I love Google Earth and all of its bells and whistles. But the following activity is a great way to hook kids using just the basics of GE that is very simple to implement.

I call the activity “Where Are We?” and can be used to introduce a variety of history or geography units.where are we

Select at least one (I use two or three so I have more “winners.”) city or specific geographic place. If you are teaching high school American History and the Civil War, you might select Gettysburg, Washington DC and Fort Sumter. If I was teaching middle school World Geography, I might pick Rome, London and Paris.

Before your kids arrive, zoom into your first city or place until you are at street level. You may need to adapt the height depending on your students. Beginning at 500 feet is a good altitude to start at.

Your kids now have 10 questions to figure out “Where We Are.” It seems to work best if you require the questions to have only “yes” or “no” answers. Helpful questions might be things such as:

  • Are we in the Southern Hemisphere?
  • Are we in the Western Hemisphere?
  • Does this city have a population greater than two million?
  • Does this city have any famous buildings?
  • Does this place have historical significance?

Your kids will eventually figure out that the best way to solving the problem is to start broad and work their way to specifics. Feel free to slide east, west, north or south at the street level to reveal more details. Ask that students look for cultural and human geographic features.

You could also “sell” altitude – as in zooming up 1000 feet for one of their questions or perhaps 2000 feet for two of their questions. Or you might “sell” certain Google Earth layers (3D Buildings, Panoramio, etc) for three questions.

You could also break your class into groups to make it more competitive. I’m sure that as you play with the idea, you’ll find ways to adapt it to your situation!

Have fun!