social studies content with ELA objectives as we take notes on natural resources and products of each region. Today I want to share an activity that is so easy to set up, and it helps make the social studies content feel more relevant to our everyday lives. I call it the "Empty Food Box Geography Project."
First, I send home a letter about a "volunteer homework assignment." Students are encouraged to bring in empty, DRY containers of food. I emphasize that cans are not desirable, although the paper labels from cans are fine.
Label Boxes with United States Geographic Regions
I set up an area with 5 boxes, one for each of the United States geographic regions. Then, as the boxes come in, students read out what state the food came from. We determine which region that state is in and place it in the correct box.
As time goes on, we look for patterns. Where does our produce come from? (Hint: It's not all local). What about our grains? By the time we start learning about the Midwest region, I get to hear a lot of, "That makes sense!" when we see crackers from Illinois, since this is our nation's "breadbasket."
This activity takes just a couple minutes at the start of each social studies period, and can be done year round. Some years I launch it at the beginning of the year so the kids get a preview of how to categorize the states into each of the United States geographic regions. Other times, if I know it's a group of kids with high participation rates from home, I launch it during my Midwest Region unit (around midyear). This way I don't end up with more food boxes than space to store them! And the Midwest always "wins" with the most boxes, so it's a perfect time to highlight the importance of our food production.
United States Geographic Regions and Consumer Education
The kids love this project because it's food related and an easy way to participate. I love it because not only does it reinforce what they're learning about American products and provide practice for categorizing states by United States geographic regions, it also starts getting them to read food labels. Looking beyond the front packaging is an unrelated, but very important life skill!
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