National Geographic in the Classroom
National Geographic can be an excellent resource for educators in many different fields. The high quality content in the magazine can be excellent advanced-level reading material in geography classes, social studies classes, and elsewhere. As text for learners of English as a foreign language, National Geographic is not always suitable, but the pictures often have easy-to-read captions, and the magazine’s website contains a wealth of images and other resources that educators can use.
One of the best reasons to use National Geographic in the classroom is to teach concepts related to culture. Culture is a very nebulous concept that includes many different elements and can be subject to many different interpretations. Adults and adolescent students alike can have a difficult time understanding just what culture is and why it’s important. For decades, National Geographic has been a source of information on remote foreign cultures, and the magazine’s fascinating reportage can be used to make abstract cultural concepts come to life in the classroom.
The Culture Lesson: Step One
One culture lesson that can be taught in a secondary geography class or in an ESL class involves using National Geographic to give examples of concepts related to culture. This lesson should be taught over a number of class sessions, giving students plenty of time to get interested in the information and absorb what they are learning. The first step is to teach students some specialized vocabulary related to cultures. Examples of such vocabulary include: norm, stereotype, tradition, ritual, misconception, value, respect, and so on. The teacher should explain the meanings of these words to students, giving examples from his or her own culture. Students can use a dictionary to help them if they are not native English speakers.
The Culture Lesson: Step Two
After the students have learned the vocabulary words, choose an article from National Geographic that discusses a foreign culture. The February 2013 issue included an article on a group of Kyrgyz nomads living in Afghanistan that is great for this purpose. Create a 'fact sheet' about the culture, including some of the culture’s beliefs and values, some rituals, and other interesting tidbits from the article. Be sure to include basic facts about the culture, such as where it’s located and what language they speak. Give the fact sheet to students along with the pictures and text of the article (most articles and images can be found online). Discuss the culture, having students fill in missing information on the sheet or add other facts that they locate.
The Culture Lesson: Step Three
Next, explain to students that they will be inventing their own culture. Give them a blank version of the fact sheet and have them work together in groups to invent a new culture. They should decide on the culture’s history, economy, values, and any other information they can think of. If students have trouble being creative, give them some random objects like decorations, jewelry, or things found outdoors. These objects can be used as 'cultural artifacts' to give students ideas.
The Culture Lesson: Step Four
When they have created their cultures, students could write an article about their culture from a third-person point of view (similar to the National Geographic article). Alternatively, they could give a presentation explaining their culture to outsiders.
This is a great way to teach students how to be open-minded about foreign cultures, and to get them thinking about their own cultures as well!