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Mapping Europe

Mapping Europe

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Comprehensive Unit
88 pages
Grade Level: Middle School – High School

Mapping Europe has been designed to serve two major purposes. First, the unit teaches students about the basic physical and political geography of Europe. Second, it introduces, or reviews, fundamental geographical concepts and vocabulary in a European context.

In a world so shrunken in time and distance that we can communicate almost instantly with any other city on any other continent and fly to even more corners of the world in a matter of hours, a knowledge of different places can no longer be considered a luxury. Instead, it has become a necessity. Our interdependence is now so complete that actions—be they economic, political, social, or environmental—in one world region can have immediate repercussions in another world region.

Over the past 15 years, revolutionary and evolutionary processes have profoundly altered the shape of both Eastern and Western Europe. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of communism throughout Eastern Europe released a momentum for radical change on a scale not seen in Europe for nearly 50 years. More recently, the intensifying pace of European integration has changed the map of Europe. The creation of the Euro Zone in January 2002 represented a new form of economic unity. In 2004, 10 new Eastern European nations joined the European Union. The Europe of the past 45 years has largely disappeared; old frontiers have reemerged from the dustbin of history, and well-established national borders are under threat as populations seek to regroup themselves along ethnic lines. Even as the latest round of border alignments settle, it would be premature to conclude that the map of Europe has attained its final, definitive shape.

Unit Goals

  • To teach students key geographical terms that are important for communicating geographical ideas
  • To introduce and reinforce students' knowledge of the physical and political geography of Europe
  • To help students understand the concept of boundaries
  • To teach students the interaction of climate, landform, and natural vegetation
  • To improve students' understanding of location
  • To develop and practice chart and map reading skills
  • To provide opportunities for group work

Time and suggested sequence of events

Each of the unit's six lessons can be integrated into your curriculum where it best suits your needs. However, it is recommended that you teach the entire unit as a whole. The following suggested sequence of activities will give you an idea of how the unit has been designed. While Mapping Europe teaches many important skills and ideas, the unit is not exhaustive.

Lesson One (suggested teaching time: 1 class period):

Through small-group work, students are introduced to key geographical terms that are important for communicating geographical ideas.

Lesson Two (suggested teaching time: 1–2 class periods):

This lesson focuses on the political geography of Europe before the political changes that began in 1989. After locating and defining Europe, students are given map hunt clues which they, in teams, try to answer as quickly as possible.

Lesson Three (suggested teaching time: 1 class period):

Students continue their exploration of the political geography of Europe, this time concentrating on the political changes that took place in Europe after 1989. They are introduced to the concept of boundaries and define terms such as nation, state, and border. The lesson concludes with a mapping activity in which students record recent changes on the political geography of Europe.

Lesson Four (suggested teaching time: 1 class period):

As in Lesson Two, students are given map hunt clues to answer, this time focusing on physiographic features of Europe. At the end of the activity, each student labels the physiographic feature on the class map.

Lesson Five (suggested teaching time: 1–2 class periods):

In this lesson, students learn and use latitude and longitude to locate European capitals. By comparing the climates of certain locations in Europe, they will be able to understand how various factors affect the climates of Europe. The lesson concludes with an activity in which students create a human map of Europe.

Lesson Six (suggested teaching time: 1 class period):

In this lesson, students resume their exploration of the political contours of Europe, now concentrating on European integration. Special attention is devoted to the development of the European Union over time and how the political boundaries of Europe are shifting. Students also learn about capital cities in the European Union in order to teach them about important political, cultural, and historical aspects of member countries.