Where is Syria?

The simple question “Where is Syria?” can lead to a whole world of related questions. It implies that the questioner does not know physical details about the Middle East and it could possibly imply they are unaware of the geo-political situation there, as well as socio-historical reasons for the civil war there.
Ted-Ed made a very informative site about the situation in Syria.


I believe that being interested in where places/cities/countries are, is one of the first steps in becoming a geo-literate ‘global citizen’. But how do we teach this most effectively to our students? When I was a kid, I was given endless Geography quizzes at school, and to be honest, I quite enjoyed them. Now, as a teacher and Head of Department, I have come to the conclusion that Geography quizzes still have a role to play, but only as a fun activity, a challenge or a game. I see them in addition to many other strategies of increasing students’ Geographic literacy.

Geographic literacy is a very important concept which goes so much further than ‘knowing where countries are’.  This is a must-see video, created by the National Geographic Societies on Geo-literacy (4 minutes):

The complexity of Geography

The IB organisation states that “Geography is a dynamic subject that is firmly grounded in the real world and focuses on the interactions between individuals, societies and the physical environment in both time and space. It seeks to identify trends and patterns in these interactions and examines the processes behind them. It also investigates the way that people adapt and respond to change and evaluates management strategies associated with such change. Geography describes and helps to explain the similarities and differences between spaces and places. These may be defined on a variety of scales and from a range of perspectives. a

The Australian Victorian Certificate of Education uses many of the key concepts in its description of Geography: “VCE Geography enables students to examine natural and human phenomena, how and why they change, their interconnections and the patterns they form across the Earth’s surface. In doing so, they develop a better understanding of their own place and its spaces and those in other parts of the world. These spatial perspectives, when integrated with historical, economic, ecological and cultural perspectives, deepen understanding of places, environments and human interactions with these. “b

These two descriptions point to the complex and interconnected nature of Geography. Students need  geographic understanding and geographic reasoning to make far-reaching decisions. c. At the very basis of this is simply knowing where places are. As teachers it is our job to develop critical thinkers and ‘internationally-minded global citizens’. If students are unaware of the physical location of places, it will be harder for them to understand the news, different cultures and socio-political events, let alone participate in future solutions. They can’t do case-studies in Geography if they don’t know the difference between South America and Africa or understand World War II if they don’t know where Poland or Japan is, nor will they understand trade blocs in Global Politics etc.

Here is a site I created with an overview of Geoquizzes and fun sites to play Geography games on: https://sites.google.com/wesleycollege.net/geoquiz/

I asked experienced IB DP Geography teachers the following question:

“What is your opinion about giving students (in the Middle School) geography quizzes, i.e. locations of countries?”

Their answers are below. I have added the highlights for easier and faster reading. I agree to some extent with all of these answers, but I found Tony’s comment most important: Not having knowledge of these things as a geographer is like an English teacher not knowing the alphabet or a Maths teacher not knowing numbers and symbols.” I extrapolate that to students and the importance of becoming ‘global citizens’: Not knowing where (some) countries are is like not knowing your alphabet or your numbers. 

  • Simon (26 March at 10:01) When I arrived at my current school students were required to learn all the countries of Africa and their capitals! While it didn’t do any harm, I’m of the opinion teaching and learning time should be spent on deeper and richer concepts. I ran into some old scholars recently and they reminisced about that test and admitted they couldn’t remember any of them!
  • Sarah (26 March at 10:54) I’m not sure how useful it is but my KS3 students absolutely love it. I set up a termly competition related to a topic we are studying, using Sheppard Software. I select the region, topic and level and students get a week to practice. They send me a screenshot of their best score. I wouldn’t devote lesson time to it but I love seeing how excited they get about knowing where places are. (http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/Geography.htm)
  • Donal (26 March at 13:27) I would say this is a global awareness more than a geography issue. In our increasingly globalized world without a knowledge of the location of major countries, rivers etc understanding the world is going to be increasingly hard. If you don’t know the relative location of Chian, N. Korea, S. Korea Japan and Taiwan you’ll be at a loss to follow Asian news most days. Hard to create global citizens if they don’t know the globe.
  • Amy (26 March at 14:18) I still do old school stuff like this with ks3 classes (to try and build some knowledge initially) but for IB (and GCSE) I just build up the knowledge by frequently using and referring to global/regional maps. As said in a previous comment it is important they have an awareness of the world map (not necessarily know every country and capital!) as we are constantly looking at the connections and interactions between countries/regions.
  • Sara (26 March at 16:48) I think it is a great skill …. I did have a senior student of mine that confused Africa and South America in an important test …. so it is not only countries they need to know!
  • Peter (26 March at 17:42) Not really useful in any real way and it’s the sort of thing I think we should distance our selves from as professional geographers our subject is far more complex and important than quizzes. On the other hand younger students do enjoy them for fun. Are you referring to a quiz as a test or a game show just for fun thing. I know American teachers sometimes use the term quiz to refer to an assessment tool
  • Thomas (26 March at 20:57)  I encourage students to look at maps and ask questions. Knowing where a place is located spatially and politically is the first step to fully understanding the issues in question. From an IB exam perspective It can certainly benefit them on the short answer map questions and in case study map drawing, think AO1 Knowledge and AO4 Skills. Although I refrain from using class time for country specific quizzes I do allow opportunities to ‘explore’ by encouraging them to look at the classroom maps, atlases and even play games like the following without attaching a summative grade to it. https://www.theguardian.com/…/geography-game-how-well…
  • Tony (26 March at 20:58) I’m a fan of quizzes in the pub (i.e fun) sense rather than the assessment sense. I don’t see them as a waste of time at all. I agree with Thomas as I don’t believe you can fully explore the deeper concepts and ideas of Geography without a solid knowledge & understanding of continents, countries, cities, oceans, rivers, etc.. They are the fundamental building blocks of geographical understanding. Not having knowledge of these things as a geographer is like an English teacher not knowing the alphabet or a Maths teacher not knowing numbers and symbols.

Spatial Concepts in Geography

  1. Location – Where natural and built phenomena are found on the Earth’s surface.
    Absolute Location – measured accurately using co-ordinates.
    Relative Location – Location of one place measured by the distance and direction from somewhere else.
  2. Distance – The space between different locations on Earth.
    Absolute Distance – Measured in units (e.g. kilometres, meters)
    Relative Distance – Measured in the length of time it takes or the cost involved
  3. Scale – Relationship between the size of an area on a map and the actual size of an area on the Earth’s surface.  Scale also refers to the size of one object in relation to another.
  4. Distribution – Arrangement of features or objects on the Earth’s surface. Distribution patterns can vary from ordered to apparently random patterns.
  5. Region – An area on Earth with characteristics that distinguish it from other areas.  Regions can vary in size (local, national, regional, global) and be part of the natural or human environment.  For example: Physical region: Antarctica, Climatic region: Tropical Australia Political region:  European Union (EU)
  6. Movement – The change in location of one or more things across the Earth’s surface (e.g. people, resources, money).
  7. Spatial interaction – Describes the strengths of the relationships between phenomena and places in the environment.  For example: There is a high degree of spatial interaction between Australian tourists and warm beach environments, such as Bali.  However, there is a low spatial interaction between Australian tourists and cold or inaccessible environments, such as Antarctica.
  8. Spatial association – The association or connection that can be made between the distribution patterns of two or more geographic characteristics.  For example, there is a strong spatial association between areas of low rainfall and desert environments.
  9. Spatial change over time – The degree to which a region has changed its geographic characteristics, features or patterns over time.

So, where is Syria?



  1. http://www.wesleycollege.net/Senior-School-Curriculum/St-Kilda-Road/IB/Group-3-Geography.aspx  (back)
  2. http://www.wesleycollege.net/Senior-School-Curriculum/Glen-Waverley/VCE/Humanities/Geography-Unit-3-and-4.aspx  (back)
  3. http://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/what-is-geo-literacy/  (back)