Geography of a Pencil

Grade Level: 6-12

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Source: National Geographic. Adapted with permission.


How is the world connected to the pencil you hold in your hand? Complete this activity to find out.

For the teacher:

Before starting the activity, visit natgeoed.org/mapmaker-kit online. In the Mapping section, click “MapMaker Kits.” Assemble the World Political MapMaker Kit Mega Map for large-group instruction, or the tabletop map for work in smaller groups. Watch the assembly video included on the MapMaker Kit web page for more instructions on assembly. Find an extended version of this activity online at natgeoed.org/pencil.

Materials

Procedure

For students:

  1. Discuss: What materials or natural resources do you think make up a pencil? Where do you think all of these materials originate? The materials that make up a pencil come from all around the world, and many countries contribute different materials used to make a pencil. The countries featured in this activity are the top producers of pencil-making materials.

The materials that make up a pencil come from all around the world, and many countries contribute different materials used to make a pencil. The countries featured in this activity are the top producers of pencil-making materials.

  1. Along with your classmates, form six groups of students. The first five groups will represent each of the countries where a material is made. The sixth group will represent the country in which you all live (called the “home base group”).

If you are in the home base group, you are the consumer, who needs to purchase finished pencils for your company to distribute to schools in your country. If you are in one of the other groups, you represent a company in that country that wants to build a factory to produce pencils, but you need to figure out how to get the other materials to make a pencil.

  1. Use the MapMaker Kit to create networks of transportation. Create a plan to make and sell your company's pencils. Discuss: What are the benefits, challenges, and costs of the different methods of transportation?
  1. Work on your map using lines, arrows, and symbols to show where you plan to get materials and how the materials will get to you. Then use arrows, lines, and symbols to show how you plan to move their products to the home base country.

If you are in the home base group, do a similar exercise, but determine how you can potentially get pencils from each of the other countries. You will later have to pick one of the companies from which to purchase pencils.

  1. If you are in one of the first five groups, take turns presenting your plan to the class. If you are in the home base group, take a moment to decide which company’s pencils might be the best option to purchase, and explain why. Reflect on how the countries are connected through the pencil production process.
  1. Discuss: In what ways does the home base country depend on other countries for the pencils we use? What other products can you think of that might be, like the pencil, "connected” to more than one country?