Esri GeoInquiries

Captivating, focused map activities support larger curricular lessons

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Subjects & Topics

English Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies

Price: Free
Platforms: Web

Pros: Quick, self-contained, scripted lesson plans; modern-day mapmaking software experiences; and a wide variety of subjects covered.

Cons: Quick lessons may not provide enough depth for any given topic; lessons may need to be modified for independent student use.

Bottom Line: These inquiry-based activities are a valuable visual and investigative resource for teachers and students in many different subjects.

These GeoInquiries are useful activities that can be sprinkled throughout the school year and easily fit into a portion of a class period. Teachers can project the lesson for the whole class to see, making it a full-class discussion activity, or it can be modified for students to go through on an individual basis, interacting with the map themselves. Integrate these GeoInquiries into any class or lesson where it's relevant, using it early on in a topic so that students can have these visuals in mind during the rest of the lessons. It's a perfect insert into classes from upper elementary through high school. The site doesn't offer a huge number of resources, but when you're able to integrate them, they're perfect additions and bring a visual, spatial, and geographic element into whatever you're teaching, giving students another way of looking at and learning about the topic. Using these resources also demonstrates to students that maps are useful in just about any school subject.

Esri's GeoInquiries are short, inquiry-based activities that complement lessons in American literature, earth science, environmental science, government, human geography, mathematics, U.S. history, world history, and general upper elementary lessons. Each subject has 15 Level 1 activities, and some have five Level 2 activities; these are all generally about 15 minutes each. Each activity/lesson plan is a two-page PDF document aimed at teachers and includes Common Core standards and learning outcomes. Teachers can follow the link within the PDF document to access the interactive map, and then follow the scripted lesson plan with their students. Students and teachers can interact with the map, study its details, and answer questions and discuss what they see. The lesson plans include further options to try within each lesson, along with all references used to create the maps.

Level 1 activities can be done without any special account, but Level 2 activities require users to have a free school ArcGIS Online account to use the necessary analysis tools. Some examples of Level 1 activities: Trade and the Black Death, Underground Railroad, Public Lands and National Parks, and What Is a Gerrymander? Examples of Level 2 activities: Federal Banks: Cash Reserves, Rivers: Watershed Analysis, and Urban Distribution and Density.

With Esri GeoInquiries, students go through several steps for each activity, including pondering questions, sharing answers, acquiring information from the map, exploring the map deeper, analyzing what they're seeing, and more. The Next Steps section includes ways to extend the lessons further.

The maps themselves can be edited and expanded upon, with options to add related overlays based on geographical features, historical events, or things of cultural importance, depending on the lesson. The base map style can be changed, distances can be measured, and custom features can be added. Students are able to explore and expand upon the lesson in their own way, and teachers are able to demonstrate facts and events, and change over time in whatever way fits their particular needs. For example, in "Twain, Travel Blogger," students can see all the places he traveled throughout his life, broken up into his time as a riverboat pilot, reporter, travel journalist, and general traveler. Students will be able to follow along on his journeys, which can be invaluable when paired with reading his nonfiction works, such as Life on the Mississippi. Students will experience similar value from other lessons, across math and science, social studies, and literature topics.

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The visual element is key here, pulling in students with the engrossing map elements. Then students' ability to explore further within the given topic, and even modify the maps, solidifies the lesson.


These teacher-led lessons get students interacting directly with maps and modern map software, all while learning about and analyzing a directly related school subject.


This self-contained sub-site is aimed at teachers, with the lesson plans scripted with easy instructions. The larger Esri site has additional help and support if needed.

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