1 hr
Photo: Farmers traveling  by horse

Students explore how language, culture, and religious differences affect country borders in Europe. They conduct research on the Roma, the Basques, Moldova, and Cyprus.


1. Have a whole-class discussion about cultural conflicts.

Remind students that Lesson 7 focused on the United Kingdom and Ireland and their history of conflict because of religion and language. Lead a whole-class discussion about cultural features—such as ethnicity and traditions—that can cause conflict among different groups. Ask: What cultural features do you think are most likely to cause conflict? Why? If students struggle to identify relevant cultural features, write a list of cultural features that might cause conflict, such as religious views, marriage and family traditions, language differences, types of work, and education.


2. Introduce the case studies.

Tell students that they will work in small groups to research specific examples of human geography and borders in Europe. Distribute copies of the worksheet Human Geography Research Project to each student. Read aloud the four examples. Use the glossary in the Background & Vocabulary tab of this activity to provide vocabulary support, as needed. Allow students to ask questions about the examples or the task before breaking into small groups.


3. Have small groups conduct research.

Divide students into small groups of four. Assign each group one of the four examples from the worksheet to research, using the provided websites. Give groups maps according to the examples they are assigned:

  • Example 1: The Roma—MapMaker 1-page Map: Europe
  • Example 2: The Basques—MapMaker 1-Page Map: Europe
  • Example 3: Moldova—MapMaker 1-page Map: Moldova
  • Example 4: Cyprus—MapMaker 1-page Map: Cyprus

For those students who are assigned Examples 1 or 2, provide copies of the MapMaker 1-page map of Europe and ask students to create their own locator maps showing where these populations are located. Tell all students they will become experts on their assigned case study, and will need to be prepared to share their expertise with classmates in Lesson 8, Activity 2 of this unit. Give students a time frame to answer the questions from their case study. Have them turn in their completed worksheets, or publish them in the classroom so students can see or read their classmates' work.

Informal Assessment

Assess students' assigned sections in the worksheet.

Extending the Learning

Encourage students to find and research a new example that is not listed on the worksheet. You can extend the activity beyond Europe in order to address current events or other topics you are teaching.

1 hr
Photo: A group of people dancing

Students use the jigsaw cooperative learning strategy to discuss and present research on four case studies of conflicts due to human geography in Europe. Then they make generalizations about cultural and human features and their impact on country borders in a whole-class discussion.


1. Have students use the jigsaw cooperative learning strategy to discuss their case studies.

Have students regroup in their small groups from Lesson 8, Activity 1 and make sure they have their completed worksheets from that activity. Remind students they are in their "expert" groups. They have studied one case study in depth. Regroup students so that each new group of four has at least one member from each expert group. Have each expert in a group report on their case study. Other students learn from the experts and complete their worksheets.


2. Have groups present their findings.

Have each group present their case study to the class by reading aloud the scenario and explaining the answers they arrived at while conducting their research.


3. Make generalizations about the impacts of cultural features on country borders.

Hold a whole-class discussion about cultural features and their impact on country borders using the questions below as prompts. Encourage students to cite their research projects or other specific examples to support their answers.

  • What comes first, the cultural feature such as language or religion, or the border?
  • How do borders cause cultural divides, and how do cultural divides define borders?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks to countries that have a mix of cultural features within their borders?
  • With increasing human migration and movement between countries, will borders shift to accommodate cultural groups? Why or why not?

Informal Assessment

Check for student understanding by observing their presentations and jigsaw and whole-class discussion contributions. Evaluate how well students are able to integrate small-group research findings into the whole-class discussion.

Extending the Learning

Have students research cultural features in their own region or state and present their findings. Provide students with the following questions to research: What cultural groups are important in your area? How do the groups impact state, city, and other borders? Have there been conflicts around those borders?

Subjects & Disciplines

  • English Language Arts
  • Geography
  • Social Studies
    • World History


Students will:

  • research an example of a cultural feature that has impacted a country border
  • consider how cultural features can affect country borders
  • develop generalizations about the impacts of cultural features on borders

Teaching Approach

  • Learning-for-use

Teaching Methods

  • Cooperative learning
  • Discussions
  • Jigsaw
  • Research

Skills Summary

This lesson targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

National Council for Social Studies Curriculum Standards Theme 1: Culture Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and InstitutionsNational Geography Standards Standard 1: How to use maps and other geographic representations, geospatial technologies, and spatial thinking to understand and communicate information Standard 10: The characteristics, distribution, and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics Standard 13: How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of Earth's surface Standard 4: The physical and human characteristics of placesISTE Standards for Students (ISTE Standards*S) Standard 2: Communication and Collaboration Standard 3: Research and Information Fluency

What You’ll Need

Required Technology

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

Physical Space

  • Classroom


  • None


  • Large-group instruction
  • Small-group instruction

Accessibility Notes

  • None

Other Notes

This can be a short research project, or it can be more involved and cover several days.

Background Information

Europe is both densely populated and extremely diverse in its cultural makeup. The concepts around which European identities and cultures have developed in the last millennium include religion, language, and ethnic or national identity. Unlike borders based on physical geographic barriers, cultural borders are never fixed and are often fuzzy. The most important thing to understand about cultural geography is that culture constantly changes. Certain aspects of culture can diffuse, or move, into new places or be adopted and adapted by other cultures. Cultures can often change without moving as well, via innovation or through interaction with others.


Culture is a shared set of meanings, such as values and beliefs and practices and ideas, which are lived through the material and symbolic practices of everyday life. Culture is entirely spatial. It can diffuse, contract, intensify, and expand. Often cultures will disappear entirely. Often people will fight to preserve their culture. One method of attempting to preserve a culture is to demarcate or solidify control over particular spaces or regions. At the global scale, this might mean gaining national control over a state apparatus. At the local level, this may mean establishing meeting spaces where only a certain culture congregates.


In this lesson, students explore the following examples of human geography and borders:

  • The Roma are a traditionally nomadic ethnic group who originated in northern India. The total global population of Roma is estimated between two to five million. They have held a presence in Europe for an estimated 1,000 years. Today, most Roma continue to live principally in Europe, particularly in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Romania.
  • The Basque ethnic group of southern Europe straddles both Spain and France in an area known as Basque Country. This region borders the Bay of Biscay and is located near the western end of the Pyrenees Mountains. Although their origins are unknown, Basques are characterized by their shared language and culture. The Basques are distinct from most European groups because the Basque language is not Indo-European.
  • Moldova is a country located in the northeastern corner of the Balkan region of Europe. It is bounded by Ukraine to the north, east, and south and by Romania to the west. The former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) combined many unique cultures under one governing system. Once the country was set up, Russians moved to every area of the U.S.S.R., which created tensions between Russians and other ethnic groups when independence was achieved. Moldova became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, and a member of the United Nations in 1992.
  • The island of Cyprus is located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, south of Turkey, west of Syria, and southeast of mainland Greece. Cyprus has a long history with both Turkey and Greece. In 1960, Cyprus gained its independence from Britain, and there has been a struggle between the Turkish and Greek peoples that has lasted to the present day. Although Cyprus was recently admitted to the European Union (EU), the political division of the island prevents northern Cyprus from receiving the same level of EU benefits as the rest of the island.



Prior Knowledge

  • None

Recommended Prior Lessons

  • None





natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.


a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.


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


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

ethnic group

people sharing genetic characteristics, culture, language, religion or history.


identity in a group sharing genetic characteristics, culture, language, religion, or history.

European Union

association of European nations promoting free trade, ease of transportation, and cultural and political links.

human migration

the movement of people from one place to another.


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


person who moves from place to place, without a fixed home.


total number of people or organisms in a particular area.


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


a system of spiritual or supernatural belief.