I am a passionate middle school Humanities teacher, but anyone who knows me also knows that I am a passionate lover of the Beautiful Game – football. No, I don’t mean American football, I mean what locals here call soccer. When I heard seven years ago that the 2022 FIFA World Cup would take place in November, I put a note to myself that this would be too good of an opportunity to pass up; I had to integrate soccer with my teaching in some way.
This year in our social studies three-year cycle, the middle school is studying personal identity, geography, world religions, and world cultures. Our geography unit would line up perfectly with the November-December World Cup dates! The main project would involve students picking a country that competes in the 2022 World Cup and doing deep research into that country’s geography using the five themes of geography as a structure to present their information.
While most people think of geography as a way to think about where something physically is located, there is so much more to it. The five themes of geography are Location, Place, Interaction, Movement, and Region. This takes students beyond just what continent a country is in, but also looks at cultural traditions, language, communication, the environment, and the organization of the country. Students worked over the course of two weeks to research this information and create a comprehensive visual to present to their class as well as the 4th and 5th grade class. Presentation skills of eye contact, voice inflection, and using visuals to illustrate a point were all important takeaways from this project.
This unit went beyond just their own country and brought up so many more ideas than I initially thought. We had a thorough discussion about time zones, prompted by, “why is today’s game at 9 am? Who watches soccer at 9 am??” Another question that was asked is “why are there so many European teams in the tournament this year- almost half?” This started a discussion about the different resources available to different countries, and how choices made through imperialism still have an impact today- even in soccer!
The community built around this was probably my favorite part of this unit. Students of many ages would flock to our bulletin board throughout the day to see that day’s match results and discuss who they were rooting for. I overheard some enthusiasm for Japan because they love J-pop, Argentina because their family lives there, Morocco because it was the first African country to make it to the semifinals, Portugal so that Cristiano Ronaldo could finally get his World Cup win, and many others.
Units using real-world applications and projects that get students excited about learning are the best way to teach and learn!