Friday, September 27, 2013

Where in the World Are We? Loving the GeoGuessr Geography Game!

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What an honor it is to be guest blogging this week on Rachel Lynette's Minds in Bloom blog!


I'm always on the lookout for engaging and authentic learning activities to encourage students' interest in social studies and to help them understand its relevance in their lives. This time, though, it was my husband who introduced to me a fantastic opportunity for students to use technology, map skills, and their knowledge of regions, topography, language & other cultural elements to identify different world locations. GeoGuessr is a free, Web-based geography game that challenges players to identify real-life locations from around the world using Google Street View. 


Each game includes five different Street View locations. One image at a time, you can explore the locations and the surrounding areas. When you think you know a location, you place a red pin on the map by clicking once on the spot. (You can move your pin before submitting a final guess.)

Not the same image as above, but I wanted to show you the red pin.
Once you've submitted your guess, the true location will be revealed as well as how far away your guess was from it. You are awarded points based on the the proximity of your guess. You can play individually, or you can create a challenge and invite others to identify the same locations by sending them a unique link. You can also create a time limit on the challenges, and the screen will go dark once time is up.

One set of tools you can use to narrow down the location are the Google map tools. You can zoom in and out. You can view 360 degrees around you. You can even "travel" away from the original location by clicking the "forward" and "back" arrows. You can also "travel" to a specific spot in the distance by placing the white oval on the location and double-clicking. This helps if you see something in the distance that could provide a clue to your location.

Clues are provided in many ways, which requires the players to integrate knowledge from many different subject areas. It is also a wonderful way for players to connect prior knowledge and experiences. Here are some examples of the information that can be found in the images to help you identify where you're at:
  • Topography
  • Natural resources
  • Road signs and road markers (For example: How are lanes divided?)
  • Language on signs and buildings
  • Conditions of the buildings, roadways, and bridges
  • Types of vehicles
  • Architecture
  • Plant life
  • Climate
  • Culture (For example: What side of the road are people driving on? What are the ethnic backgrounds of the people in view? How are people dressed?)


The game can easily be used in a classroom either in a whole-class, small-group, or individual setting. Here's how I would model my thinking about how I analyzed the above image aloud to students:

Looking at this image, from my own knowledge and experiences, I recognized the wooden church architecture as something older (pioneer times? early 1900s?) than today's churches. What really caught my eye is the white sign on the middle left. I recognized that sign as a type of historical marker that I have seen in other parts of the United States. I did a 360 view of the site and saw large hills and many types of trees (evergreens and leafy trees) surrounding this area. I also zoomed in on cars that were in a parking lot across the street from the church. They looked similar those in the United States. I did not see any English-language signs in the image, but I did recognize American-style street sign shapes.  I took a guess that this site was somewhere in Tennessee based on these ideas (also because I had seen a very similar-style church on a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains). The site was actually in West Virginia, so I wasn't too far off!

Not too shabby! At least I'm on the right continent.
There's a lot of critical thinking and attention to detail involved in this game. In the United States, for example, this would be fabulous opportunity to teach students about the subtle differences between us and other English-speaking countries, such as Great Britain, Canada, and Australia. Places may look alike, but there are slight cultural differences that help us tell where we would be. For example, What do they call certain places? (car park v. parking lot); Are distances given in kilometers or miles? How do spellings of words compare?

If used in the classroom, I suggest giving students some tips for how to play the game most effectively, including how to look for clues in the image. Allowing students to keep an atlas on hand would also provide them an additional reference tool they play. It's also important to let students know that the places in this game will only be where Street View is possible. That means that the game will only include locations where vehicles can be driven on established roads. For example, when I first started to play the game, several locations appeared, at first glance, as if they could be in the wilderness of Africa based on the geography. However, in considering this, I had to ask myself if Google Street View would be available in the location I had in mind, which it wouldn't. 

The number of Web-based geography games is on the rise. In addition to GeoGuessr, I have also come across a similar version of the game called Earth-Picker, which uses the same Street View technology but varies slightly in that your guesses are shown in comparison with all other players' guesses from around the world. Map Race is another similar geography game using Google maps. Instead of Street View, players determine North American or worldwide city locations based on aerial views. To help players identify the cities, multiple choice answers are given. Similar to GeoGuessr, you can also time your game. Map Race also offers the option to track your progress by creating a log in, although it's not required to play the game. GeoGuessr and Earth-Picker do not require or offer the option to log in as a specific player. However, Earth-Picker does allow you to enter your name in the rankings if you choose. 

Social Studies can sometimes be a difficult subject to get students excited about. However, students need to be educated about where they've come from as well as the world around them. Using challenging and engaging learning games such as GeoGuessr is one way to spice up Social Studies for students and get them to explore the world!






I am an upper elementary/middle school language arts and social studies teacher who most recently taught fifth grade. I took the scenic route to teaching with prior jobs in insurance, nonprofit workforce development, and children's book publishing.  However, teaching, training, and sharing were my favorite parts of all of those jobs. While I'm currently taking time away from classroom teaching to care for my young daughter, I can't quite get away from the classroom altogether. I'm aspiring to inspire while the baby is napping with my Aspire to Inspire blog, Teachers Pay Teachers store, and as a contributor to the Ohio Historical Society's on-line textbooks.

3 comments:

  1. Wish my kids had you for a teacher! love your blog! The Whipping Boy is one of my favorite books for my students- Laura

    Read-Write-Create

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  2. Hi, Laura--You are very kind! Thanks for your comments. :) I agree with you about The Whipping Boy. It's so rich with language, humor, and central message.

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