• Tips & Modifications


    If you have limited computers and/or computer availability: Instead of having students research their own project, select one example for the class to explore in depth. Or, select two examples to research as a class and create a chart comparing and contrasting them.


    In Step 3, have students complete the North Sea (Example 1) research as a whole-class exercise. Then have the class continue with the three remaining case studies, supporting students as needed. Or, have students independently research one of the other three case studies.

    1. Build background about how countries share geographical features such as oceans.

    Remind students about their decision-making in Lesson 5, Activity 1 regarding ocean and sea borders. Ask: How do you think countries actually divide and share ocean resources? Explain to students that each country abides by an international agreement establishing an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), an area extending 200 nautical miles off a country’s coast. According to this agreement, each country has the right to explore and exploit the living and nonliving things in its EEZ. Ask: How might sharing a geographical feature, like an ocean, or a natural resource within it create problems between the countries that share them? Students may mention disagreements surrounding environmental preservation, distribution of resources, commercial activity, residential and military occupation, and travel and tourism.

    2. Have students compare and contrast possible conflicts around specific physical features.

    Ask students to keep in mind their ideas about how countries may disagree about sharing ocean resources. Then remind students of what they explored in Lesson 4: Conflict on the Danube. Two countries had to share the Danube River, leading to some conflict. Ask: Do you think the same issues could cause conflict around an ocean? A mountain range? Another physical feature? How are each of these scenarios similar or different? Capture students' ideas on the board.

    3. Have students research case studies of countries' disputes over physical geography.

    Distribute a copy of the worksheet Physical Geography Research Project to each student. Then divide the class into small groups of four. Assign each group one of the four examples to research, using the provided websites. Give groups maps according to the examples they are assigned:

    • Example 1: The North Sea—Map: Major Bodies of Water in Europe
    • Example 2: Scandinavia—Map: Physical Map of Scandinavia
    • Example 3: Strait of Gibraltar—Map: Major Bodies of Water in Europe
    • Example 4: The Netherlands—Map: The Netherlands: Reclaimed Land

    Tell students they will become experts on their assigned case study, and will need to be prepared to share their expertise with classmates in Lesson 5, Activity 3 of this unit. Have them turn in their completed worksheets, or publish them in the classroom so students can see or read their classmates' work.

    Informal Assessment

    Evaluate students' completed Physical Geography Research Project worksheets.

    Extending the Learning

    Encourage students to find a new example that is not listed, and research and report on it.

  • Subjects & Disciplines

    Learning Objectives

    Students will:

    • research examples of physical features in Europe that intersect with country borders in interesting ways

    Teaching Approach

    • Learning-for-use

    Teaching Methods

    • Cooperative learning
    • Discussions
    • Reading
    • Research

    Skills Summary

    This activity targets the following skills:

    Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

    National Council for Social Studies Curriculum Standards

    • Theme 3:  People, Places, and Environments
    • Theme 8:  Science, Technology, and Society

    National Geography Standards

    • Standard 1:  How to use maps and other geographic representations, geospatial technologies, and spatial thinking to understand and communicate information
    • Standard 13:  How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of Earth's surface
    • Standard 14:  How human actions modify the physical environment
    • Standard 16:  The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources

    ISTE Standards for Students (ISTE Standards*S)

  • What You’ll Need

    Materials You Provide

    Required Technology

    • Internet Access: Required
    • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, Projector

    Physical Space


    Other Notes

    Depending on the depth of the research, this activity could take one class period or up to several days.

  • Background Information

    Countries with ocean or sea borders have some control over a limited area extending into the ocean from their coastal borders. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was signed on December 10, 1982. According to it, every coastal country can establish an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) extending 370 kilometers (200 nautical miles) from shore. Within the EEZ, a coastal country has exclusive rights to the oil, gas, and other natural resources in the seabed up to 200 nautical miles from shore. Oil was discovered in the North Sea in the 1960s. Oil is one of the most valuable resources taken from the ocean today. The claim had to be divided among the many countries that border the North Sea—the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Norway.


    A peninsula is a piece of land jutting out into a lake or into the ocean. Because they are surrounded on three sides by water, peninsulas usually have long coastlines. "Peninsula" comes from two Latin words, which together mean "almost an island." The Scandinavian Peninsula in northern Europe is one physical feature where there are three countries: Finland, Norway, and Sweden.


    A strait is a narrow passage of water that connects two larger bodies of water. One of the best known is the Strait of Gibraltar, which links the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Historically, straits have had great strategic importance. Whoever controls a strait is likely to control the sea routes of an entire region. The countries controlling the Strait of Gibraltar control the flow of traffic into an  out of the Mediterranean Sea.


    The edge of land that borders the ocean along a continent or an island is called the coast, or seacoast. Most people think of coasts as fixed, enduring boundaries that mark the land’s end. Yet all coasts are constantly changing in an endless battle with the ocean. In some areas of Europe, countries struggle with their water borders. They have had to erect barriers against the ocean to prevent coastal flooding caused by high winds and tides or by seismic sea waves called tsunami. For 800 years, the Netherlands has been successfully fighting against the North Sea to keep its coastline. Sixty-five percent of the Netherlands would be underwater today if it were not for the dikes constructed by humans.

    Prior Knowledge

    • None

    Recommended Prior Activities

    • None


    Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    border Noun

    natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: border
    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: coast
    conflict Noun

    a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

    country Noun

    geographic territory with a distinct name, flag, population, boundaries, and government.

    exclusive economic zone (EEZ) Noun

    zone extending 200 nautical miles off a country's coast. A country has the right to explore and exploit the living and nonliving things in its EEZ.

    mountain range Noun

    series or chain of mountains that are close together.

    natural resource Noun

    a material that humans take from the natural environment to survive, to satisfy their needs, or to trade with others.

    ocean Noun

    large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ocean
    physical features Noun

    naturally occurring geographic characteristics.

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