My subscription to National Geographic is something that brings joy to my mailbox, substance to my reading diet, and an amazing go-to item to my classroom. I wear my subscription to this iconic periodical as a badge of honor. Whatever you think of when you envision a National Geographic subscriber, it’s likely that I fit your description… Academic. Thoughtful. Vastly nerdy. But I’m also something else—a teacher who’s committed to finding affordable, effective, outside-the-box ideas for my classroom. And this magazine is, I’ve found, exactly that.
Let me clarify. I am not in any way affiliated with National Geographic or their educational materials. In fact, I don’t really know much about their teacher resources at all. However, I am a diehard believer in the power of National Geographic, the magazine, in the English classroom. Teachers of English (or, for that matter, science, geography, history, and art), consider a subscription. Why? Here are five of my reasons.
Reason 1. Visual Literacy
Since its inception, this magazine has been recognized for its groundbreaking photographic images. Every issue of National Geographic is packed with photos that defy the conventional boundaries of angle, proximity, color, and motion. But more than that—this magazine’s images are famous for their ability to capture a moment and tell a story in addition to exhibiting technical brilliance. As I watch students page through, their reactions to the photos are visceral and nuanced. As they select an image to inspire a poem, fit in a collage, or serve as foundation for some descriptive writing, they are hard at work interpreting the story of each image. Teachers can also pull a specific image to focus on as a whole class in order to model interpretation of the photographer’s composition choices and the reactions elicited in us, the viewers. Students can also examine how the images inform and shape the corresponding captions and articles. I guarantee you, present a classroom with a tableful of National Geographic, and before long, you’ll hear a chorus of, “Whoa, what is that? Look at that!” They encounter the images as texts with something important to say.
Reason 2. Non-Fiction Writing
The articles in National Geographic are readily available examples of quality non-fiction writing. Part of the beauty of the magazine as reading material is that, despite its intellectually challenging content, it is absolutely readable. Figurative language, engaging author voice, descriptive imagery, and even humor is observable on page after page. What better to show students as a current example of real-life non-fiction writing and what it can look like? This publication does, again, an incredible job with story, even with its non-literary nature. The facts are memorable because of the way the writers craft the stories about them—that’s what I ask my students to do, too, in their research and persuasive pieces.
Reason 3. Critical Thinking
Current and often controversial events are explored in this magazine. As students browse, they discover hot topics in biology, geology, environmental science, global politics, pop culture, economics and more. They become more informed. They are given the opportunity to consider the views of the writer and potential readers. Often, the writing leaves the reader with more questions about the topic—this serves as excellent food for discussion, where students use examples from the article to support their opinion about the issue at hand.
Reason 4. Academic Reading
A challenging lexicon and length that demands an attention span of some stamina makes these articles good practice for college-level reading. The great thing, though, is that many of the topics are so darn interesting that even the most reluctant high school reader will start reading an article. (Shortly after, they will look ahead to count the pages, and say, “Dang, this is long!” But most of the time, they still commit to the long haul.) I read every issue back to back when it comes to my home. This creates a great ability for me to come around to individual students all looking at different articles and engage each of them in conversation about what they’re reading. It also slightly astounds them when they realize that I’ve read every single one. They may think I’m crazy, but I think that they also respect and find intrigue in the fact that “people actually read this stuff.” It enters them briefly into a readership, an academy.
Reason 5. Multi-Purpose Utility
These magazines can be used and reused, torn apart, photocopied, piled, sorted and marked up. With a subscription, the supply is also self-refreshing with new stories, photos, and knowledge waiting for student hands and minds. In a year, a teacher can amass enough for one class to use several times. Over several years, one gains a collection of resources at a comparatively low cost. Besides, they look pretty cool fanned out across a classroom shelf. Trust me.
Have fun! Visit www.nationalgeographic.com for more information about the magazine and, I suspect, a wealth of other educational resources.