Using StoryMaps to invigorate the Geography Classroom

Katie Vidal
Katie Vidal
22 Nov 2021
map with photographs pexels leah kelley 185933

This article enlightens teachers on how to use Esri StoryMaps in the geography classroom.

In my previous blog I introduced ArcGIS StoryMaps and outlined how they integrate narrative text, interactive maps, and multimedia content, to tell immersive stories about people, places and the environment. There are now more than one million StoryMaps published publicly by a variety of government agencies, NGO’s, universities and individuals… but how do you find the best ones to use in your geography classroom?

Geography Classroom: StoryMaps as a teaching and learning tool

The essence of geography is how humans interact with their environment and StoryMaps are a very accessible resource for geography teachers to showcase global issues via digital storytelling to their students. 

  • Teachers can use StoryMaps for direct instruction, to display research, explore case studies, or can serve as an opportunity to promote a cause or inform about an issue. 
  • StoryMaps can display physical, human and environmental geography in a visually stimulating way to engage your students. They are mostly theme-based about places and people on a range of topics from climate change, sustainability and hazards to migration, development and urbanisation. 
  • Use them to teach content or to model the variety of design features that StoryMaps can offer before your students start creating their own. No matter what you teach or want to learn, there is likely a StoryMap that you can access. As an educator you can choose how to use StoryMaps, based on time available and the purpose of your classroom lessons.

Key geographical concepts

StoryMaps can highlight key geographical concepts of place, space, environment, interconnection, sustainability, scale and change and can also help students apply these concepts to a wide range of places and environments at the full range of scales, from local to global, and in a range of locations. 

In the classroom, they can help students to apply these geographical concepts, synthesise information from various sources, draw conclusions based on the analysis of data and information, taking into account alternative points of view. 

Check out Joseph Kerski’s Teaching and Learning with ArcGIS StoryMaps 

Syllabus objectives

Viewing a StoryMap on a chosen global issue can also help students:

  • explain geographical processes by describing the features, elements and interactions of processes that shape the identity of places
  • comprehend geographic patterns, recognise spatial patterns at global, regional and local scales of study and identify relationships and implications for people and places
  • analyse geographical data and information by inferring how patterns, trends and relationships represent geographical data
geography classroom
Geography Classroom

21st century STEM skills and the inquiry approach

Geography helps develop 21st century skills that students need to prepare them for higher education, work and engagement in a complex and rapidly changing world. 

  • StoryMaps can promote skills such as critical and creative thinking, ICT skills, social emotional skills and communication
  • StoryMaps that are based on specific case studies can also promote cultural awareness, citizenship and ethical understanding.
  • They can promote creative thinking skills by provoking curiosity, creativity and imagination and model ICT skills by showing students how they can be productive users of digital technology. 
  • They also encourage students to explore reliable sources of information by concluding with in-built citations and references. 
  • StoryMaps lend themselves to the inquiry approach in geography that describes the ‘what’ and ‘where’ of the issues or patterns being studied by displaying both qualitative and quantitative data.

Maps, satellite imagery and GIS

The Australian Curriculum mandates that in Year 7 to 10 Geography, spatial technology use is explicitly specified in the Geographical Inquiry and Skills strand.

StoryMaps are a perfect way to introduce your students to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as they show different layers of information in an interactive map that is easy to explore and engage with. Exposing junior geographers to spatial technology via StoryMaps can show the array of data available in ArcGIS Online and ESRI’s Living Atlas. This prepares junior geographers for Senior Geography where students need to demonstrate the use of spatial technologies to produce their own maps for assessment. 

La Palma eruption teaching resources created by Jason Sawle at Esri UK, is a collection of classroom ready GIS based applications for teaching about the La Palma eruption.

To further explore the options of using GIS in your classroom have a look at Esri Australia’s StoryMap on Implementing GIS into your school’s curriculum and Brett Dascombe’s StoryMap EduDrone – Spatial Technology toolbag for teachers.

Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainability is a key geographical concept and a cross curriculum priority for the Australian curriculum and you will find a plethora of relevant StoryMaps about the SDGs. 

SDGs Today is an excellent website that provides many collections of Story Maps about each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. This platform integrates a variety of tools and resources that give access to timely, geospatial data about the SDGs. 

Go to The Sustainable Development Solutions Network Collection and start with the first Story Map called SDGs Today which introduces the purpose of the website and how you can access the Data Hub, Storytelling and Education pages. 

Junior Geography: the best StoryMaps

Finding the best StoryMaps that match to the geography content being taught in our secondary schools can be time consuming…so how do you find the best ones to use in your geography classroom? A good place to start is on the esri website Explore Stories but if you haven’t got the time, we’ve done it for you! We matched each of the ACARA geography units below to some of the best StoryMaps examples that are publicly available at the moment.

Year 7 Water in the World

This StoryMap will engage students with the perspectives of Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples to investigate Indigenous knowledge and water issues at Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the Northern Territory.

Year 7 Place and Liveability

This StoryMap follows a Volcano Expedition Team that travelled to Guatemala on a National Geographic-funded expedition to better forecast when eruptions will occur and support communities that live with this risk.

On An Island is a collection of StoryMap lessons designed to encourage geo-literacy skill development in early ArcGIS users by exploring Caribbean landscapes and people

Other notable StoryMaps for this topic: 

The Voices of Grand Canyon, Living in the heart of winter, A Story About Great Countries

Year 8 Landforms and Landscapes

This StoryMap is a visually stimulating look at the research being conducted at Mt Everest in the Himalayas.

Year 8 Changing Nations

This StoryMap explores human population density, urbanisation, transport and communication networks via globe animations, and the extent of the human footprint.

Year 9 Biomes and food security

This StoryMap is a visually stunning look at the world’s biomes and their distribution, importance and threats and how terrestrial and marine protected areas can save biodiversity.

Year 9 Geographies of interconnections

This StoryMap investigates how the Global Shipping Industry should be held accountable for the extensive damage caused to vulnerable habitats and their communities.

Year 10 Environmental change and management

This StoryMap looks at how Phillip Island’s iconic wildlife is being impacted by climate change.

Year 10 Geographies of wellbeing

This StoryMap demonstrates how CARE and their partners in 81 countries have contributed to significant change in 11 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals

StoryMaps for Senior Geography

Senior Geography teacher Brett Dascombe from Wavell State High School in Brisbane has just received a Teacher in Excellence Award for his use of spatial technologies in the classroom. His students are producing StoryMaps from Years 7-10 and for Internal Assessment in Senior Geography. He has recently shared this StoryMap to help his students describe, analyse and explain maps and graphs in Senior Geography 

 IPQE Writing for Senior Geography & the External Assessment

Year 11 Responding to risk and vulnerability in hazard zones 

StoryMap examples for this unit can help students recognise hazard zones and analyse spatial distribution of the hazard to describe geographic patterns and identify the implications for people and environments.

This StoryMap examines patterns in global wildfires using data from NASA’s Aqua satellite and a GIS to measure change. Aqua and its space sister Terra have been orbiting the planet for around 20 years. The satellites’ MODIS sensor has been used to track changes in the ocean, on land, and in the atmosphere, and since MODIS can also detect small thermal signals, it can also be used to track changes in wildfires.

What’s On Our Plates? is a collection of learning modules for teachers and students interested in learning about Aotearoa New Zealand’s plate boundary, the Hikurangi subduction zone and the Alpine Fault. They are designed as a set and are based on NZ Curriculum

Other notable StoryMaps for ecological hazards:

Where are all the COVID-19 Vaccines?, Malaria on the Frontlines, Mapping the spread of disease

Year 11 Planning sustainable places

StoryMaps can provide case studies for students to investigate the geographical processes and interactions over time and space that have resulted in challenges for places in Australia and megacities in developing countries. 

This StoryMap explores the giant urban agglomerations called megacities visualised through globe animations, and a sidecar immersion with map actions that chronicles the historic growth of 10 of today’s largest cities with side panel images from Esri’s Living Atlas world imagery.

Year 12 Responding to land cover transformations 

Case study specific StoryMaps can help students develop an understanding of changes to the biophysical environment over time, with a particular focus on land cover transformation and climate change and the resulting impacts and challenges posed at global, regional and local scales.

This StoryMap investigates how the Amazon rainforest is approaching a catastrophic tipping point because of massive forest fires and land clearances due to criminal activities such as land clearances, illegal logging, wildcat mining and wildlife trafficking.

Year 12 Managing population change

StoryMap examples on this topic can help students develop an understanding of population change, movement and distribution over space and time, and how governments, organisations and individuals respond to the challenges posed by demographic change. 

This StoryMap showcases excellent maps of social demographic data (ethnicity, occupation, age, income and housing costs) to identify disadvantaged and marginalised neighbourhoods in Australian cities.


And if the Esri StoryMaps team had not already made StoryMaps easier to view and build, they created collections giving authors the ability to publish a group of stories of the same theme in the one StoryMap. Here are some notable collections:

A collection of 30 StoryMaps by Mission Blue, a global coalition to inspire public awareness of a worldwide network of marine protected areas in Hope Spot StoryMaps

A collection of over 50 StoryMaps by scientists, conservationists, storytellers, and educators around the world in National Geographic Explorer Stories

A collection of 30 wildfire StoryMaps from the USA in Wildfire Maps

A collection of 21 StoryMaps about New York’s remarkable water system that pipes millions of gallons of fresh water into the city every day and distributes it across its five boroughs in NYC H20 Maps

2021 ESRI StoryMaps Weekly Waypoint

Additionally, the number of items that it’s possible to place in a collection has doubled from 30 to 60. This makes collections a great way to house content from your organisation and update it whenever you want, like a newsletter or a recurring status update. It’s a great way to collate a series of your favourite StoryMaps with the same theme, or collate StoryMaps like chapters of a book or a series of lessons for a unit of work.

So if you like some of the StoryMaps shown in this blog you can copy their URL addresses and embed the links into your own collection on a specific theme that your students can easily access with the link. And when you come across a new StoryMap on the same theme, you can easily edit and add it to your collection.

As an example,the Esri StoryMaps team uses a collection to update enhancements, resources, and featured stories in 2021 StoryMaps Weekly Waypoint

If you enjoyed this article and would like to hear how other teachers have implemented the ‘How Cool is Our School’ competition into their teaching, then we highly encourage you to read the following articles:

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