In #worldgeochat we’ve talked at length about moving away from strict memorization of countries and locations around the world. It is becoming more and more agreed upon that spending all this time on filling out maps for the sole purpose of memorization is not an effective use of class time. I agree with this sentiment but at the same time I do feel that it is important for students to have memorized ‘mental map’ of the world to draw upon for reference and context. We may not always have our phones at our disposal for quick access to Google Maps and the like.

Since I’ve been reading our #WGCreads book club book for the summer, “Play like a Pirate”, by Quinn Rollins (You can check it out on Amazon HERE) I’ve looked back at my own teaching and realized that I’ve been using gamification to get students to memorize countries for years. What I have done is simple, I create a chance for the classes to compete against each other. These games are not part of students’ grades, they create and foster a competitive spirit and a sense of team in each class. It also provides an opportunity for students to struggle to gain confidence without the specter of a grade hanging over their head. Want a kid to try again? Tell them it’s a game and they can level up.

One of the formats I’ve used in the past is with the platform of Sheppard Software mapping games.

Sheppard Software
Sheppard Software is a learning game website that has a multitude of different learning games for students covering a wide range of topics and content. I’ve always gone straight to their geography games section so I don’t have any other information about the other games (sorry).

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The choices are organized by region so it’s easy to scaffold the gaming to fit with the comfort level of the students and also have different stages of rewards/prizes for kids who excel. When you click one of the regions you are then brought to this page below:

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As you can see there are nine different levels for the countries option. Believe me when I tell you that level 9 is REALLY HARD, even for a geography teacher that has been teaching the subject for years and years…. I would keep a class scoreboard for students who wanted to compete. It was never mandatory that a student take part in the game but there was about a 90-95% participation rate. Students who struggled or needed extra help would often come into school early and play while I watched, helped, encouraged, and coached their experience. Over the course of the year there would be ranking for the top 3 in each class as well as a top 10 for the entire section of 100+ students. We’d have points assigned to the places that would go towards a “geography olympics” at the end of the school year.

Sometimes students want to play a game on their phone….

I know, shocking thought. My personal favorite geography game to play is in the app called QuizUp. You can play a host of different trivia games from topics ranging from geography/mapping (my personal favorites, I’m #1 in the state of Maine) to cartoons, history, math, et al. Honestly the topic list is exhaustive and I haven’t checked that many out as I usually just play geography and history games.

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Students would ask to play against me which you can do asynchronously. When engaging in online gaming it is paramount to remember proper internet etiquette and well as basic internet safety. This app has participants from all around the world, which is great but at the same time kids, parents, and educators need to by wary of all online interaction.

QuizUP is a timed competition pitting you against an opponent for seven location questions. You are shown a map with a written hint and then you have 10 seconds to try and guess the correct country from a selection of four choices. There are bonuses for playing the game for several days in a row and you can see your overall ranking against your friends, region, state, country, and world.

Then there is my favorite geography game. Geoguessr

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The holy grail of geography gaming. It’s my absolute favorite thing to show students. Once they get hooked they will spend hours playing this game. You might want to warn parents that Geoguessr is highly addictive and to monitor their usage…

Geoguessr doesn’t get students to memorize the locations of the countries. No. It forces them to infer a location based on their knowledge of both physical and human geography from around the world. That’s taking memorization of locations and then pairing it with the ability to make connections about plant life, mountains, climate, language, et al. This about this: You are shown a Google Map street view picture. Now only using your knowledge of physical and human geography you have to place a pin on a map anywhere in the world, trying to get your pin as close as possible as you can to the actual location of the picture you see. Sound impossible? Nope, my students are really good at this by the end of the year. See deciduous trees, conifers? Cars driving on the right or left side of the road? Billboard signs in portuguese? Palm trees? All these essential clues and hints can help narrow your pin placement closer to the actual spot. When an entire class spends time working together, using their collective knowledge to sus out the answer… it’s pretty powerful stuff. Getting students to think about the world in terms of combining both physical and human geography into how where we live affects how we live, or, how are we connected to the world around us, are important lessons that all students need to learn.

What gaming ideas do you use in your class? Let us know in the comments below!


6 thoughts on “Geography Gaming

  1. I wrote a similar post a while ago with some of my addictive favourites:
    Sheppard software is awesome and I used to use it ALL the time when we focused on map memorization. It really helped kids with the rote recall. It is harder to use lately as more devices move away from Flash.
    I’m planning to use Geoguessr more regularly next fall.
    Cammie Kannekens


    1. It is unfortunate that the move away from flash is affecting some of these platforms like Sheppard software. That being said there will always be something new on the horizon for us to explore using in class with students.


  2. Great piece! I find so many students come to 6th grade without any geographical context… Such a struggle in balancing the rote memorization with the contextual foundation we hope to establish in understanding the world as a whole and the reason for cultural and physical land development over the years. Is there room for both?


    1. I have a framework of guiding questions I use to establish context with students. Memorization is useful only in the sense that when we have the ability to quickly place events in their locational context, we start being able to generate questions about the ‘why’ something happens. The struggle is REAL!


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