 (174,600)
12. South Island, New Zealand. 58,200 (150,737)
13. Java, Indonesia. 48,900 (126,700)
14. North Island, New Zealand. 44,035 (114,050)
15. Newfoundland, Canada. 42,031 (108,860)
16. Cuba. 40,543 (105,007)
17. Luzon, Philippines. 40,419 (104,684)
18. Iceland. 39,702 (102,828)
19. Mindanao, Philippines 36,537 (94,627)
20. Ireland. 32,589 (84,406)
Facts about Islands Around the World
- Indonesia, Canada, and Finland are the countries with the most islands.
- One of the largest archipelagos (with more than 25,000 islands) in the world is the Malay Archipelago, between mainland Southeast Asia and Australia.
- The Caribbean comprises more than 700 islands, islets, reefs and caves, but only about 2% of the Caribbean Islands are actually inhabited.
- The Hawaiian Islands are built from volcanoes. The tallest volcano in the world is Hawaii’s million year old Mauna Kea volcano. If measured from the base (below sea-level), it is even taller than Mount Everest! It measures 33,500 feet (10,210 meters).
- A desert island is called so because it exists in a state of being deserted, or abandoned.
- Java (Indonesia) is the world’s most populated island with 130+ million people.
- The Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca (Las Islas Flotantes), Peru, are entirely manmade of woven floating totora reeds. The enormous mats are fastened to one another with ropes, to keep the mats from drifting off.
- Around 1 in 6 people on the planet live on an island.
Lessons to Learn about Islands
Middle School (6th-8th):
Did you know which were the largest islands in the world? How else do you teach your kids about islands?