How to Teach the States and Capitals

7 Strategies for Teaching the States and Capitals

Most elementary school curriculums require students to learn the US states and capitals. To do this, students must have strong memory skills. You can use the memorization strategies listed below to help students boost their working memory. The techniques will work with all types of content, but they are especially helpful when it comes to learning the states and capitals. 

1) Visuals

Studies consistently show the strong link between visuals, learning, and memory. To incorporate visuals when teaching the states and capitals, use maps. Working hands-on with a map will give students the opportunity to create a mental picture of the newly acquired information. Print this blank outline map of the United States for students to add the states and capitals. They can use this map as a reference. When students are finished, use the free quiz linked below for extra practice. 

State Capitals Quiz | Free | Printable & Digital

States and Capitals Quiz Free Google Classroom

2) Card Games

Research proves that retrieval practice boosts memory. This is why flashcards work so well. A states and capitals matching game, for example, requires extensive focus and repetition, two things that will help students remember the state capitals. 

States & Capitals Card Games

States and Capitals Printable Card Games

3) Music and Rhythm

Teachers have always used rhythm and rhyme to help students remember new concepts. The repetition and pattern found in music makes it easier for the brain to process the information. You can take advantage of this with the popular Animaniacs states and capitals sing along

4) Chunking

Chunking is a teaching strategy that breaks down large amounts of information into smaller units that are easier to understand. To do this with states and capitals, break the US into five regions: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Northwest, and Southwest. Focus one region (and one state) at a time to give students a chance to slowly build their knowledge of the states and capitals. You can use the worksheets linked below as you introduce each state. These pennants will also work. 

50 States Worksheets | Printable and Digital

50 States Printable and Digital Worksheets

5) Connect with Prior Knowledge

Information has a better chance of being remembered if it is meaningful. This is why connecting the information with prior knowledge is so powerful. Developing mental images, or stories, that connect with as many of the senses as possible help students retain information. Memory experts refer to this strategy as  creating a memory palace.  Click here to see a video of the process. When students form associations that connect different details, the information becomes more memorable. Students can make up their own stories, or you can use the book Yo, Sacramento! It provides a visual and a connection for each state capital. 

Yo, Sacramento by Will Cleveland

Yo Sacramento Book

6) Students Become Teachers

One of the best ways to remember information is to explain or tell it to someone else. Scientists call this the protegé effect.  Explaining the states and capitals to each other will force students to solidify the information. Something as simple as think-pair-share will work because it gives students the opportunity  to engage with the material individually, with a partner, and with the class. All of which will help strengthen working memory. 

7) Active Learning

Active learning applies to any learning activity that involves the student in the learning process. Examples of active learning include brainstorming, discussing, group work, making connections, annotating, and solving problems. You can use jigsaw puzzles to promote active learning when teaching students about the states and capitals. This puzzle is made out of wood; its durability is great for the classroom. If you think your students need more of a challenge, go with this magnetic puzzle. A puzzle students can finish in one sitting is ideal. 

States and Capitals Printable and Digital Bundle

States and Capitals Bundle of Resources

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How to Teach Kids the States and Capitals