Geography: Teaching Resources on Africa

3 Essential Understandings:

  1. Africa is diverse
  2. Africa is “regular” – i.e., not unusual
  3. Africa is “real” – a living, vibrant continent of people

Good Pedagogy on Africa Generally Benefits from:

  1. Compelling visuals especially because students’ visual “bank” on Africa is distorted
  2. Recognizing both the depth and breadth of student misconceptions
  3. “Meeting” Africans—ie., hearing African voices because this
    makes Africa “real,” but even more so because many Americans tend to
    think of Africans as somehow less articulate
  4. Going for depth rather than breadth because the continent is vast and students
    retain what is deep

Details on the the essential understandings, with additional information on teaching resources:

I. Africa Is Diverse

  1. In every imaginable way:
    1. Religions
    2. Economy—including crops grown
    3. Physical geography: terrain, climate,
    4. Wealth/poverty in land or resources
    5. Culture
    6. Political systems
    7. History, etc.
  2. Use this as a theme or a backdrop for your own list.
  3. Teaching vehicles for diversity:
    1. “How Big Is Africa?” map + guide [available from BU’s African Studies Center]
    2. Videos: (details in video section below)
      • Understanding Each Other
      • Lagos: Rich Man, Poor Man
      • Nigeria: Two (Farming) Families
    3. Take a closer look at several disparate countries—e.g., S. Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Mali, Egypt, Senegal. Look at comparable data in, for example, Global Studies: Africa (publ. McGraw-Hill/Dushkin)
    4. Africa: Map Skills (a wonderful set of 16+ colored overhead covering Africa’s geography)

II. Africa Is “Regular”—Not Unusual

  1. Focus on typical social groups, economic functions, etc., and avoid focus of wildlife, tiny minority groups
  2. Use “regular” language—e.g., home or house, rather than hut; a people or ethnic group, rather than a tribe
  3. Have students “meet” Africans and hear/read primary sources:
    • Through stories or poetry by African writers
    • Through visuals, including film
    • Through school visits from Africans
  4. Follow the same themes or key concepts as you do for the rest of the world—e.g., movement of peoples, cultures and goods; environmental gifts and problems; changes across space and time. If you discuss problems in Africa, be sure to discuss problems in Europe, Asia, etc.
  5. Useful teaching vehicles for making Africa
    • “Body Ritual among the Nacirema” by H. Miner (a wonderful, short spoof article in which an anthropologist looks at Americans [Nacirema spelled backwards] as if we were a weird foreign culture. For a copy, google the title online).
    • Short stories such as African Short Stories, eds. Achebe & Innes
    • Film—but thoughtfully selected to avoid the atypical
    • Through Africa Eyes, Vol. 1 only, ed. Leon Clark; grades 7 and up; a compendium of primary sources: epics, key documents, vignettes, fictional writing, etc., covering the period C.E. 800–1960.

III. Africa Is “Real”–Follows from the Above Two Statements

Some Outstanding Teaching Resources

(In addition to those mentioned in the above outline)


Videos: Some Great Teaching Videos for Geography:

  • Understanding Each Other, Altschul Group/United Learning, superb. gr. 6–10. 15 min.
  • Africa series, esp. the episode “Leopards of Zanzibar” from National Geographic, grades 6-adult. (Be aware though that the videos include too much wildlife in terms of Africans’ lives, probably due to joint sponsorship of the show with the Nature Channel.)
  • Lagos: Rich Man, Poor Man (Films for the Humanities)
  • Nigeria: Two Families (Films for the Humanities)
  • “What Do We Know about Africa” (Boston University—contact information is above)

Literature Is a Good Way to Get Kids Connected With Africans:

  • See for a database of such books for different grades
  • Use this website to find the list of those titles which have won the coveted Children’s Africana Book Award, recognizing the best books on Africa published in the United States.