3 Simple Steps to Teach US Geography Without a Textbook this year

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We are on week 10 of our school year and we just wrapped up our United States Geography studies for the year.  We started our US Geography homeschool unit early during our summer term, with the benefit that we will wrap up early this year. This makes room for other subjects while keeping our schedule manageable.  I didn’t purchase a curriculum, I just bought some atlases and a set of worksheets.  And week by week, we made our way across the country.  

My Goal for United States Geography this year

My goal in this unit study was to methodically introduce the kids to each state.  I want them to know where each state was on the map related to it’s neighbors and what was unique and different about the different regions of the country.  I was not concerned at this time about them memorizing capitals or other details.  Knowing your goals for a study is important and will help you decide how to approach the material and what materials you want to look for. 

You could decide to introduce the states in a variety of ways.  We chose to do them by geographic region.  You could also introduce them in the order they were added to the nation, starting with the 13 colonies. Or you could do them in alphabetical order.  We also added a day to review each region and add them to your national map at the end of each region.  

No matter how you divide it up, teaching 50 lessons is a lot!  And that’s what it takes to cover all the states in our great country.  For my 6th grader this was the second time through the states. For my 2nd and 5th graders, it was their first intentional study of United States Geography.  Previously, we have incorporated geography by looking at world and US maps as locations come up in our literature and history lessons.  This natural learning has given them a strong foundation. 

What We Read

I didn’t purchase any lesson plans for this unit study.  I gathered a variety of United States Geography resources after previewing them at the library.  The first was United States Atlas by National Geographic Kids.  This book had the typical geo-political maps for each state and a 1 page description of the state featuring their major economic products and history.  The second book we purchased was The 50 States by Gabrielle Balkan.  This book features more on the human interest of each state and fun facts.  Each map is stylized and highlights the culture.  Famous people from the state and unique places are also featured.  It also has a short biography of the state and a timeline of important moments for that state’s history.  Using these books together gave an balanced overview of the geographic features of the state as well as the culture. 


What We Wrote

For my out of the box kids, taking notes on a blank sheet of paper is difficult, so we used worksheets to document what we learned from each state.  I used different pages for each child’s ability.  Everyone used State Coloring pages from 123Homeschool4me.  I picked these pages because it included the flag and other state symbols.  Each child was required to color the flag, and the other symbols were optional. 

For notetaking, my 2nd grader used State by State pages from 1+1+1=1.  These pages include writing the state name and capital and the postal code.  We all used these review pages for our regional review.  The other students used Notetaking Pages from Motivated Mama, I found on Teacher Pay Teacher.  The 5th and 6th graders could choose which information they filled in each day.  

I printed each child’s notetaking pages with the state coloring page on the back of the same page to save on paper and make the note taking easy.  All the pages were kept in their binder.  

worksheets and books for United States Geography

Our Lesson Plans

With our resources in hand and materials ready, it was time to get started. It worked best for our schedule to plan for 3 lessons a week. For each day’s lesson the kids opened to the state in their binder.  The pages were in alphabetical order, so extra language arts skill practice.  While I read the information from each of our atlas books they took notes or colored the state symbols.  Then the kids would take the books from me to finish their note taking and to see how to color the flag. 

I didn’t include any hand-on projects or special projects to our study because I know, for me, that is easily overwhelming.  Because our daily plan was short and simple we had room for extra discussion and diving into topics that came up related to our states each week.  At the time we were on Mississippi, the state was changing their state flag.  They removed their current one because of it’s use of the Confederate battle flag, a symbol seen as racist by many.  It was a historic moment that we may not have paid close attention too if we weren’t studying United States geography at the moment. 

We have family members scattered across the country which allowed us to make personal connections to many of the states we wouldn’t otherwise be connected to. When our reading referenced the musical Oklahoma and the classic song “Home on the Range” we watched some YouTube clips adding music appreciation to our day.

Our Wrap Up

After we made our way across the country.  Each of the kids have a long list of the sites and states they want to visit.  Who knows, maybe it’s a road trip in the making for our family.  A simple plan for any subject allows space for questions to lead to new discoveries.  If learning is child motivated, it is retained better and empowers the child.  

US Geography homeschool resources we love