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High School — Social Studies

People have relationships with the places where they live and work. We can look at geographic data, as well as cultural, physical, economic and political characteristics, to determine relationships between geography and human activity. As our world changes and becomes increasingly interdependent, it is crucial that students explore not just the earth and its features; they must also understand the distribution of life on the earth, including human life and the effects of human activity.

Ohio's Academic Content Standards establish the following expectations for student performance in the area of Geography:

  • Students use knowledge of geographic locations, patterns and processes to show the interrelationship between the physical environment and human activity;
  • Students must be able to explain the interactions that occur in an increasingly interdependent world.

The content in this Teaching Tool is based on Ohio's Academic Content Standards: K-12 Social Studies and includes types of questions asked on the Ohio Graduation Test. While various activities are suggested for working with students, this Teaching Tool is designed to complement a rigorous, research-based curriculum, not to substitute for one.


1. Geography

Click on the following benchmarks for more information and for links to annotated OGT items.


Benchmark A: Analyze the cultural, physical, economic and political characteristics that define regions and describe reasons that regions change over time.

Benchmark A: Analyze the cultural, physical, economic and political characteristics that define regions and describe reasons that regions change over time.

Students should be able to explain how regions have come to be defined by cultural, physical, economic and political characteristics. Developments in technology, trade and economics have led to new geographic considerations.

Classify geographic characteristics -- Help students identify characteristics that define geographic regions. Once students have identified done this, they can classify those characteristics into cultural, physical, economic and political categories.

Students can sort geographic characteristics. Use the following chart as a sample of the kind of information students might identify when exploring particular geographic regions Students can consider different parts of the world and describe each region using the characteristics listed in the chart.

  • Language
  • Religion
  • Ethnic identity
  • Geographical features (mountains, valleys, tundra, volcanoes, etc.)
  • Climate
  • Proximity to water/bodies of water
  • Terrain (hilly, flat, rocky, etc.)
  • Availability of natural resources
  • Agricultural capabilities
  • Access to trade routes
  • Level of prosperity
  • Degree of industrialization
  • Level of technology
  • Accepted borders
  • Nationalities represented in the population
  • Type of government

Have students complete the chart below to describe each of the following geographic regions. Discuss the elements that characterize a region. What makes a region distinct? Which characteristics best define any given region? (For example, is the Middle East a region primarily because of unifying cultural, physical, economic or political characteristics?) The chart below can be used to help students organize their notes during class discussion.

Geographic Region Cultural Characteristics Physical Characteristics Economic CharacteristicsPolitical Characteristics
North America    
Central America    
South America    
The Middle East    
Western Europe    
Eastern Europe/Former Soviet Satellites    
Southeast Asia    
Sub-Saharan Africa    

Draw conclusions -- Help students consider the generalizations that they made in describing the characteristics of different geographic regions. Students can draw conclusions about the ways that different characteristics might combine to affect a region by asking:

  • Which physical characteristics benefit a region's economic prosperity? Which physical features harm a country's economic prosperity?
  • How do a region's cultural characteristics influence its political characteristics? How does the presence of different religious or ethnic groups affect a region's political organization?

Similarly, students can consider the ways in which geographic regions change over time. Have students consider how the physical, cultural, economic and political characteristics might lead to change.

Help students draw conclusions by asking:

  • How might climate conditions change a region's economic capabilities?
  • How might a natural disaster affect a region economically, physically and politically?
  • How might a region's economic dependence on agriculture change after a major climate shift?
  • How might a cultural shift from rural to urban lifestyle affect the economic prosperity of a region?
  • How might trade influence the political cooperation between or among nations?
  • How might trade influence the spread of language and ideas?

Consider geographic data used to compare countries and regions -- Help students identify different types of geographic data used to compare countries and regions. Students can consider the cultural, physical, economic or political impact illustrated by each type of data. Ask students to complete this template for various countries. The first row has been completed as an example.

Type of Data Type of Impact (cultural, physical, economic or political) Effects on Country or Region Reasons for Changes in DataConclusions Based on this Data
Birth rates
  • Economic
  • Cultural
  • Political
Higher birth rates can put an economic strain on a country or region, or might shift power from one group to another.A change in birth rates may be the result of changes in the quality of health care as well as changes in the economic status of the nation as a whole.Low birth rates might describe a country that does not have adequate health care for all citizens.
Death rates    
Infant mortality rates    
Education levels    
Per-capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP)    
Military spending    
Type of government    
Major imports/exports    
Major religions    

Interpret data -- Help students draw conclusions about how such data might be used to compare countries or regions. Use the preceding geographic data template and the data students provided to consider the following:

  • Which countries might be economically similar? Which might be extremely different?
  • Which countries might be culturally similar? Which might be culturally different?
  • Which countries might be politically similar? Which might be politically different?

Cooperation and conflict -- Using the preceding geographic data template and the data students provided, have students draw conclusions about the ways in which regions or countries cooperate or conflict with each other. Ask students:

  • What might lead one country or geographic region to cooperate with another?
  • How might countries/regions cooperate economically?
  • How might they conflict economically?
  • How might countries/regions cooperate politically?
  • How might countries/regions conflict politically?

Changing perceptions and characteristics of geographic regions in the United States -- Students can consider how cultural, physical, economic and political characteristics affect different geographic regions in our own country. As regions changed over the years, we have viewed them in different ways. For example, we might value urban areas as centers of economic prosperity now that we are not totally dependent on agricultural regions for our economic well-being. Students should consider:

  • Urban areas;
  • Wilderness;
  • Farmland;
  • Centers of industry and technology.

For each region listed, ask students:

  • How have cultural, physical, economic and political characteristics changed this region over time?

Click here for an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.


Benchmark B: Analyze geographic changes brought about by human activity using appropriate maps and other geographic data.

Benchmark B: Analyze geographic changes brought about by human activity using appropriate maps and other geographic data.

The survival of our earliest human ancestors depended on adapting to the geography of the region in which they lived. If they were unable to obtain food and resources from the land around them, they moved. Unlike these ancestors who let geography determine their survival, humans in modern societies have developed an ability to alter geography, shift the locations of their economic livelihood and ensure their survival.

Students must be able to explain how humans have changed the characteristics of their environment. They will need to know how to recognize data that show geographic change caused by human activity. To this end, students should be able to explain how our centers of industry have shifted to access natural resources. Agricultural areas no longer serve as the centers of our economic activities. Instead, urban areas with their access to industry, communication and transportation are the centers of our economy.

Finally, students must be able to connect advances in technology, transportation and communication to geographical shifts in economic activities.

Analyze geographic changes -- Have students consider urbanization as an example of geographic change brought about by human activity:

  • Economic development that came about with the rise of industrialization;
  • Population growth and migration to cities.

Students can then consider some of the consequences of urbanization:

  • Environmental changes--use of rivers and water power to operate factories; the discharge of industrial waste into the air, land and water.

Have students consider human activities that might cause geographic change:

Human ActivitiesPossible Geographical Changes
  • Creation of new industry as the center of economic activities
  • Job opportunities available in specific industries
  • Change in the center of economic activities
  • Depletion of resources at one site and the need to locate new sites with needed resources
  • Migration of the population in search of job opportunities
  • Leadership change
  • War
  • Negotiations
  • Change in the borders or organization of a nation or region
  • Decimation of land due to bombing, land mines and chemical warfare
  • Desire to improve one's economic status and display improvement through living patterns
  • Shift in dominant societal values (as in the ending of segregation)
  • Creation of middle/upper class neighborhoods , or the creation of poorer, neglected neighborhoods or slums
  • Creation (or perceived creation of) socially specific regions like the "Bible Belt"
  • Depletion of raw materials in a region (over-fishing, logging)
  • Destruction of habitable environment (hazardous waste contamination)
  • Depopulation of specific areas
  • Migration in search of more raw materials to sustain survival (economic or physical)
  • Clustering of culturally affiliated groups of people (possibly due to immigration)
  • Creation of ethnic neighborhoods or enclaves

Recognize patterns in data -- Help students examine maps and data to recognize trends in human-environmental interaction. Provide students with maps and charts that represent geographic data relating to: population statistics, gross domestic product, cultural identifiers (language, religion, etc.), and other factors. Provide this data and maps for specific events. (After analyzing the data, discuss the impact the event had on the region's geographic characteristics.

In examining data, students can draw conclusions by asking:

  • What do the data measure?
  • What is the map trying to show?
  • What kind of changes might be supported by the data?
  • How do the data show what might have caused this change?

Consider the developments that have allowed changes in the location and patterns of economic activities and the use of productive resources -- During industrialization, advances in transportation and communication allowed a shift in the centers of economic activities from rural to urban areas. Two of the changes that facilitated the rise of cities were the completion of railroad lines leading to urban areas and the development of the telegraph (and the telephone) which allowed for communication between cities.

Changes in technology, transportation and communication continue to cause shifts in the location and patterns of economic activities and the use of resources. Use the following information to spark class discussion:

DevelopmentResulting Shift
Rise of air power and commercial air flight Quicker delivery of raw materials and manufactured products to further, more remote markets
Availability of automobiles, the development of the Interstate highways More mobile workforce, ability to manage several different markets
Development of mobile phones Centers economic activity around the individual
Development of personal computers Centers economic activity around the individual, allows for the management of business files and transactions in limited space, processes business transactions and policies faster
Development of the Internet Allows for immediate access to markets, resources, and contacts across the world at any time of day
Development of business serversAllows for multiple individuals to access and contribute to a business network simultaneously so that individuals no longer have to be in the same place at the same time in order to collaborate productively

Have students extend their thinking and draw conclusions by asking:

  • What geographical shifts have occurred over time?
  • What do those shifts suggest about why the location and patterns of economic activities changed over time?
  • What technological developments might have contributed to the shifts that occurred?

Have students investigate how human activity has affected various characteristics of geographic regions, supporting their conclusions using data and maps. Present examples like the following to help students begin to assemble their ideas:

CharacteristicHow human activity has affected this characteristicData or maps to support
LanguageAs a result of European exploration, Spanish is the primary language in most of Central and South America Statistics from World Almanac
ReligionAs a result of the spread of Islam, most of North Africa is MuslimMap showing religious distribution in Africa

Click here for an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.


Benchmark C: Analyze the patterns and processes of movement of people, products and ideas.

Benchmark C: Analyze the patterns and processes of movement of people, products and ideas.

Human geography includes the study of the patterns and processes of human movement. As we have seen thus far in our study of geography, human interaction with the environment has led to many shifts in the way we live. In studying the movement of people, products and ideas, we study the reasons for these movements. Students will need to be able to analyze the factors contributing to human migration, and the processes that led to some of the migrations.

Analyze possible reasons for human migrations -- Have students consider some factors that lead to human migrations. Students should provide general/broad-based responses as well as specific historical examples to illustrate each one. Have students categorize their responses according to the following descriptors:

  • Social;
  • Political;
  • Economic;
  • Environmental.

To extend this skill, students can also identify migrations that have occurred for reasons linked to the categories listed above. Consider the following examples as you discuss the classification and interrelationship of various factors that impact human migration.

Human MigrationsMotivating Factors
  • Immigrants who leave their home country to join family in other parts of the world
  • Moving because of a desire to align with the views and values of others in a particular area
  • Refugees fleeing persecution in their own countries for holding views that are not favorable to the controlling groups
  • Moving to another country to enjoy political rights not available in a home country
  • Moving within one country to acquire the political benefits of a particular region
  • Moving to take advantage of better job opportunities
  • Immigrants who move to advance their economic status
  • Moving to a stronger economic climate to better support a family
  • Moving to new centers of economic activity
  • Moving to avoid a scarcity of natural resources necessary for survival
  • Moving to avoid economic devastation due to acts of nature (floods, droughts, etc.)
  • Moving to avoid health problems caused by environmental pollutants

Students should be able to examine an example of a human migration and name the type of factors that motivated the migration.

Help students recognize that some human migrations are due to a variety of reasons. For example, students might consider the migration of people from Oklahoma and the Great Plains areas to western states like California during the Great Depression. Students might identify that the devastation that occurred during the Dust Bowl was environmental in nature. Encourage students to identify the search for better job opportunities as a contributing economic factor to the migration.

Understand the connections between movement of people and movement of products and ideas -- Link advances in communication and transportation to the opening of markets for products and to the spread of ideas. Have students compare how products and ideas were spread before industrialization to how products and ideas have been spread afterwards (considering advances in transportation and communication).

Have students look at specific products and ideas and investigate the nature of their movement from nation to nation.

Click here for an annotated item from the 2005 Ohio Graduation Test that addresses this benchmark.



Help With Fundamentals

These activities can help you address the fundamentals with your students.

Activity 1

Identify Geographic Features

Use maps to identify physical characteristics of a geographic region. Have students identify features such as mountain regions, deserts, plains, coastlines, and bodies of water. Have students make generalizations and draw conclusions about how these physical features helped to define the region.

Ask students:

  • How did these physical features limit the region/country economically, culturally and physically?
  • How did these features benefit the region/country economically, culturally and politically?

Students can consider:

  • Viability of land for agriculture
  • Physical features that might isolate the region culturally or economically
  • Proximity to other regions or countries
Activity 2

Explore Causes and Consequences of Geographic Change in our Country

Help students understand the different types of human activity that might lead to geographic changes in the United States. Ask them to consider geographic changes that have occurred, what human activity caused these changes, and the consequences. Assign groups to find and explore examples of geographic changes that have resulted when people have moved due to economic, political, environmental or social/cultural change. Ask each group to share an informal presentation on the particular geographic change that they have discovered and researched.

Some possible geographic changes for groups to explore include:

  • Causes and consequences of the growth of cities in the United States in early 20th century;
  • Causes and consequences of The Dust Bowl;
  • Geographic changes in the United States brought about by Hurricane Katrina.
Activity 3

Understand Migrations

Provide students with historical examples of migration. Students can consider examples like:

  • The migration from Ireland due to the potato famine;
  • The migration of African Americans from the South to the North following World War I;
  • The migration of European Jews to Palestine and the U.S. before World War II.

Have students meet in groups to discuss each migration and identify what caused it. Was it social, political, economic or environmental? What combination of factors was at play? Ask each group to consider the reason for the migration, the conditions leading to the migration, and the overall geographic pattern or change that resulted from the migration.

Additional Instruction and Practice

These activities may be useful for students who require additional instruction and practice.

Activity 1

Analyze Characteristics and Perceptions of Geographic Regions

Have students consider different regions in the U.S. and identify how physical, cultural, economic and political characteristics have changed our perception of these regions over time. Students may chart them, using the first completed row as a model:

RegionCultural Characteristics Physical Characteristics Economic Characteristics Political Characteristics Once perceived as...Now perceived as...
  • Frontier
  • Symbol of surviving off surroundings
  • Dense forests
  • Mountainous regions
  • Expanses of rocky terrain, or canyons
  • Animals exist in natural environments
  • Natural resources like timber
  • Tourism
  • Conservationist efforts
  • Dangerous
  • Rich in resources
  • Shrinking
  • Nostalgic links to a rustic past
  • An escape from urban life
Urban Areas      
Centers of Industry and Technology      

Students can use the chart to sum up their explanations in written form.

Activity 2

Identify and Analyze Geographic Change

Present students with maps and data from a table. Students can analyze the data by identifying any changes brought about by human activity.

To identify a change, students can ask:

  • What kind of change does this data show?
  • Is it economic? Political? Social? Physical? Cultural?
  • What might have caused this change?
  • What might be some consequences of this change?
  • How does the data support this change?
Activity 3

Identify Geographical Processes that Contributed to Changes in American Society

Students can recognize that geographical processes motivated people to move to and within the U.S. Have students consider examples that have roots in economic, social and political factors:

Example Movements of people, products and ideas that occurred Geographic factors involved How it changed American society
Industrialization and post-industrialization    
Urbanization and suburbanization   

Advanced Work

These activities can help your students reach the next level in their understanding.

Activity 1

Use Data to Compare Countries or Regions

Choose one country or region and research available geographic data to define and describe that country/region culturally, physically, economically and politically. Have students use the data to explain:

  • How can birth rates, death rates, infant mortality rates and Gross Domestic Product be used to compare this region/country to the U.S.?
  • Which other countries might be economically similar? Which might be extremely different?
  • Which other countries might be culturally similar? Which might be culturally different?
  • Which other countries might be politically similar? Which might be politically different?
  • Why might this country want to cooperate with another economically or politically?
  • Why might this country conflict with another country economically or politically?

As an extension, ask students to identify and explain geographic changes to particular regions over time. Divide the world into regions and have students research how each region changed over a particular time period. Have students focus their research on the geographic characteristics established in Benchmark A. Students can present their findings to the class.

Activity 2

Create a Theory About Geographic Change

Have students create a theory about a geographic change caused by human interaction that might be relevant in the world today. Have students research this theory and identify data that might support it. Students can follow a scientific process and report whether the data they found supports or refutes their original theory:

  1. Create a hypothesis;
  2. Gather evidence to support the hypothesis;
  3. Review the evidence for patterns, connections, and other generalizations that can be made;
  4. Draw conclusions and determine the validity of the hypothesis.

Have students explain their research as a class presentation or create a display that shows the process of their work.

Activity 3

Create an Ongoing Study

Examine world news sources and encourage students to think critically about current events:

  • Students can ask what current conditions might lead to more movements of people. Students can identify reasons why people might want to migrate, and create a hypothesis for investigation.
  • Students can search for data to support their hypothesis;
  • Students can analyze these reasons for migrating. Are they political, economic, social, physical or cultural?
  • Students can predict the outcome of the migration they hypothesized.
  • Have students track current events in search of information that will support or refute their hypothesis. Check in periodically and have students reflect on the status of the study.