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Grades 3-5
The idea for this lesson plan was inspired by Suzie Howell-Olsen and Katie Hansen of Meadow School in Petaluma, California, who received a teacher grant from the National Geographic Education Foundation in support of a year-long project called A Survey of the Continents.

In this lesson, students will examine a map and globe to compare the physical features of Earth's continents. They will play the GeoSpy continents game and manipulate an online map to compare the continents' climates. Students will conclude by writing paragraphs comparing and contrasting two continents.

Connections to the Curriculum:
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 1: "How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective"
Standard 3: "How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface"
One hour

Materials Required:
Students will
  • compare and contrast the continents as they appear on a map and a globe;
  • use the National Geographic World Viewer to compare the continents' climates; and
  • write paragraphs comparing and contrasting two continents.
Geographic Skills:

Acquiring Geographic Information
Organizing Geographic Information
Answering Geographic Questions
Analyzing Geographic Information

S u g g e s t e d   P r o c e d u r e
Review students' knowledge of the continents by pointing to them on a wall map and having students call out their names. Have them test their knowledge by playing National Geographic's GeoSpy game (they will need to choose "Continents Game" from the list of options).

Finally, ask students to label the continents on a blank Xpeditions world outline map .

Ask students to look at a world map, either online, in a book or atlas, or on the wall. Also have them take turns looking at a globe. Ask them to look carefully at the shape, position, and features of all seven continents.

Discuss these questions as a class:

  • What is something that all continents have in common? [Students' answers answers will vary, but one good answer is that they all have mountains.]
  • Which continent is the "oddball?" Why? [The most likely answer is Antarctica because it is the coldest, it is located in the southernmost reaches of the planet, or it is the least populated.]
  • What are some differences between North America and Europe? North America and Asia? North America and the other continents? [Students should base their answers on what the map and globe show in addition to any other things they already know about these continents.]
  • Which continents do you think have the largest areas with really hot weather? Which continents, in addition to Antarctica, have the largest areas with really cold weather? Why?
Have students investigate this last question by going to National Geographic''s Xpedition Hall , entering Room I, and choosing X3 (the World Viewer).

Ask students to click on "Surface Temperature" above the map.

Ask them to scroll the mouse over each temperature category and look at the map to see the temperature differences between the continents.

As they look at these temperature maps, ask them to write the answers to these questions:

  • Which two continents have the largest areas with really hot weather all of the time? (South America and Africa)
  • If you wanted to live in a place where the weather is always mild, which continents could you choose from? (North America, South America, Africa, Australia)
  • If you really liked cold winters and didn''t like hot summers, on which continents could you find a suitable place to live? (North America, South America, Europe, Asia)
  • What is the weather like in Antarctica? Where else is the weather like this? (it's always cold in Antarctica; it's also like this in the interior of Greenland)
  • What's the climate like where you live, according to this map? Do you agree with what this map says about your home area? Why or why not?

Discuss the answers to the above questions. Do students agree about where they would like to live? Would some students prefer colder climates, and others prefer warmer ones?
Suggested Student Assessment:
Ask each student to write a paragraph comparing and contrasting two continents of their choice. They should address the physical geography they have noticed on the map and globe and the climatic differences they have learned about. If they know other things about the continents, they may include this information in their comparisons as well.
Extending the Lesson:
Have students go to National Geographic's Wild World: Terrestrial Ecoregions page. Ask them to click on various colors on the map and try to locate areas of similar vegetation patterns on different continents. For example, they should look for
  • desert regions on North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia;
  • the boreal (northern) forest of North America, Europe, and Asia;
  • the tundra;
  • the tropical rainforest; and
  • areas that are similar to their home region.
Ask them to write paragraphs or make posters comparing and contrasting similar ecoregions on different continents. Conclude by discussing whether they think there are more similarities or differences between the continents' vegetation and landscapes.
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