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 9-12
Regions are to geographers as time periods are to historians. Regions help us organize and better understand geographic information. An area can be part of many regions. Knowing how to analyze regional data by exploring it in layers can help us see the complexity of regional characteristics and relationships. This activity is designed to have students explore the physical characteristics of a hypothetical region through the use of a low-tech version of a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) map-overlay analysis. Students will form conclusions about the kinds of human development regions that could emerge from their physical regions.
Connections to the Curriculum:
Geograpy, social science, math, language skills
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 5: "That people create regions to interpret Earth's complexity"
Three to four hours

Materials Required:
  • Classroom atlas
  • Blank Xpeditions outline maps of the United States (one copy for each group)
  • Transparency sheets (six for each group)
  • Transparency markers
  • Overhead projector and screen
Students will
  • understand how multiple criteria can be used to define a region;
  • learn the ways in which physical and human regional systems are interrelated; and
  • learn how to use regions to analyze geographic issues.
Geographic Skills:

Acquiring Geographic Information
Organizing Geographic Information
Analyzing Geographic Information

S u g g e s t e d   P r o c e d u r e
Divide the class into groups of four to five students. Distribute two transparency sheets and a marker to each group. Have students use the printed outline map of the U.S. to trace the outline on each of the two transparency sheets. Then have them draw in freehand the climate regions, using the map in the atlas as a guide. Do the same on the other transparency for the landform region map.
Ask the groups to make lists of the characteristics of each map, possibly including
  • number of regions on the map;
  • description of the size and distribution of the regions; and
  • possible relationships among regions.
Discuss the groups' findings and write them on a chalkboard.

Have each group place one transparency map atop the other and then put a blank transparency sheet over those two. On it, have students draw and label the new regions formed by layering the two maps.

Briefly discuss what types of physical settings are more conducive to agricultural and urban development. Distribute another blank transparency. Ask the groups to draw agricultural regions on it, based on their perceptions of the landforms and climate. Distribute a third blank transparency, and have the groups complete an urban region map.

Have each group display and explain its maps. The discussions should eventually focus on the groups' reasons establishing their agricultural and urban boundaries. Further discussion could center on similarities and differences among the groups' maps and the spatial distribution of the groups' agricultural and urban maps. Do the different developments occupy the same areas? Why or why not?

Distribute a fourth transparency sheet to each group. Ask the groups to develop a new map that shows both agricultural and urban areas on one map and then locate and label the possible transportation routes for their development. As they make their regional boundary decisions, students should factor in the effects of climate and landform by laying their new maps over the original climate and landform maps.

Have each group display its new maps. Discuss the relationships found among the groups' agricultural, urban, and transportation regional maps, including the reasons for boundary decisions.
Suggested Student Assessment:
Students will be able to create a regional map overlay for two or three natural or cultural characteristics (e.g., vegetation, population density, mineral resources, and inland waterways). Have students repeat the lesson using different regional data.
Extending the Lesson:
Have students develop regional maps for the school campus (e.g., use of classrooms by subject, movement patterns, administrative areas, areas used by most students or fewest students, cafeteria or vending areas, sports areas, public telephones, parking, and site drainage system). Ask students to analyze the regional patterns and relationships. From this analysis are they able to find ways to more efficiently use the school plant and physical site?

Gary E. Miller of F. W. Cox High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, contributed classroom ideas for Standard 5.

Related Links: