This page contains content from the Xpeditions website, which is now archived. The National Geographic Education website,, includes some of our most popular archival content in its original format.

Warning Label

Please note: We are no longer updating the content on archived pages. Archived content may contain dated information and broken links.

Grades 6-8
Geographers today place an emphasis on spatial organization that includes the concept of functional regions—areas defined by business and economic activities. Functional regions are organized around a node, or focal point, with the surrounding areas linked to that node through systems, associations, and activities. The concept of functional regions provides a way to examine the linkages and flows that create interdependence among people.

This lesson places the student in the role of geographer—thinking geographically and using geographic skills. During this lesson, students will connect data and visual representations to see how the links that sustain a region can be visually represented by maps of flow lines or overlapping "cobwebs."

Connections to the Curriculum:
Geography, social science, math, language skills
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 5: "That people create regions to interpret Earth's complexity"
Three to five hours

Materials Required:
  • Paper, pencils, and graph paper
  • Word processing, graphing, and presentation software (optional)
Students will
  • be able to identify and define a region and give examples of regions at different spatial scales.
Geographic Skills:
Asking Geographic Questions
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
Start by sharing with the class a definition of "region." A region is an area with one or more characteristics or features in common, which give it a measure of homogeneity and make it different from surrounding areas. Human factors or physical features may define region.

Have students list the regions within which the local community exists. Ask students to describe the regions they listed.

Introduce students to the idea of formal (characterized by a common feature such as language, political identity, climate, or vegetation), functional (organized around a focal point of transportation, communication, or trade), and perceptual (defined by human attitudes about areas) regions. In a class discussion, divide the list into formal, functional, and perceptual regions.

Tell students that we create regions in our lives by the functions we carry out daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Attempt a second brainstorming session based on this geographic question: What are some of the functional regions in which we operate? (See the list in the next section of this lesson for help in eliciting ideas.)

Assign pairs of students to collect data for a linkage-and-flow map depicting a region in which they, their families and friends, and other people of their local area operate.

Students will need to survey a random sample of people to gather data, then organize the data, and create a graphic representation of it. Students will need to phone or visit businesses and agencies or use the Internet to collect data.

Suggestions for survey topics include the following:

  • Where, how far, and how often do you and your family travel to shop for clothes and household items?
  • Where, how far, and how often do you and your family travel for recreational purposes (e.g., fishing, hunting, boating, camping, and skiing) or cultural purposes (e.g., moviegoing, parties, and museum visits)?
  • Where, how far, and how often do you and your family travel on long vacations?
  • Where did your family buy its last car? How far did you travel to buy it? How often does your family make such a purchase?
  • How many customers does the local television cable system serve, and what is the geographic extent of the service area?
  • How many planes fly in and out of the local airport each day? What cities do they come from? Where do they go? (Trains, ferries, and subway systems would be alternate focuses for this type of question.)
  • How many customers does the local Internet service provider serve, and what is the extent of the local service area? How many calls are made into the system on a daily basis? Students may also want to research how many local citizens subscribe to regional or national Internet service providers.
  • How many subscribers does the local newspaper serve? What is the geographic extent of the newspaper's distribution?
  • How many people come to the closest regional mall to shop on any given weekend? From where do they come? How large is the geographic area served by the mall?
  • How much e-mail have you received this week? How would you classify it (e.g., within the school system, within the community, within the state, within the U.S., or international)?
  • How many new students came to the local school this year? From what communities did they move? How many students have left the school system this year? Where did they go?
  • How many sports games or meets (e.g., basketball, soccer, volleyball, track, cross-country, wrestling, swimming, football, or gymnastics) does your school participate in each season or year? How far do teams travel for games and meets?

Have a brief class discussion about regions. Have students' ideas about the definition of a region changed since they began this lesson? Is their idea of a region broader or narrower than it was before?
Suggested Student Assessment:
Have students give an informal oral presentation in which they answer several of the following questions. (If possible, have students use presentation software to enhance their presentations.)
  • What is the purpose of this region?
  • What gives this region cohesiveness and sets it apart from other regions? Is it a physical or human characteristic, or both?
  • How large is this region?
  • Are the borders of this region precise?
  • Does this region join people in a common cause or delimit an area of conflict?
  • Is this a formal, functional, or perceptual region?
  • What defines this region—politics, economics, language, religion, social needs, or a common physical property?
  • What is the focal point of this region?
  • What cultural image does this region suggest to the world?
  • Has this region changed recently? Is it currently changing? Will it change in the near or distant future? What is the catalyst for this change?
Extending the Lesson:
Display student graphics in the classroom, the hallway, or on the Web. Find a school within another region of the country with which to exchange information and compare functional regions. (This exercise would be particularly effective if urban and rural areas were compared.)

Jody Smothers Marcello of Blatchley Middle School in Sitka, Alaska, contributed classroom ideas for Standard 5.

Related Links: