Building background knowledge is a huge part of reading comprehension. Students need to know the basic vocabulary and ideas on a topic before they can comprehend what they read about it. Knowing about the continents helps students understand so much about world history and science topics.
In Texas, our standards have us teaching about the continents starting in second grade. Instead of teaching haphazardly, we created a pattern that we used every day for the week we spent learning about each continent. Our students’ favorite parts of the entire unit were the Continent Song and the Ocean Song. Both are linked in the free slides you will find at the end of this blog post.
Here is the routine for teaching your students about the continents.
- Watch a video to introduce the continent. It is helpful for students to see what they will read about.
The video above teaches kids the basics about the seven continents.
The video above teaches students about Antarctica. Unlike other continents, the Antarctica and Australia units focus on the animals of the continent because they do not have countries within the continents.
The video above teaches students about the continent of South America, including information about several countries within the continent.
- Share picture slides to prime students for what they will read about each continent. Asia, Africa, North America, South America, and Europe are introduced using information from several countries within the continent. Antarctica and Australia are introduced using animals that live on the continent because neither is made up of different countries.
This is the first slide in the Australia unit. It shows students the basic shape of the continent. There are no other countries on the continent of Australia, so the map is blank.
In this picture, students see an aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
In this slide, students see a koala mother and baby. These slides are great for helping students notice things, such as the baby riding on its mother’s back or the way the mother koala clings to the tree.
In this slide, students see a baby kangaroo in its mother’s pouch.
Unlike the Australia slide, this slide of Asia shows the many countries within the continent.
This slide shows a view of Mt. Fuji. It also shows a Japanese temple.
This slide shows a picture of the Taj Mahal. Students may or may not have seen this landmark before the unit on Asia. Showing students pictures will help build their background knowledge.
This slide shows a picture of the Great Wall of China.
- Students read one paragraph introducing the continent. A note template is on the same page to help students organize the information they are learning. Students use their notes to write three questions the reading passage could answer on the back of their papers. Asking questions that can be answered by the passage engages their critical thinking skills even more than answering provided questions.
Notice that this worksheet about Asia gives students space to record information about the countries in the passage. They will use what they have learned to write questions for the reading passage.
Unlike the passage on Asia, this passage on Australia does not focus on countries. There is only one country on the Australian continent. It is Australia! Instead, students take notes on important places, animals, languages, and aboriginal people. Then, they write comprehension questions based on what they learned.
- Students choose a country (or animal) from the given continent and do more research. A notes template is again provided to help guide their research. Then, they write several sentences about their country (or animal).
In this writing exercise, students research a country in Asia. There is space to record what they learn about several topics. Then, they write sentences using the information they learned.
In this writing exercise, students learn about an animal in Australia. I have provided a list of suggested animals. Then, they record what they have learned and use their notes to write sentences.
- If students finish researching and writing about one country (or animal), they can either build a model to show what they learned or research another country (or
This routine can take either one or two weeks depending on the time you have each day for social studies and the time you have for your continent unit.
My favorite thing about teaching continents at the beginning of the year is that you can refer back to the continents as you cover other topics in class.
Would you like to use these pages with your class? Click the link to get to the presentation.