Teachers understand that knowing the location of places, people, and phenomena represents the very beginning of the journey of geographic inquiry. How can teachers engage their students in inquiry that continues a broad and rich journey toward the development of geographic knowledge, geographic skills, and geographic perspectives? One suggestion: ask geographic questions – a fundamental skill called for by the National Geography Standards.

Clearly articulated geographic questions help teachers forge lessons and activities that engage students in inquiry that is truly geographic. Such lessons and activities should incorporate maps, globes, graphs, satellite imagery, and other appropriate tools and technologies to help students master the fundamental skills of geographic inquiry.

The following guide will help teachers understand the components that make up geographic questions. Not all components need be present in a geographic question. But if questions posed by a teacher do not contain any of these components, one might ask, “Is it geography?”

Geographic Questions

Do your questions lead students to consider:

Location / Distribution
  • Absolute and relative positions
  • The way in which things are distributed in space
  • The significance of the location and/or distribution
  • The regularity or distinctive arrangement of things in space
  • The lack of patterns in the distribution
  • The significance of patterns
  • Why things are situated where they are
  • The processes that affect location and patterns of distribution
  • The role of change
  • The physical and human characteristics that give meaning to a location
  • The ways in which places are defined and grouped into regions
  • The development and significance of the sense of place
  • The mental maps humans construct of the place
Relationships and Connections
  • How elements in a physical or cultural system interact
  • Ways in which systems are connected
  • How environment and human activity are related, including the consequences
Scale and Perspective
  • The relative size of things under study
  • How the scope of study affects the degree of generalization that can be made
  • The observational perspective of the location under study