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Balancing Act

Note: Teacher’s notes are in red

“Balancing Act”

This activity focuses on some of the implications of the dramatic increase in world population and on the unequal distribution of resources among six regions of the world. Students will consider their perceptions of world regions and then use data to examine the quality of life in those regions.

Your Mission

Find the key to a balanced population.

In the past 40 years, world population has nearly doubled. By 1999, it had reached six billion people. All those people need resources, such as drinkable water, food, and places to live. How can people learn to practice sustainable use of resources so that future generations will have enough to eat, clean water to drink, and comfortable homes? One key is to realize the imbalance in the distribution of resources and the increase in population in different regions of the world.

Time: Two class periods

Subjects: Geography, science, math, art

Relevant U.S. National Geography Standards: 1, 16, 18


  • Color markers and pencils

  • Construction paper

  • Graph paper

  • Magazines with art or photographs of people, fresh water, and cropland

  • (Optional) “Millennium in Maps: Population” supplement map from the October 1998 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazine

  • “Population & Resources” cards (You’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download the cards)

  • Regions and Resources

    On the blackboard write “region,” “population,” “population growth,” and “resources.” Ask students to define the words. Write their responses on the board. (You can find a population glossary at the Population Reference Bureau Web site:

    Ask students such questions as:

  • In what region do you live? What regions are nearby? What are some unifying characteristics of these regions? How would you define a region?

  • Does it matter what a region’s population is? Why or why not?

  • In what ways does population growth impact a country?

  • In what ways might population growth impact you in the future?

  • What are resources?

  • Why does population matter when countries are exporting and importing resources?

  • Should we be concerned about the lack of resources in our region of the world? Why or why not?

  • “Resources mean different things to different people.” What do students think that statement means?

  • When you think of Europe, one of the world’s regions, what comes to mind? A Paris café, Swiss ski slopes, a gondola in Venice? What does Africa, another world region, call to mind? Perhaps the snowy cap on Mount Kilimanjaro or a pride of lions lying on the savanna.

    The quality of life in these regions and throughout the world depends in part on the balance between population and the availability of resources.

    To give students food for thought, direct them to’s “Feeding the Planet”

    Regional Research

    Students will research four indicators of the quality of life in six regions of the world. Their results will show tangible evidence of population increases and the unequal distribution of resources.

    Use a “geographic focus” to look at six regions of the world identified by the United Nations: the United States and Canada, Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia, and Oceania.

    Divide the class into groups of at least six students. Distribute the “Population and Resources” cards so that each student in a group has a card from a different region.

    Students should gather data about these six regions in one of two ways:

  • From the “Millennium in Maps: Population” map. Have students interpret data from side 2 of the world map. Each student should count four Regional Indicators—population increase, income per capita, fresh water availability, and cropland—for his or her region to determine correct quantities (rounding up or down to whole numbers).

  • From population data from 1998.
  • Have students enter their data on their cards.

    Divide up into teams of at least six students, one for each of these six regions. Each of you will then compare four aspects of life—population increase; income per capita; availability of fresh water; and the amount of cropland—in your chosen (or assigned) region. You and your teammates will gather data either from a map, or from other materials your teacher will give you.

    Gather your data. Then enter the statistics for “your” region on the “Population & Resources” card your teacher has given you.

    Graphic Evidence

    Have each student make a bar graph of his or her region based on the data from one of the sources listed above. Each student should make the same type of graph. Collaborate with a math teacher in helping students graph the data.

    Students can create graphs by hand with graph paper or they can use a graphing program such as Microsoft Excel or Appleworks. Students can work individually or in their groups.

    Make a bar chart of the data you gathered for your region.

    The Best Place, Bar None

    In their groups, students should refer to the completed bar charts to make inferences on what it might be like to live in another region of the world in terms of population and resources.

    Within your group, compare the six bar charts.

  • What is the annual rate of population increase in each region?

  • What is the per capita annual income in each region?

  • How much fresh water does one person use in a year in each region?

  • How much cropland per person exists in each region?

  • As a group, in which region would you most like to live?

  • Ask one spokesperson from each group to tell the class how the group determined which region they would like to live in and why. Students should use geographic terms.

    Pick one person from your group to tell the class where your group would like to live, and why you chose that region. Find out how other groups voted.

    Pose the same questions to the class that you asked at the beginning of the activity (see Regions and Resources).

    Bar Charts and Beyond: Information Is Key

    Ask: “Did creating the bar charts help you better understand the unequal distribution of resources around the world?” Have each group create an eye-catching display of the data in a way that’s easily understood.

    Geographers constantly struggle to find the best ways to display data. Charts, graphs, maps, and other visual displays help geographers report information from a spatial perspective.

    Each group should draw a large world map, and, using that as their starting point, display the data for each of the six regions. Encourage students to be inventive. You may want to ask an art teacher for ideas.

    Your group should draw a large world map. Using this map and the data from your bar charts, your group will creat a display to help others understand the worldwide balancing act between people and resources. You can go to Web sites under Other Related Web Sites to find additional information to add to your display. Be creative—people are more likely to read your chart if it catches their eye.


  • TODALSS (map elements)—Title, Orientation, Data, Author, Legend, Scale, Source;

  • world regions;

  • bar charts of data for all six regions (use the bar charts you’ve made or make new charts); and

  • photographs, drawings, or symbols representing the four indicators: population increase, income per capita, fresh water availability, and cropland.

  • Taking Action

    Start at home . . .

  • Donate your time or goods to the Red Cross, which supplies communities with necessary supplies during national disasters.

  • Conduct a food or clothing drive.

  • Learn about your watershed-about keeping the water clean and using it wisely. Look at the Fresh Water 9-12 activity for a list of Web sites focused on watersheds and keeping yours clean.

  • . . . and go beyond.

  • To learn about environmental emergencies worldwide and to take action, check out the Eco-Club Action Web site

  • Learn about groups that provide needed assistance around the world, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

  • Adapted from “Millennium in Maps: Population” lesson plan. Copyright © 1998 National Geographic Society.


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