50 mins
Photo: A cliff on the Atlantic Coast.

Students examine the shape of a selected country in Europe, and analyze the influence that shape may have on the human activities within the country.


1. Introduce the activity and assign countries.

Tell students they will examine the shape of a country in Europe with coastal borders and analyze the influence that shape may have on the human activities within the country. Divide students into five small groups, and assign each group a country in Europe from the following list:

  • Bulgaria
  • Estonia
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Spain


2. Have groups use mapping tools to explore countries.

Have each small group use the MapMaker Interactive to explore the physical features of their assigned country, and the MapMaker 1-Page Map tool to explore the political geography.


3. Have groups draw and label borders, physical features, and cities in their countries.

Ask groups to sketch the general shape of their assigned country on a blank sheet of paper and work together to do the following:

  • identify the borders that are on a coast
  • identify the borders that are on land
  • note physical features, if any, that define the land borders
  • identify any countries that share a border with the assigned country
  • locate the capital and other major cities


4. Have students discuss the following questions within groups and as a whole class.

Write the questions below on the board for students to refer to during their discussions. Encourage them to make any notes on their maps and to be prepared to share their ideas with the whole class.

  • How would you describe the country’s shape?
  • How much of the border is coastal? How much is land?
  • How many countries border yours?
  • Where is the capital city located relative to the shape?
  • Where are other major cities located relative to the shape?
  • What problems or advantages might these locations offer given the shape of the country?
  • How might the shape influence such human activities as transportation, government, defense, regional identities within the country, and similar activities?

Discuss each question as a class. Give each small group an opportunity to share their ideas as you move through the list of questions.


5. Make a connection to what students will do in Lesson 2, Activity 2 of this unit.

Restate the guiding question: How does the shape of a country influence the human activities within the country? Remind students that these factors of shape and size define a physical space over which a country exercises control and can influence the ways in which human activity is structured. Tell students that, in Lesson 2, Activities 2 and 3 of this unit, they will explore what they know about these factors at a larger scale: in the continent of Europe and its physical and cultural landscape.

Extending the Learning

Have students use National Geographic Traveler guides to find more information about each country in Europe with coastal borders that they explored in this activity.

50 mins
Photo: Fjord in Greenland.

Students brainstorm what they already know about the land and peoples of Europe and what they want to learn. Then they draw as much as they can of Europe on a blank map, including its borders, physical and human geography, and anything else that they recall.


1. Activate students’ prior knowledge about Europe.

If you have personally been to Europe, you may want to share some of your experiences, maps, or photos. Invite volunteers to share their personal experiences with Europe. Then ask: What do you already know about Europe from other classes, maps, books, television, or movies?


2. Have students generate ideas about Europe.

Write the following phrases on the board: What I Know, What I Think, and What I Wonder About. Divide students into pairs. Ask students to work with their partners to write down five ideas that they have about Europe. Encourage them to use the phrases on the board to help them generate ideas. Make sure they understand that their ideas can be about the people who live in Europe, the cultures, languages, land, climate, or any other ideas they have about the continent. Gather the lists together, either by asking students to orally share their ideas, or by having students write their ideas on the board in the front of the room. Make sure students understand that they will not be graded on how much they do or do not know about Europe. Explain to them that you just want to get an idea of what they know and want to learn about Europe. Students will return to these ideas later in this unit, as they learn more about Europe.


3. Draw physical and cultural features on a borderless map of Europe.

Distribute a copy of the map Europe Without Borders to each pair of students. Write the following list on the board:

  • compass rose
  • the border between Europe and Asia
  • the prime meridian (0º longitude), which runs through England
  • oceans
  • borders of countries in Europe
  • country names
  • rivers, mountains, and other physical features
  • areas where different languages are spoken and where particular religions are found
  • historical country borders in Europe and how those have changed

Ask students to work with their partners to draw and label as much as they can from the two lists: the brainstormed list you generated as a class in Step 2 and the list you wrote on the board. Encourage students to think about and take notes about why they drew things where they did as they work. Rotate around the room as students work, using the following prompts to better understand what students are thinking: Why do you think that country (or physical or cultural feature) is in that location? How did you learn about that? How certain are you about your drawing?


4. Have small groups share their maps, ideas, and questions.

Combine pairs of students to form small groups. Ask students to share their maps within the groups and to discuss their ideas and list their questions about Europe.


5. Have a whole-class discussion.

Collect students' maps for use in later lessons in this unit. Then regroup for a whole-class discussion about how difficult it was to draw features of Europe. Ask: What were you confident about? What did you have trouble with? Begin a class list of questions that students have about Europe. Encourage students to record the list on a separate sheet of paper, and to add to this list throughout the unit so they can find the answers before completing the unit.

Informal Assessment

During the group discussions in Step 4, ask students to explain their understanding of the political, cultural, physical, and historical landscape of Europe. Examine students’ maps to ascertain student learning. Clarify information, as needed.

50 mins
Photo: A night around the Colosseum.

Students view photographs of Europe to determine if the photos match their own ideas about Europe. They search for geographic clues within the photos to learn more about the subjects shown.


1. Practice differentiating between physical and cultural landscape features.

Draw a T-Chart on the board. Add the left column head: Physical or Natural Features, and the right column head: Cultural or Human Features. Shuffle and then tape each of the index cards you prepared ahead of time to the board, to the left or right of the chart, to serve as a word bank. Ask students to do a word sort by moving the words into the correct columns. Then discuss the completed chart. Ask: How did you know which words were physical, or natural, landscape features? How did you know which words were cultural, or human, landscape features? Tell students that they will use their understanding of physical and human landscape features to make observations about locations in Europe in photographs.


2. Make observations about the physical and cultural landscapes in the Europe photo gallery.

Write the following questions on the board for students to refer to:

  • Does this photo look like Europe to you? Why or why not?
  • Where do you think this is located? What clues in the photo helped you determine the location?
  • What else can you see in this photo? What is happening? How can you tell?

Distribute a copy of the worksheet Make Observations: Multiple Countries or Regions to each student. Project the Europe photo gallery so all students can view it. Be sure to cover the captions, which include location information, with a sheet of paper. Make sure students understand that the gallery includes images from different countries and regions of Europe. Pause on each photo and provide students with enough time to take notes about their observations about the physical and cultural landscapes. As students look at each photo, encourage them to think about the questions on the board. Continue until students have completed the worksheet for the full photo gallery. Students may have some difficulty classifying physical and human features in photos of landscapes when there is some ambiguity. For example, if a line of trees was planted for effect, students may not know if it should be classified as natural or human. Provide support, as needed.

3. Have students make inferences about the locations, places, and people in the photos.

Divide students into small groups. In groups, have students share the observations they made and note the differences and similarities between observations. Then have students use their observations as a basis to make inferences about the locations, the places, and the people and list them on the backs of their worksheets.


4. Discuss students' observations and inferences as a whole class.

Regroup as a whole class. Invite volunteers to share their observations and the inferences they made based on those observations. Allow other students to ask questions and comment.


5. Confirm and identify on a map the location of each photograph.

Project the Europe photo gallery a second time. Scroll through the gallery, pausing on each photo to read aloud its caption. Have students show, by raising their hands, if they correctly inferred the location of each. Invite volunteers to share what geographic clues helped them infer correctly. If time allows, use the MapMaker 1-Page Map of Europe to identify where each location is on a map.

Extending the Learning

  • Have students search for other images of Europe either online, in National Geographic Traveler magazine, or in magazines or other media. They can sort pictures into groups: those that match students’ current understanding of Europe and those that do not match. Ask students to write descriptions and analyses of each picture to support their grouping.
  • Have students work independently to read a book and look at its pictures or photographs. Have them complete the provided worksheet Make Observations: Fiction or Nonfiction Books.

Subjects & Disciplines


Students will:

  • map their own prior knowledge and ideas about Europe
  • develop a list of questions about Europe
  • view photos of Europe to determine if the photos match their own ideas about Europe
  • search for geographic clues within photos to learn more about the subjects shown
  • examine the shape of a selected country in Europe
  • analyze the influence that shape may have on the human activities within the country

Teaching Approach

  • Learning-for-use

Teaching Methods

  • Brainstorming
  • Cooperative learning
  • Discussions
  • Hands-on learning
  • Multimedia instruction
  • Research
  • Visual instruction

Skills Summary

This lesson targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

National Council for Social Studies Curriculum Standards Theme 3: People, Places, and EnvironmentsNational Geography Standards Standard 1: How to use maps and other geographic representations, geospatial technologies, and spatial thinking to understand and communicate information Standard 15: How physical systems affect human systems Standard 2: How to use mental maps to organize information about people, places, and environments in a spatial context Standard 4: The physical and human characteristics of placesISTE Standards for Students (ISTE Standards*S) Standard 2: Communication and Collaboration

What You’ll Need

Required Technology

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

Physical Space

  • Classroom


  • None


  • Large-group instruction
  • Small-group instruction

Accessibility Notes

  • None

Other Notes

Before starting this activity, prepare a set of index cards by writing the following words on separate cards: (physical landscape features) mountains, rivers, trees, landforms, bodies of water, climate, natural vegetation, soil; (cultural landscape features) house, dam, cars, education, settlement patterns, food, music, health, sports, transportation, and housing. If helpful, include a photo with each.

Review students' lists from Step 2 to get an idea of what students know and want to learn about Europe. You can use this information to help shape the lessons that follow.

Background Information

The physical, or natural, landscape is composed of geographic features not created by humans that are characteristic of an area. Europe as a continent is usually separated from Asia along the Ural Mountains and from Africa by the Mediterranean Sea. It is in the northern hemisphere and the eastern and western hemispheres. The latitudinal extent is such that Europe extends from the subarctic to Mediterranean realms; from approximately 75º North to 35º North. Europe is farther north in its latitudinal extent than the United States. Europe’s latitudinal position subjects it to the cyclical movements of global pressure belts and wind systems, and thus changeable climate. Europe has a moderate climate, no deserts, ice-free ports, and an extensive radial river system.


The physical landscape of Europe strongly influences its cultural landscape. The cultural landscape is the human imprint on the physical environment. Europe is both densely populated and extremely diverse in its cultural makeup, including religion, language, and ethnic or national identity. Europe is located in the heart of the world’s land masses, placing it in a location for maximum efficiency of world contact and fostering world-wide exchange. Although small in area, Europe has been a world interaction zone of people and cultures. Through the migration of peoples from Europe, and due to the convergence of sea routes on Europe, ideas and cultural traits developed there have been spread around the globe.


Learners combine prior knowledge with experience and make sense of their experiences and learning using their own framework. Activating students’ prior knowledge about the physical and cultural landscapes of Europe will provide students with a foundation upon which they can place new facts, ideas, and concepts. This will help students make connections from their experience or knowledge of Europe to the new information they will learn about Europe over the course of the unit.


Prior Knowledge

  • mental construct of Europe

Recommended Prior Lessons

  • None



natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.


city where a region's government is located.


large settlement with a high population density.


all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.


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

compass rose

symbol indicating the cardinal directions (N, S, E, W).


one of the seven main land masses on Earth.


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

cultural landscape

human imprint on the physical environment.


learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.


body of land surrounded by water.


the geographic features of a region.


set of sounds, gestures, or symbols that allows people to communicate.


position of a particular point on the surface of the Earth.


distance east or west of the prime meridian, measured in degrees.


landmass that forms as tectonic plates interact with each other.

natural resource

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


something that is learned from watching and measuring an object or pattern.


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

physical features

naturally occurring geographic characteristics.

political boundary

imaginary line separating one political unit, such as a country or state, from another.


imaginary line around the Earth running north-south, 0 degrees longitude.


any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.


a system of spiritual or supernatural belief.


large stream of flowing fresh water.


movement of people or goods from one place to another.