For more than 100 years, armchair adventurers have learned about ancient civilizations, exotic cultures, and the mysteries of the wild through the vividly illustrated pages of National Geographic magazine.
National Geographic has joined the growing ranks of magazine publishers that have launched more student- friendly versions of their publications.
Now, elementary school teachers can lead their students on similar expeditions in the classroom with new curriculum materials that tap the National Geographic Society’s vast archives of photographs, maps, graphics, and narratives.
Reading Expeditions and Windows on Literacy, two series of thematic booklets unveiled recently, and National Geographic for Kids magazine, which will hit classrooms in the fall, are designed to help teachers meet state standards in language arts, social studies, and science.
The periodicals join the ranks of others—including Time for Kids, Teen Newsweek, and The New York Times Upfront—whose parent publications have been revised for children to help improve nonfiction- reading skills and teach about current events.
“People have read our magazine to learn about the world for 113 years,” said Ericka Markham, the society’s senior vice president of school publishing. “We have fabulous visuals, and we also have a lot about our live research and exploration that we want to report to kids, just as we do for their parents and grandparents.”
The National Geographic Society, which has published the venerable magazine since 1888, opened its school publishing division two years ago.This school year, the Washington-based society has piloted the magazine— geared to grades 3-6—in 58 school districts. The society will send out more than 1 million copies of a back-to-school issue in September. After that, the publication will be available by subscription six times a year, at a cost of $4 per student, or $1 per student for bulk orders of more than 200.
Whales and Polar Bears
The pilot issues of National Geographic for Kids featured descriptive articles on humpback whales and polar bears, as well as chronicles on chocolate and a deep-sea mission.
The thematic booklets include photo-splashed pages, with text aimed at various reading levels, on science topics such as mud and shadows, and on the social studies topics of the Industrial Revolution and the Civil War.
Separate teacher guides, as well as teaching notes inside the covers of each booklet, describe the intended focus for each subject, as well as the reading skills that are incorporated into the text.
A booklet on Greece, for example, includes expository text and requires that students compare and contrast information, use contextual clues, summarize and generalize, as well as draw conclusions about past and present Greek culture. Students also learn vocabulary and are asked to conduct research and write about what they’ve learned. Teachers and curriculum developers helped prepare the materials.
Teachers often use such materials to supplement textbooks or to fill in holes in the curriculum, according to Richard M. Kerper, a professor of elementary and early-childhood education at Millersville University in Millersville, Pa. More and more, Mr. Kerper said, educators are looking to those sources to expose students to nonfiction writing.
“Nonfiction has always been a critical piece of the [English/language arts] curriculum,” he said. “Unfortunately, many reading programs focus primarily on developing skills to read fiction. But as they move through the grades, students are asked to deal with more textbooks and do research using nonfiction materials.”
But the quality of such products varies tremendously, added Mr. Kerper, who is a member of the Orbis Pictus committee of the National Council of Teachers of English, which gives awards for outstanding nonfiction writing for children.
Teachers, he said, must be diligent in analyzing the accuracy of the content and the appropriateness for teaching specific reading skills.
A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 2001 edition of Education Week as National Geographic Launches Children’s Magazine