In this interactive map produced by WGBH, explore the continent and countries of South America. Through political, physical, population, and climate map layers and ...
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Note: These Teaching Tips are grouped by theme. Those that are more appropriate for middle school students are marked (MS); those for high school are marked (HS).
(MS) Classroom activity: Have students look at each of the map type layers on the opening screen (the Continent overview). Ask them to describe what they think each of the following map types is designed to communicate based on the information that is displayed on it:
(MS/HS) Classroom activity: To help students understand settlement patterns, start with a class discussion.
- Ask students to name some of the political, physical, and climate-related factors that help influence where, in general, people live in a country or continent.
- Then ask them to discuss how these factors influence whether a small village or a large city forms in a given location.
- Next, look at the Population layer of the map of the South American continent and consider which areas of the continent are densely and sparsely populated.
- Turn on the other map layers and have students cite some specific factors about South America that they think may have influenced the population density. Make sure they explain their reasoning.
(MS/HS) Classroom activity: South America owes its rich ethnic diversity to its indigenous populations and its colonial past. Have students review the demographic information that appears alongside each country map, with specific attention to the Ethnicities subcategory.
- First, ask them what they think the following terms appearing in some countries mean: white, black, Amerindian. You might have to guide them to think about indigenous populations and those people who came (or were brought) to South America from other countries.
- Next, have them choose any one of the countries and do some additional research to answer the following questions:
- Which European country colonized the area of South America that eventually became the country you chose?
- What were the main groups of indigenous people that inhabited this land before colonization?
- What happened to each group of people—the colonizers and the indigenous population—over time?
(HS) Classroom activity: A country’s climate can have an important influence on its economic development. Consider French Guiana, which is warm, wet, and heavily forested. Granted, it has financing support from France, but building and maintaining roads in these conditions is difficult, and the development of the interior has been limited. Also, because soils are poor in nutrients, expanding agricultural activity is challenging. These factors combined have led to high unemployment.
Divide the class into small groups. Have them look at the South America map in order to discuss the following ideas:
- Using the climate layer of the continent map, ask them to choose two countries that are (wholly or largely) in different climate zones.
- Then have them look at the country maps of each country they selected and compare their natural resources. They should discuss how these resources are consistent with the climate.
- Based on what they see, ask them to describe the influence that climate has had on the economic development of each of the two countries. In some countries, the level and type of economic activity varies from region to region depending on climate zones.
(MS/HS) Research project—small group: Mountains can have a direct impact on climate, depending on whether you live in the mountains or in a valley, or upwind or downwind from a range or near to or distant from it. In small groups, have students do the following:
- Research the effects that the Andes Mountains range has on climate for countries in South America. Which countries are most directly affected and in what ways?
- Next, have them consider Brazil, which is widely known for its lush rainforest. Using the climate layer in the continent map, have students identify the arid, or dry, section near the eastern coastline. This area is called the Great Escarpment.
- Then have students research the Great Escarpment and explain why this area is dry yet most of the rest of the country is dominated by tropical conditions.
(MS) Classroom activity: Physical features shape countries in more ways than one. Ask students to look at the continent map and the country maps. Citing specific examples from them, have them explain how physical features:
- Define country borders in South America
- Influence where different economic activities do/do not (can/cannot) occur in South America
(MS/HS) Classroom activity: Many economic activities that use natural resources impact surrounding ecosystems. For especially fragile ecosystems, this can be devastating. Explain to students that harvesting wood from forests, energy sources from the ground, and minerals from rocks, as well as commercial agriculture and fishing practices, can be destructive for the land and seas over which they occur. Then divide the class into small groups and assign a country to each one.
- First, have groups research the major environmental issue(s) their country faces today and going forward. They should be able to explain the cause of the problem, where on the country map it occurs, and its impact on living and nonliving things in the area.
- Next, students should describe how continued economic development might change the physical map they see in the interactive activity today.
(MS/HS) Research project—individual or small group: Have each student choose a country or make assignments to pairs of students. Have them do some research to learn the following information about the people who inhabit the country:
- First, ask them to find out what percentage of the country’s overall population lives in cities and what percentage lives outside of cities.
- Next, have them compare and contrast lifestyles. What do these people do for a living? Who lives outside of cities, and what do they do?
(MS/HS) Classroom activity: You can see from the political map and country maps that capital cities are located in different parts of countries. For example, some appear in the interior of a country, while others are located nearer to its border or coastline.
- First, ask students to give some reasons why capital cities of countries (or even states in the United States) might be located in particular locations.
- Then assign a South American country to each student or pair of students. Have them do some research into the historic, economic, physical, climatic, or other reasons that explain the location of its capital city.
- Allow time for students to share their findings with the rest of the class.
(MS) Classroom activity: Once your students have familiarized themselves with the map, you can test their knowledge of basic geography with a simple quiz. You may do this in an open discussion or have students record their own answers on paper.
- Using the political map with labels off, ask your students to name each country and capital city.
- Offer them bonus points for naming the European countries from which each South American country gained independence and any other fact that relates to the country that they might have learned from using the map.
(MS) Classroom activity: In the world today, some countries are wealthy and some are poor. A country’s economic prosperity is often directly related to the amount, types, and overall variety of its natural resources. Choose a few countries in South America and ask students to try to assess their wealth. For each country you choose, have students look at the country map and address the following questions:
- What are the country’s main natural resources?
- Does this country appear to be wealthy? Explain your reasoning.
Extension activity: Assign a country and one type of natural resource that the country possesses to each student. Have the students do some additional research to find out:
- How important is this resource to the country’s economy?
- What kinds of jobs are associated with these resources?
- Who in the country performs these jobs?
(HS) Research project—individual: For years, natural resources were taken from South American land by colonial powers. Assign each student a South American country and have him or her find out which country colonized it. Then ask students to do some additional outside research to answer the following questions:
- What specific resources did the colonizing country target?
- What did it do with these resources?
- Describe some of the environmental consequences of “mining” natural resources.
- What is the overall legacy of these activities in the South American country today?
(HS) Classroom activity: Have students briefly survey the country maps, paying special attention to the natural resources that appear on them. As a class, discuss the following:
- Which countries in South America appear to be more economically developed?
- Which appear to be less economically developed?
Make sure the students support their conclusions with reasons why certain activities can/cannot occur.
Next, assign each student or pair of students a country. Have the students do some Internet research and write a paragraph or two on their assigned country’s current economic situation and its prospects for the future.
Note: As you explore this topic with your class, you may wish to lead a brief discussion about ethnic terminology. The map activity contains certain terms that, while commonly used in South American countries (and appearing in census reports), may have derogatory connotations in North America. Examples include “mulatto” and “mestizo,” both of which describe a mixed-race heritage. The activity’s glossary feature provides accurate definitions should you wish to refer to these or other terms in your discussion.
(HS) Classroom activity: Ask students to look at the demographic information about each country that appears under the flags and answer the following questions:
- What are some of the similarities and differences that exist among the 12 countries (and one overseas region) on the continent?
- Would you describe South America’s population as ethnically uniform or diverse? Explain your reasoning.
Extension: For homework and further classroom discussion, have students do some additional research to find out:
- When did different groups from the outside world appear in South America?
- What were the circumstances that brought them there?
Next, have them compare/contrast what they learn about early South American history with what they know about early United States history.
(MS/HS) Research project—individual: Make a connection with history. Choose one country and research its roots as a colony and what influence colonialism has had on its development. You should first identify which European country colonized the country and when and why it did. Then find out and record:
- How did the country achieve independence?
- What cultural traditions from the colonizing country are still intact? (e.g., religious affiliations, spoken languages, sports)
- What kind of relationship does the country have today with its former colonizer?
Extension: For homework and further classroom discussion, add immigration as another factor that has influenced the countries of South America.
- Using the same country or a new one, have students research its immigration history and current trends.
- Then have them describe in which ways immigrants have influenced the the country. Again, this may apply to religion, language, sports, and other cultural practices.
POINTS OF INTEREST
(MS/HS) Classroom activity: Have students use the maps to locate the country (or countries) in which the following points of interest (the geographical features and places marked with an “i”) appear. They should also note what makes each feature or place unique. To extend this activity, ask students if they can think of comparable features or places in the United States. Discuss their responses.
- Amazon Rainforest
- Amazon River
- Andes Mountains
- Angel Falls
- Atacama Desert
- Laguna del Carbón
- Lake Titicaca
- La Rinconada
- Puerto Toro
South America is Earth’s fourth-largest continent in area and, with more than 370 million inhabitants, the fifth-largest in population. Through this activity, students will:
- Understand where South America is in the world and which countries it comprises
- Learn about where people live, what they do (economic activity), and who they are (demographic information, including ethnic, religious, and linguistic associations)
- Learn about the information that different map types display and gain experience interpreting information from maps
Students will interact with this map-based activity from a continent overview perspective and then at the country level to discern additional details.
On opening the activity, students will see a base map that shows light outlines of the continent’s 12 countries and one territory as well as latitude and longitude lines. Layer names appear with checkboxes beside them to activate one of the four layers—each representing a different map type, as follows:
- Political—highlights country borders and displays locations of capital cities; clicking the “Labels” button reveals country names and capital city names
- Physical—displays geologic features; clicking the “Labels” button reveals the names of oceans, major rivers, lakes, mountain ranges, basins, plains, and deserts
- Population—indicates population density (with key)
- Climate—shows climate zones (with key)
To view individual countries, students click on a “+” sign that appears within each country’s outlined area. This view enables students to see additional details on the map and general information about the country:
- Major cities—stars indicate capital cities and spots mark the locations of other highly populated cities
- Natural resources—icons indicate the location of minerals, fossil fuel energy (petroleum and natural gas), agriculture (farming and livestock), forest products, and fisheries and related economic activities
- Points of interest—information points indicate locations of interest that appear on the continent, including South America’s highest point and wettest city and the world’s longest mountain range
- Country profile—conveys basic information about the country, including what its flag looks like, its total population, its date of independence, and demographic information—specifically linguistic, ethnic, and religious affiliations
To make the activity accessible to a broader audience, the continent map and each country view also feature a link that presents the mapped data in a table format.
National Standards for History
10 (World History Grades 5-12 ): World History Across the Eras
10.1 (World History Grades 5-12 ): Standard 1 Long-term changes and recurring patterns in world history
- 10.1 (World History Grades 5-12 ): Standard 1 Long-term changes and recurring patterns in world history
2.G ( Historical Thinking for Grades 5-12 ): Draw upon data in historical maps in order to obtain or clarify information on the geographic setting in which the historical event occurred, its relative and absolute location, the distances and directions involved, the natural and man-made features of the place, and critical relationships in the spatial distributions of those features and the historical event occurring there.
2 (Historical Thinking for Grades 5-12 ): The student comprehends a variety of historical sources:
2.F (Historical Thinking for Grades 5-12 ): Appreciate historical perspectives--the ability
2.F.a (Historical Thinking for Grades 5-12 ): describing the past on its own terms, through the eyes and experiences of those who were there, as revealed through their literature, diaries, letters, debates, arts, artifacts, and the like;
- 2.F.a (Historical Thinking for Grades 5-12 ): describing the past on its own terms, through the eyes and experiences of those who were there, as revealed through their literature, diaries, letters, debates, arts, artifacts, and the like;
- 2.F (Historical Thinking for Grades 5-12 ): Appreciate historical perspectives--the ability
Produced by WGBH.
Map images courtesy of © AridOcean / Fotolia and AridOcean/Shutterstock.com. Population and demographics data courtesy of The World Factbook 2013-14. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2013.
Map images courtesy of © AridOcean / Fotolia and AridOcean/Shutterstock.com.
Population and demographics data courtesy of The World Factbook 2013-14. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2013.