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5th Grade Geography Concepts

by Andrew Aarons, studioD

Can you name all 50 states and label them on a map? If not, you're not ready for fifth-grade geography. In fifth grade, geography focuses largely on political geography -- understanding divisions between countries and states -- as well as on physical geography, climate, and latitude and longitude. These concepts can all reinforce each other in the classroom, and you can shape a curriculum around these four basic concepts. While each state has its own variations, national standards are set by Geography For Life and states stick closely to these national guidelines.

Physical Geography

Physical geography examines the way the world formed, and in fifth grade, the focus is on the continents. Students should learn the seven continents and major bodies of water, including the oceans and Great Lakes, and should be able to find them all on a world map. You can teach them the differences between the physical geography of the continents, from explaining why the western coast of the Americas is rugged and mountainous, to outlining how parts of Asia are divided by the tallest mountains on Earth. Use a world map to reinforce the concepts of cardinal directions, teaching students north, south, east and west.

Political Geography

Political geography examines the dividing lines that human beings have created to establish distinct political zones. In the fifth grade, political geography looks entirely at the United States and at the states themselves. Students should be able to label all 50 states on a blank map, but the knowledge can be tied to population (and population migration) and linked in to the shape of North America and some continental knowledge. You can reinforce the cardinal points here too, asking which states are east or west of which other states.

Latitude and Longitude

In fifth grade, students start to work with latitude and longitude, the measuring lines of the Earth. Latitude measures parallels, or the east-west lines that measure how far a geographical point is from the equator. Longitude measures meridians from the Prime Meridian, which runs through Greenwich, England, and forms the basis of time zones. Students should be able to locate major U.S. cities by latitude and longitude, which is labeled on most maps and in every atlas.


Finally, once you’ve established ways to measure the world and where continents, oceans, lakes and mountains are in the United States and around the world, you can begin talking to your students about climate and how geography shapes weather. Look at the wet areas beneath the Himalayas, for example, or the Great Plains of the United States.

About the Author

Living in Canada, Andrew Aarons has been writing professionally since 2003. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ottawa, where he served as a writer and editor for the university newspaper. Aarons is also a certified computer-support technician.

Photo Credits

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