National Geography Standards

The first ever national geography standards, Geography for Life, were published in 1994 and are being voluntarily adopted around the country. These geography standards are benchmarks against which the content of geography courses can be measured. Standards will affect the education of all children in the United States, and they should be part of the program of instruction of schools in your community. Copies of Geography for Life are available for purchase from the NCGE store.

The Geography Standards Framework consists of two levels. At the first level, the subject matter of geography is divided into six essential elements. By essential, we mean that each piece is central and necessary; we must look at the world in this way. By element, we mean that each piece is a building block for the whole. At the second level, each essential element contains a number of geography standards, and each geography standard contains a set of related ideas and approaches to the subject matter of geography.

THE EIGHTEEN NATIONAL STANDARDS and Six essential elements

The geographically informed person knows and understands...

Essential Element I. THE WORLD IN SPATIAL TERMS

Standard 1. How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.

Standard 2. How to use mental maps to organize information about people, places, and environments in a spatial context.

Standard 3. How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface.

Essential Element II. PLACES AND REGIONS

Standard 4. The physical and human characteristics of places.

Standard 5. That people create regions to interpret Earth's complexity.

Standard 6. How culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions.

Essential Element III. PHYSICAL SYSTEMS

Standard 7. The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface.

Standard 8. The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth's surface.

Essential Element IV. HUMAN SYSTEMS

Standard 9.  The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth's surface.

Standard 10. The characteristics, distribution, and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics.

Standard 11. The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface.

Standard 12. The processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement.

Standard 13. How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of Earth's surface.

Standard 14. How human actions modify the physical environment.

Essential Element V. ENVIRONMENT AND SOCIETY

Standard 15. How physical systems affect human systems.

Standard 16. The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.

Essential Element VI. THE USES OF GEOGRAPHY

Standard 17. How to apply geography to interpret he past.

Standard 18. How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future.

Citation: National Geography Standards, Geography Education Standards Project. 1994. Geography for Life: The National Geography Standards. Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society Committee on Research and Exploration.