It can be a hefty project to learn the states and capitals of the United States.
Each time I relearned it, my stubborn brain tried to convince me that Los Angeles was the California’s capital. Albany tripped me up repeatedly. (They don’t have big musical numbers about Albany, do they?)
When most of us were assigned to learn the states and capitals, it was pretty straightforward. You got a map, you studied it, you took the test, and then you promptly forgot it. Maybe you took that extra step of creating your own flashcards and learned the capitals that way. But for most of us, these basic modes of study didn’t keep anything in our brains over the long haul.
Today’s kids, though, have many options to learn the states and capitals. Options that help them retain what they’ve learned so that they don’t struggle with the Albanys, Sacramentos, and Tallahassees like so many of us did. Options that are not only memorable, but FUN!
Flashcards to learn the states and capitals
Flashcards aren’t what they used to be. You can get them online, as hard copies, and as apps.
This free set from Quizlet lets kids flip the cards by clicking on the card itself. It also gives the pronunciation for each state and capital, which is a nice bonus! And this set (also free) from Study Stack is similar, but the students choose whether a card goes into the Know or Don’t Know pile. (Plus they look like index cards if you like the retro vibe.)
You can also learn the states and capitals with physical flashcards. I didn’t find any that satisfied me — I’m kind of picky — so I made my own. They’re differentiated for my cotaught classroom and you can peruse them at my Teachers Pay Teachers store. You can get a whole set like this one for the West/Southwest. These allow me to pick the look and skill I want my students to focus on that week.
Or if you value simplicity and want only one style, you have Option 1, Option 2, Option 3, Option 4, or Option 5. These basic options (as well as the differentiated sets) are available for each region of the United States.
What I love love love about my flashcard sets is the three pocket system that allows students to keep track of the facts they know, those they kind of know, and those they don’t know yet. Read more about this system here and download your own free set of pockets if you already have your own set of flashcards. I swear — it will change the way your kids learn. My kiddos love them and each has her own kit in her cubby.
I’ve also seen US flashcard sets for sale for $1 each at Target around July/August in the dollar aisle, which is pretty nifty! (I usually buy a few and put them into my weekly book raffle.)
Games to learn the states and capitals
Bump has got to be one of the easiest games to implement into a tight schedule. It’s a snap to teach and set up. And kids LOVE it.
These United States Bump games will have your kids learning their states, capitals, and abbreviations in a snap. You can grab the Free Northeast Bump Games here and try it out in your classroom. Warning: you will be hooked for life. (I wished I had done this ages ago. My kiddos learned — and retained — their states SO much faster this year! One of my colleagues said she was amazed how much better the kids scored on their tests after just playing one round.)
The following free sites will reinforce what your kids learn. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Sheppard Software has a wide array of games to suit the skills you want your kids to master. I particularly love the jigsaw games, like this one, to introduce the states.
- Abcya State Bingo (it’s a little noisy, so headphones or mute might help)
- Purpose Games (this one is much simpler, but kids can have fun trying to beat your time.)
- Quizlet has several games, plus it will let your kids practice the spelling of the states and capitals. This may be my favorite.
- Kahoot is incredible. You can set this up as a full-class game or have it as a center. Our kids go gaga for Kahoot days.
Learn the states with mnemonic devices
Some people are brilliant at creating memory tricks. Selma Dewani is one of those people. I splurged and bought her US Geography: Memorize and Research the 50 US states and capitals download from Teachers pay Teachers and was thrilled with the results. She has a video that you can stream right from the site, which enables students to memorize the placement of all the states. I was floored as were my students. They now routinely practice filling out their maps using her tricks, and the smug looks on their faces as they rattle off all fifty states is priceless!
Learn the states and capitals with apps
In my classroom, we don’t have ipads. If you do, though, or if parents ask for recommendations, here are a few good apps!
- Chill Fleet 50 States: this is free. If you want the ad-free version for $.99, go here.
- Geotouch: free
- State the States: $.99
Of course, once they learn them, you have to see if they retained the information. As I have a wide range of students with incredible strengths, I have a differentiated sets of tests to serve all their needs (fill in blank/matching, word banks/no word banks) and to test all the skills (state placement, states/capitals, states/capitals/abbreviations). All are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
Learn the states and capitals in unique ways
For students to learn the states and capitals and have those facts etched in their longterm memory, they have to be exposed to the facts often. Here are some additional ways you can incorporate them into your day.
Using reading bookmarks allows your lessons to go beyond the confines of social studies time. With these bookmarks available, your students will learn their state facts much quicker and will cart them along whenever they take a book outside of your classroom. I think of them as mobile lessons.
Cheat Sheet Bracelets
These bracelets are a lot of fun. Just print off a set, cut them into strips, and let the kids pick a bracelet to wear. (Simple scotch tape works great.) In our room, the students can pick one bracelet (state) to wear during a test. It’s like a freebie answer and they think they’re getting away with something. You can use them throughout the day in activities as well. (“All states that border the Atlantic, come to the center of the circle and greet someone!”; “If your capital has more than two syllables, clean up your materials and line up for P.E.” )
Keep your eyes open at discount stores and yard sales for state jigsaw puzzles. We have about three sets and the kids love to put them together at recess. We sneakily introduce it, because they’ll be ignored otherwise. The secret is to grab a puzzle during indoor recess and start putting it together by yourself. Within minutes, your kids will flock to see what you’re up to and will help out. Soon you can quietly walk away and leave them to it.
While this isn’t something that appeals to all kids, it can really help those who love to engage with puzzles.
April Fools Day
Okay. This one won’t help them at all. But it’s super fun if you like to play April Fools jokes on your students. It includes a states and capitals word search and all the documents are free and downloadable. Put a pin in this one for next April. It’s SO much fun!
Pennants to learn the states and capitals
Pennants not only help your students learn the states and capitals, they make your study of geography a celebration! Imagine how gorgeous these will look on your classroom walls or in your hallway!
The more methods you try in your classroom, the faster your kids will learn the states and capitals. And remember them! These make great morning work and homework, and they work terrific as stations! Perhaps one of your students will even end up as lucky as this illustrious fellow. One can dream. 🙂
We’d love to hear from you! In the comments below, let us know:
- How did you learn the states growing up?
- What methods of teaching the states and capitals have you discovered?
- Which states or capitals did you have a tough time remembering?
As always, if you found this information valuable and know others who could benefit, share using the social media buttons below!
Thanks and have a wonderful week!
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