Mapping the Course for Global Learners

November 2015

Having a basic knowledge of the world is something no one should be denied and it’s a sad reflection that there are so many people, even in the developed world, who are not literate in this respect.

Old Map
I like not just any maps, but great political, topographic & unusual maps in classrooms. Large and detailed. Things that people can pore over for hours.

I teach in China, where geographical understanding can be limited. It’s a lot better than it used to be, but still many people struggle to point to places on a map and geography is still not given much emphasis in school curricula and skipped over in many places. Again, where geography is taught, it is often not covered in a very abstract or thorough way.

There are of course historical and cultural reasons for much of this situation, and although such a critique may seem judgemental, it is simply a fact. And for right or wrong, whether for colonial, marxist, religious, or geographical reasons, many nations have developed differing global outlooks.

The point is that in the 21st century it’s imperative that teachers encourage people to see the world internationally. We share the planet and there is only one, so we’d better get familiar with it as a whole. Knowing something as basic as the layout of the world, the continents, and countries within, is not a peripheral issue in ELT or in education generally. It is central to who we are and how we see others.

I've written about ethnocentrism and cross cultural awareness here:

If teachers can be an influence for cosmopolitanism, this engenders respect for other cultures. Knowledge and understanding makes us less binary and less judgemental. While at the same time, the engagement, delight, and inspiration to be gained from taking a global perspective is invaluable to learners.

To this end, I have three simple activities.


  1. Hand out some world maps and elicit/familiarise the main countries in each continent.
  2. Write these ten complementary pairs on the board (alter as you like).

    • Technology
    • Art
    • War
    • Peace
    • Intelligence
    • Beauty
    • Rich
    • Poor
    • Humour
    • Logic
    • Food
    • Music
    • History
    • Literature
    • Happy
    • Sad
    • Education
    • Entertainment
    • Hope
    • Fear

  3. Then after clarifying, ask the students to write which country they think belongs to each word. Model the sentence:

    “I think [country] represents (belongs to/ is) [noun/adj] because …....”

This task gets students articulating beliefs and while some of these may be a bit crass, betraying certain values, that’s not an issue in an ELT setting. In a way, that’s the point; the binary context makes it easy for even low level students to give an answer and at the same time provides scope for more nuanced discussion. There is so much presupposition in the answers that they just beg to be looked at and expanded on.

We know it’s not accurate to pigeon-hole nations and appeal to stereotypes and it’s not intellectually healthy to do so. But for communicative purposes this becomes an exercise in reasoning and the discussion part is where the intellectual and linguistic value lies.

As I wrote in the last post, we are straightjacketed by the language we use. And thus it is in the dialogue and the dialectic where you get people challenging others’ assumptions, and their own, from a less-rigid, post-structuralist perspective.

So when you feel the answers need to be challenged and argued, then put that to the class. To paraphrase Claude Levi-Strauss, rather than teachers trying to provide the right answers, we ought to be asking the right questions.

Binary opposition is an unsophisticated way to see the world but it provides a basis for confirming, challenging, & enriching people's views. (pic: Atlas of Prejudice)


Humanity belongs in cities. They are the foundation for civilisation, progress, and the exchange of ideas. Cities are the natural destination for the human race. It’s important therefore to have a familiarity, if not affinity, with the world’s major population centres and to postulate on what makes a good one.

  1. Again hand out world maps, or better still, draw one on the board.
  2. Elicit the continents
  3. Elicit the major cities in each continent. Big international ones only:
  4. Asia: Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Bangkok, Singapore, Delhi, Mumbai, Dubai, Sydney
    Europe: London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Milan, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Moscow, Istanbul
    N. America: New York, Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Mexico City
    S. America: Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires, Havana
    Africa: Cairo, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Casablanca, Nairobi

    Total: around 35

  5. Elicit what makes a good city. The list should end up encompassing these:
  6. Great...

    • transport & buildings
    • climate & scenery
    • parks & clean air
    • law & order
    • economy & government
    • universities & infrastructure
    • local culture & high culture
    • food & shopping
    • entertainment & nightlife

    In other words: culture, institutions, amenities & resources.

  7. Then combine these two lists by putting students into groups and have them choose a city. They have to imagine they are working for an advertising agency and must create a presentation as to why their city is so great and why everyone should visit. Make it a contest, simplify as necessary.


This is a game for practising transactional language as well as numbers, weights & measures. Split the class into 6 teams. Each has the following commodities.

  • Europe: $9,000, cheese 1,000kg, fish 2,500kg, shoes 200 pairs.
  • Africa: $2,000, cocoa 1,000kg, cotton 5,000kg, gold 10 oz.
  • Asia: $7,000, rice 10 tonnes, rubber 5 tonnes, steel 16 tonnes.
  • N. America: $10,000, beef cattle 4,000lb, lumber 10,000 board feet, wheat 50 tonnes.
  • S. America: $5,000, bananas 8 tonnes, coffee 2,000kg, crude oil 400 barrels.
  • Australia: $8,000, aluminium 5 tonnes, coal 100 tonnes, wool 800 kg.

Go through the vocabulary and then let the trading begin.

For example, Africa must choose what they would like to buy. They decide on shoes from Europe. The Europeans make them an offer of say 25 pairs for $425. The Africans decide whether to accept the offer or ask for a cheaper price / different quantity.

Teams should keep a record of their trades. After several rounds of deal-making, see who has what and who has come out with the most money, and value for money. If any of the teams begin to be left out because they wasted their resources early on, you can offer them a loan at fifty percent interest.