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Exploring the Geography of Non-Western Nations

Seventh graders at Bennet Middle School ventured into unfamiliar territory with the study of non-Western geography. Students also reviewed the cultures of these regions in social studies and art. Included: Description of a middle school social studies unit.

On an unusually cold March day, when frozen snow crunched under the feet of Bennet Middle School students traversing between buildings, the Royal 7's social studies classes were concentrating on warmer climates.

No, they were not planning vacations. The seventh grade social studies curriculum focuses on non-Western geography, so pupils study regions including Africa, the Middle East, and Russia, said Royal 7 social studies teacher Gary Tracey.

On this late winter day, the Daily Starter, which is the question on the board students are required to answer in the first minutes of class, asked, "How are people's lives in West Africa different from our own?"

The answers came pretty quickly first period:

  • "They don't have snow there."
  • "They live in different homes."
  • "Their clothes are different because it's warmer."
A third period student who emigrated from Africa told the class she used to drink from a river, and it was common practice.

Classes also discussed the importance of the Niger River (irrigation and transportation) and the four climate zones of West Africa and compared it to North Africa, which has one climate zone (the desert.)


Students also gathered in small groups to answer questions; a new school-wide requirement for students to do more in-class writing means they have more work to do. A large sign in the front of the classroom read, "Support your answer. Restate the question."

Daily starters also have to be at least three complete sentences, Mr. Tracey added.

Students also do more writing and learn more about African and Asian cultures in their art classes this year. (See Tying History, Culture Into Art.)

"We want them to understand the differences among cultures in the world," said Mr. Tracey.

Education World Goes Back to School

Education World news editor Ellen R. Delisio is spending several days a month this school year with the Royal 7's, a seventh grade team at Bennet Middle School, a grade 6 to 8 school in Manchester, Connecticut. She is observing and participating in students' learning, and talking with staff about their strategies and perspectives on improving student performance. She is a graduate of W. Tresper Clarke Junior-Senior High School in Westbury, N.Y.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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