As social studies teachers we are tasked with teaching a daunting scope of material. Planet Earth hosts more than 7 billion people at the moment, and no two of them are alike. It falls on us to explain just who these people are, and what they are doing here. Indeed, teaching how people interact with their environment is one of the hallowed “five themes” of geography. Here are 3 activities that explore the concept of “population” that your students will enjoy.

1.) Create a collage to study the impact of populations on resources.

I know the phrasing “impact of populations on resources” is in your power standards somewhere. This is a great way to tackle that, and get into current events. Have your students bring in newspapers and magazines (or go online, if you must!). In groups, have students create collages illustrating the impact of population size and growth on resource consumption, and the consequences of overpopulation. 

7.125 billion people and 2.08 billion smartphones.

7.125 billion people and 2.08 billion smartphones.

The collages can stand alone, or serve as the initial research into more complex questions about how humanity can balance the needs of its ever growing population against the limited resources on the planet. 

This article can serve as an initial read before they start researching on this topic and making a collage. 

2. Create a country profile highlighting population trends, and have the class draw conclusions by in different countries. 

This tackles a very interesting question: why do different countries have different growth rates? You could just tell your students, but they’d probably forget it the next day. Better to have them construct the meaning themselves.


This is what the world would be like if education officials cared more about Social Studies.

Use PBR’s World Population Data Sheet and the CIA World Factbook to explore the population rates in different countries, and demographic statistics like literacy rates, per capita income, life expectancy and others. An easy way to share the research is via  a presentation tool like Prezi or Google Slides.

As a class, draw conclusions about

A.) The differences in growth between different between regions, and

B.) How various demographic factors might play a role.

They should be able to draw some very neat correlations between the demographic stats listed above and population growth rates. This can be a launch pad for further discussion

This article from Nature provides some great background and graphics on the population growth rates in different regions. Before you share it with your class, know that it does tackle contraception which might be a tricky subject depending on where you teach. 

3. Study population density maps to draw conclusions about how where people live and why. Then have students create their own! 

Population density provides a great lens to understand the world. Compare a population density map with a physical map and a climate map, and have students draw their own conclusions about where people live and why. For example:

What feature are most cities found on, and why? 

What climates are the most/least densely populated? 


Standard middle school class size.

I know this seems obvious to our adult brains, but I still find it endlessly fascinating that nearly every major city in the world is built on a river, and many are built where a river hits the ocean. It’s such an elegant way of explaining basic human activities, mainly food production and trade, that have motivated us to live where we do since time immemorial. 

This segues into one of my favorite class assignments, where the students create and populate their own geographical mass. It sounds simple, but requires tons of critical thinking.

Students create a landmass, put physical features on it, and then figure out how people adapt. Where would the cities be? The farms? What would they farm? Based on the physical geography. It’s a great way for students to show understanding about how people interact with their environment. 

If you’re in elementary (or are really into cross-curricular activities), you can even work math into this. If X people live in 100 square miles, what is the population density per square mile (don’t ask me, I won’t know). 


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