The Skill Sharpeners: Geography series has books for pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. In this review, I will focus on the books for first grade and above. The books for preK and kindergarten address many basic skills (e.g., recognition of shapes and colors) with a geography theme.
All of these full-color books are more than 130 pages in length and are divided into five or six sections titled The World in Spatial Terms, Places and Regions, Physical Systems, Human Systems, Environment and Society, and The Uses of Geography. (The last section is not included in the first-grade book.)
There are one to five units within each of these sections.
Each unit has a two-page, illustrated lesson that teaches a new concept or skill. Then, one or more visual-literacy activities have students apply what they have learned with both images and words. A vocabulary activity introduces geography-related words and their meanings along with written activities and puzzles to help students recall them. Some units incorporate the vocabulary activities into pages titled “What I Learned,” which include other written activities that review concepts taught in that lesson. One or more hands-on activities help reinforce each lesson. These might involve drawing, coloring, writing, simple map making, and cutting and pasting in the younger grades. Activities for older students are more likely to involve internet research, personal interviews, and real-life applications.
Essential concepts are taught at a simple level in the early grades, then repeated in subsequent levels in a more sophisticated fashion. For example, first graders learn to identify a globe, while fifth graders learn about latitude and longitude, and even the specific coordinates for the Eifel Tower and Times Square. Fifth graders then use the internet to find and write the GPS coordinates for where they live.
The books gradually add more text with fewer, smaller images, and they also gradually increase the amount of written work required. For answer keys, each of the books includes very reduced images of student pages (nine pages reduced to fit on one page) with overprinted answers.
As you can see from the topical divisions of the books, they cover social studies and a little science along with geography. For instance, the first-grade book teaches children about basic map reading, globes, regions, landforms, bodies of water, and environments while including topics like community helpers, weather, and natural resources. The books for upper levels home in on specific social studies and science topics. For example, one unit in the fifth-grade book includes a discussion of world religions and sacred architecture, while another unit addresses solar power. Similarly, the geography lessons in the books for third grade and up seem more interesting to me than the lessons for younger levels since they often focus on particular places. For example, the fourth-grade book introduces students to such diverse and fascinating places as the Bermuda Triangle, Antarctica, the Amazon, Gondwana, the Panama Canal, and the Camino de Santiago.
Free Teaching Guide
Inside the front cover of each book are both a QR code and a URL for accessing a free teaching guide. The teaching guide has scheduling recommendations, a printable scheduling form, brief information about how to use the lesson material, printable forms for students to create a geography journal, graphic organizers for students to summarize what they learned in a lesson, and a graphic organizer for new vocabulary words. For each of the six sections, the guide also provides discussion questions, a virtual or actual field trip suggestion, and, occasionally, literature suggestions.
The variety of topics and styles of presentation in the Skill Sharpeners: Geography series make them a good option for covering geography.