Geography as Social Justice

On the Roles of Geography and Global Citizenship in World Language Education

Lauren Racela, OFLA Technology Integration Committee Chair
French Teacher, Milford High School 

But why is geography important, and why specifically to the world language classroom? Many world language teachers do simple activities like conducting a quiz over Spanish-speaking countries during the first weeks of Spanish I. These are useful because they give students context in which to place the target language and culture. However, many of us don’t think to incorporate geography regularly into our curriculum. Here are some reasons why it’s important to teach geography, and specific ways in which our students can benefit from learning about other countries. 

As world language teachers, we’re lucky. We teach a content area that naturally lends itself to social justice. We spend our days educating our students about people who are part of other cultures. We teach them the language, the products, the practices, and the perspectives. These elements help give our students a more well-rounded view of target language speakers. In addition to cultural instruction, I’ve found that teaching geography can be a powerful tool to foster intercultural understanding.

Pursuing the study of geography sends a simple message – that places beyond our community matter to us. We frequently use the term “global citizen” to express the way we want our students to move through the world. We want our students to act with an empathetic awareness for the needs, struggles, and strengths of others. Part of that awareness starts with being able to imagine where in the world these other people are located. 

In the world language classroom, there are many opportunities to learn about geography. Obviously, students should be able to point out a few counties where the target language is spoken. I incorporate many French-speaking countries into our housing and holidays units. Playing geography games can also be a fun brain-break that still has curricular value. When I find that I have a few spare minutes at the end of class, my students and I will play a round of Seterra or Geoguessr on the projector. More information about both of those games are listed at the end of this article. 

In addition to learning geography, students benefit greatly from seeing images of other countries. Some of my students are shocked to see images of Cairo, a high-tech and modern city in Egypt, because they picture Egypt to be nothing more than pyramids and ancient ruins. Many of my students are excited to see bustling markets in Morocco because the colors are so beautiful. Educating students about geography breaks barriers. It makes these other places seem more real. Some students have never seen street signs or advertisements in a language other than English. When students see the location of a place as well as images of daily life, it helps them imagine what life is like for people there. It fosters a sense of closeness and empathy. 

Learning the locations of various countries and seeing pictures of their streets are both simple gestures. But it’s a start. It moves students past the state of dismissing other countries as simply too far away or complicated to fathom. Learning world geography is a gesture towards understanding other cultures. It proves that it’s our responsibility to look out for one another. I hope you’ll consider incorporating more geography into your classroom. 

Here are some ways that you can incorporate simple geography lessons into your world language curriculum. 

  • Geoguessr – This fun, free website uses Google Street View to drop you somewhere totally random on the globe. Use the arrows to move around the street view. Read signs, look at the buildings, and use any other clues you can find to determine where you are in the world. Place a pin on the map, and the closer your guess is to the actual location, the more points you’re awarded!
  • Seterra – This is another excellent free website. Seterra is a map quiz that students can play in various modes. Students can identify countries on an unlabeled map, click on countries’ capitals, or even match the flags with the correct countries. There are hundreds of options, and you can even customize your own quiz. 
  • Sporcle Countries of the World – This game presents a fun challenge for geography nerds. Starting with a blank map, the goal is to name every country in the world by typing their names into the box. This would be great to play as a class. 
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