Teaching the Five Themes of Geography - Place and Regions

Place and Regions can be abstract concepts, but once the definitions are understood, they're easy.

Place is what makes one place different than another. This can include physical characteristics such as the land or human characteristics like the culture of a group of people.

Regions are simply areas that share one or more qualities/characteristics.

I start teaching place by asking my students what makes our town unique from other towns. Then I ask about other places the class has been. Maybe we talk about what makes our school different from others. Then we talk about other towns/places/schools that are similar to the ones we discussed to define regions.

Another important concept relating to regions are the different types - formal, functional, and perceived.

Formal regions are defined by things like population, climate, or other facts.

Functional regions are defined by a functional point. For instance, most countries are functional regions because they are goverened from a certain point, i.e. the capital city. Or a school district would be a functional region because it is controlled by a central office, shares the same infrastructure (often, anyway), and has the same basic goal.

Perceived regions are based on peoples opinions or perceptions of an area. For instance, the Southwestern United States has varying perceptions by people in different places, but usually people "feel" or "perceive" similar things about that region. Other perceived regions would include Chinatown in San Francisco, Hollywood, Harlem in New York, etc... When discussing perceived regions, it's often helpful to discuss why certain regions are perceived in a particular way, including stereotypes.


An obvious activity for Place and Regions is a research project on a place or region of the world that interests the student. In the process, the student learns reasons why the place is unique and why it is part of different regions based on its characteristics.

It's also a good opportunity to work on the students' map reading skills. I have a set of Nystrom atlases that have a lot of great maps that help bring out the qualities of different places and regions around the globe such as population, natural resources, the availability of healthcare, language origin, time zones, etc.

Update 8/15/16 - I just put up a new post on the Five Themes that I think will be helpful to students and teachers!  Please check it out!

Thanks for reading!

Mr. West

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