Teaching Geography with Homemade Lessons and Games

We have successfully taught geography without buying formal curriculum by making our own homemade geography lessons with an atlas, maps, flashcards, games and online interactive sites.

I've always loved geography, but I wasn't very good at it until we started homeschooling. In fact, I've learned more in the last three years about geography than I did in all my years in school, including five years of college!

My two oldest kids, currently ages 9 and 10, have learned most of their geography knowledge without the use of a formal geography curriculum. In fact, most of the time all we used was a set of 3 by 5 index cards, an outline map of the world, and a couple of toothpicks (to use as pointers on the map). Of course, we also have a great atlas, a large world map on the wall in our hallway (to which I constantly send them whenever we hear a country mentioned on TV that we haven't studied yet), as well as a good globe that we refer to often.

I started off at the very first by teaching them about landforms. We made up a set of index cards with the names of the landforms, and we learned them like flashcards. I would explain what each landform was as I turned over each card, and then I'd go through the deck again, asking them to repeat back to me the correct description. We also picked up a poster at the store that illustrated the major landforms which was a great way to reinforce the concepts.

Here's a list of some of the landforms/geography terms we studied in particular:

  • archipelago
  • atoll
  • bay
  • canyon
  • cape
  • channel
  • coast
  • delta
  • desert
  • glacier
  • gulf
  • harbor
  • island
  • isthmus (this is where I'd break out in song: "All I want for 'isthmus' is my two front teeth!")
  • lagoon
  • lake
  • marsh
  • mesa
  • mountain
  • mountain range
  • peninsula
  • plain
  • plateau
  • river
  • rain forest
  • savanna
  • sea
  • sound
  • strait
  • swamp
  • tributary
  • valley
  • wetland

I then began teaching the kids the names of different places on the map by starting big, and then proceeding to smaller, more specific areas. First I taught them the names of the continents and the oceans; then we moved on to the smaller places, such as bays, seas, and gulfs, major mountain ranges, rivers, deserts, countries, and major cities.

My method of teaching was simple. I wrote the names of the geographic locations that I wanted them to learn on the index cards (such as Europe or the Black Sea, etc.), then I pointed to the specific place on the map and we learned the names and location together.

The key, however, was the competition; that's where the real learning and long-term retention occurred.

I had the kids compete with each other to see who could name or find the location correctly…and faster! And it was amazing how competing with each motivated them to learn the locations correctly, without complaining.

We'd do our actual geography competitions a couple different ways.

Sometimes I'd split the deck of index cards into two stacks, giving them each a stack, then they'd take turns turning over a card and pointing to the location on the outline map with their toothpick. If they located it correctly, they kept the card; if they didn't, the other person had the opportunity to "steal" it by finding the location. If they didn't find it either, then I got to keep the card (after I pointed out the correct location, of course).

At other times I would have the whole stack, then I'd turn over a card, point at the location on the map, and the first one to name it correctly would "win the card."

Once a set of locations was learned, I would add a few more cards (geographic locations) to the deck and then we'd repeat the game. I would generally add 7-10 new locations at a time, but it didn't take long before we had about 175 cards that we played with.

I didn't follow a specific list of geographic locations when I added new cards to the list, but I did keep my ear open for new locations to learn, such as in the news or in our reading—especially history. When I heard of or thought of a new location to learn, I'd make up a card for it and set it aside so it would be ready to add to our working deck when the kids were ready for it.

I also pulled some of our locations from lists in various geography books (like the largest lakes, the highest mountains, the longest rivers, etc.).

At one time I made out cards for the highest point on each continent and we learned those—both the name of the mountain and the country in which it was located. That particular set of cards was a little harder to learn because we had to learn and remember how to pronounce Aconcagua and Kosciusko. That was where the geographic dictionary at the back of our Webster's dictionary came in handy!

Sometime last year, a homeschooling friend asked me for a list of the geographic locations that we had been working on, so I made up the following list, organized by the type of location. It's definitely not a comprehensive list of all geographic locations (obviously), but it's a good place to start if you're teaching your kids geography without a formal curriculum.



Arctic Ocean

Indian Ocean

North Atlantic Ocean

North Pacific Ocean

South Atlantic Ocean

South Pacific Ocean

Southern Ocean


Adriatic Sea

Aegean Sea

Arabian Sea

Aral Sea

Baltic Sea

Barents Sea

Beaufort Sea

Bering Sea

Black Sea

Caribbean Sea

Caspian Sea

Coral Sea

East China Sea

Labrador Sea

Mediterranean Sea

North Sea

Norwegian Sea

Philippine Sea

Red Sea

Ross Sea

Sea of Japan

Sea of Okhotsk

South China Sea

Tasman Sea

Tyrrhenian Sea

Weddell Sea

Yellow Sea


Baffin Bay

Bay of Bengal

Bay of Biscay

Chesapeake Bay

Hudson Bay


Gulf of Alaska

Gulf of Bothnia

Gulf of California

Gulf of Guinea

Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of St. Lawrence

Persian Gulf


English Channel

Hudson Strait

Strait of Gibralter

Straits of Florida


Lake Baikal

Lake Erie

Lake Huron

Lake Michigan

Lake Ontario

Lake Superior

Lake Victoria


Amazon River

Euphrates River

Ganges River

Indus River

Missouri/Mississippi River

Nile River

Rhine River

Seine River

Tigris River

Volga River

Yangtze River

Yellow River


Niagra Falls

Panama Canal








North America

South America


Asia Minor

Central America

Far East

Indus Valley


Middle East



Baffin Island






East Indies

Greater Antilles

Lesser Antilles

West Indies


Arabian Peninsula

Baja Peninsula

Iberian Peninsula

Yucatan Peninsula

Cape Hatteras


Highest per continent

Mt. Aconcagua (Argentina)

Mt. El’brus (Western Russia)

Mt. Everest (Nepal)

Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania)

Mt. Kosciusko (Australia)

Mt. McKinley (Alaska, U.S.A.)



Andes Mountains

Appalachian Mountains

Appenines Mountains

Atlas Mountains

Caucasus Mountains

Great Dividing Range


Hindu Kush Mountains


Rocky Mountains

Ural Mountains














Cyprus (Republic of)

Dominican Republic






















New Zealand






Puerto Rico


Saudi Arabia



Sri Lanka





The Bahamas

United States

Virgin Islands

I will end this incredibly long and boring post by saying that my children do not remember everything they learned with this method, but they've probably retained at least 90%. And what's more, if they hear of a country or location that they are not familiar with, they know how to use an atlas to look it up—and they're not afraid to do it. And that falls right in line with my basic philosophy of education—you know, the whole "Give a man a fish/Teach a man to fish" thing.

It's appalling to hear how many people today are so geographically illiterate, especially when it is so easy to learn, if you just take the time to learn it. You don't need a fancy curriculum; just get a good map or atlas and a set of index cards, and you're set!


  • Check out my geography links in my sidebar at the right for some great online geography resources.
  • The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide is also a fantastic all-in-one book (K-12) that is very helpful for homeschoolers who want to teach their children geography without being tied to an expensive curriculum.
  • Seterra is a free, downloadable geography program that you can use on your PC. It's a great way to have your kids practice on their own.

Visit Crystal's site for more Frugal Friday Tips!

Image by odalaigh

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  1. says

    Thanks for the sites and links. We are geography buffs around here, too. My son participated in the National Geography Bee this past year and that has encouraged all of us to learn even more.

    Thank yo



  2. says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! As much as I've always wanted to learn geography I've just never managed to do it. So you know how it is to try to teach something we ourselves just don't "get." But this will be such a help for me, and the kids will benefit from it too of course. I am absolutely going to follow your method. It is so inline with the way we school here. Again, thanks!


  3. says

    What a great post!!! We love geography around here! We have a book called 'Geography Bowl' that we have a competition with in a similar fashion. I ask them geography questions out of the book and they get a point for each one they get right. Whoever has the most points wins!

    I'm going to print your list though (that must have taken forever to type by the way!!!) and test them with it. :)


  4. says

    Lots of good stuff in this post about Geography. I like the idea of turning it into a competition. When we hear about places on TV we look them up on the map, too.


  5. Staci says

    I am going to use this info. Thanks. I have recently found your site and I have been pouring over it and telling my homeschool friends about it and my friends who have kids in public school. It is great. I notice this post is from 2008, I have a lot of catching up to do. :) We are finishing our attic, once it is done I am putting up a huge world map. Now I am using a curriculum for school, but I keep thinking about going on my own. Since it has been two years do you use that Ultimate Geography book, has it worked out well?


  6. says

    OH MY GOSH. Thank you so much for this post. I haven't even finished reading it totally and yet I am so excited AND I'm putting you on my blog list!!!! Thank you so much!!!! We homeschool and my kids are behind in geography due to my lack of direction in how I was going to teach it. then, I found an idea in an article about using 3x5s but couldn't find a comprehensive list of terms to put on said cards….now I have it!!!


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