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Student Sleuths Solve Geography Mysteries!

Share Get out the atlases, encyclopedias, and maps -- and let your students "go to town" with world geography! World Geography Mysteries, from The Learning Works, will turn your students into junior geographers. Included: Sample activities to share with students!

World Geography Mysteries Book Cover

Looking for a way to build your students' geography skills? Get out the atlases, almanacs, and encyclopedias -- and grab World Geography Mysteries, just published by The Learning Works. Soon your students' geography skills will be "headed in the right direction." Your students will be "on the road" to geography awareness!

And while they're solving geography mysteries, they'll be learning about the world's capitals, its natural wonders, its newest countries, and much more. They'll be polishing their researching skills; putting into practice skills related to longitude and latitude and scale of miles; and learning to work cooperatively. And they'll be picking up a little history and some cultural literacy while they're at it!

But, perhaps best of all, you'll be reinforcing the importance of following directions!

World Geography Mysteries includes more than two dozen activities for students to complete on their own, in small groups, or as an entire class. Most follow the same format -- clues are provided to help students track down the names of ten places, landmarks, animal habitats, or natural or manmade features. Each set of clues is prefaced with text that sets the stage and motivates students' interest in the mysterious scavenger hunt, for example:

"I was on the trail of Connie Soeur. She was trying to sell a painting by the great French artist Matisse. The only trouble was, it wasn't really by Matisse. It was a clever forgery that Connie had painted herself. My name is Art Copp, and my job was to follow Connie from world capital to world capital until I saw the phony painting change hands."

Atlases in hand, students taga long with Art Copp as he traipses the world in search of Connie Soeur and the forged Matisse:

"Connie knew better than to peddle her fake in a city where so many people knew her. I trailed her "across the pond" to the largest city in Europe. Now, here was a capital! It had once been the capital of a world empire. It lies on the River Thanes, about 330 miles (531 kilometers) southeast of Edinburgh, Scotland....Would she be so bold as to try to sell her painting to the Queen?"

Not all the clues are that easy ... as Connie's travels take her from New York City to London and then on to Rome, St. Petersburg (Russia), Mecca (Saudi Arabia), and five other capitals.

In another of the World Geography Mysteries, your student sleuths can follow clues in postcard pictures as they track down "Moray" Murray, the ace counterfeiter. Or they might travel the world as they attempt to find and photograph ten of its most endangered species. Or they could try to win a trip around the world by identifying ten popular tourist destinations on the TV game show "Chance of a Lifetime"! Wherever your students' travels take them, solving these "world geography mysteries" will be fun and educational.

And don't forget to take a camera!


Last year at this time, Education World offered on its Lesson Planning page a list of sites to help students Explore the World's Newest Country! In one of the activities from World Geography Mysteries, students tour ten countries that didn't exist 25 years ago. (For this activity, of course, students will need to have up-to-date atlases!) Let's visit a handful of those new countries, to give you an idea of the kinds of activities World Geography Mysteries offers:

  • The Soviet Union split up in 1991. Russia's still the biggest country in the world, but it doesn't have that empire any more. There's a large new country southwest of Russia. Actually, it's a very old country. At different times, it was called "Ruthenia" and "Little Russia." Its people have their own language and their own culture. Now they have their own country. Some of its neighbors include Belarus, Poland, and Moldava. (The answer is Ukraine.)
  • There's another old country that's risen again. I mean, this place was an independent kingdom in, something like, 95 B.C., but it's been ruled by one empire or another for most of the time since then. Now it's free again -- can you believe it? It borders Turkey on the northeast, and its capital is Yerevan. (The answer is Armenia.)
  • Then there's that country that used to be north of Austria and Hungary, and south of Poland. It's been two countries since 1993. Prague is the capital of something called the Czech Republic, but there's a new country east of it now. Its capital is Bratislava. (The answer is Slovakia.)
  • Most of the big changes have happened in Europe, but there are new countries all over the globe. Take "British Honduras," for example. It isn't there anymore, and neither are the British. It changed is name in 1973 and became independent in 1981. It doesn't even border on regular Honduras, but it does border on Mexico and Guatemala. (The answer is Belize.)
  • Then there's Ethiopia -- it's smaller than it used to be. Apparently they had a civil war. The northern part broke away to form its own country in 1993. Its capital is Asmara. (The answer is Eritrea.)

So your students get to learn a little history while they solve those mysteries!


In another activity, clues from the pocket of a poet's dusty old jacket will lead students on the journey of a lifetime. Each clue is written in verse. Students can work through the clues as a class, in small groups, or on their own. To help students track down the exact location, the latitude and longitude coordinates are provided. For example:

A city famous for its art
Seems like the perfect place to start.
43-44N, 11-12E
(Answer: Florence, Italy)

A high mountain is your next stop:
Hope you're not there when it blows its top!
19N, 98-99E
(Answer: Mount Popocatepetl, Mexico)

An island with a repetitious name --
Enjoy its beaches if you win this game.
14-15S, 170-171W
(Answer: Pago Pago, American Samoa)

Your next stop is a path between the seas;
To pass through its locks, you won't need any keys.
9N, 79-80W
(Panama Canal, Panama)

A princely family rules this tiny state.
Visit in winter -- I hear the skiing is great!
47-48N, 9-10E
(Answer: Liechtenstein)

Five more clues complete this activity, one of 27 activities provided in World Geography Mysteries.


World Geography Mysteries is one of many tools for teaching geography offered by The Learning Works. If "mysteries" are what your students are looking for, The Learning Works has plenty. Their catalog includes Map Mysteries and History Mysteries. The U.S. Geography Journey and Mapworks are two more tools worth checking out. For a catalog of across-the-curriculum products from The Learning Works, call 1-800-235-5767, or check out their Web site at

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright © 1998 Education World

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