Choosing a Globe

Choosing a globe seems like a simple task until you realize there are hundreds of options that range from $10 to $1000. Last year, I realized my globe proudly showcased the former Soviet Union. Every use came with a review of modern history. I needed a change. Now, I’m proud to say that I’ve entered the 21st century and my globe not only has Russia, but also South Sudan and Timor Leste.

In this series, “No-Fuss, No-Prep Geography”, I outline 3 simple tools I use to teach geography: wall world maps, globes, and Geography Songs for Everyone songs (watch videos free here or buy MP3s here).

Choosing a Globe

Below I review the 7 basic kinds of globes to help you begin your search. I include only desktop globes since these are easily moved from room to room and manipulated by little hands. And only world globes. There are celestial globes and constellation globes, but that’s not my focus. Considering the diversity of globes, I’m sure there are globe collectors out there. I’d love to meet one. They could probably direct me to a globe museum.

Also, in my search I discovered the term “student globe”. I thought, what’s the difference between a globe and a student globe? Don’t students and regular folk just need to know the countries? I found “student globe” was often (not always!), code word for “inexpensive” and globes that are actually toys in disguise. They may have movable parts and battery operated functions.

As you review the different types of globes, consider the age of your student(s) and your educational goals. In general, the older the student, the more details you will want. So, while a preschooler would benefit from a globe outlining only continents, a middle schooler would enjoy a globe with both political and physical features, major and minor cities, and even roads. As for myself, I use the first globe listed here with my young children. It’s simple and sturdy and the raised areas for mountains offer a valuable dimension. For those more daring than I, see below for a taste of what’s out there.

7 Types of Desktop Globes

Relief Desktop Globe: Relief globes are great because they combine political and physical maps. The colors and design indicate countries, and the texture on the surface indicate mountain ranges. Great for curious little hands.

Physical Geography Globe: This globe can have a smooth or relief surface. It outlines physical land forms instead of countries. This kind of globe is a good companion to its political counterpart.

Interactive Globe: There are many talking globes on the market. There is a wide variety of functionality available, including quizzes and games. Take caution that some models may use UK accents and I have seen first hand that interactive globes may disagree with each other on pronunciation.

Illuminating Globes: These globes light up like nightlights in a room, which is a cool feature. Some illuminating globes are so sophisticated they showcase physical geography when turned off, and political outlines and colors when turned on.

Magnetic Globes: These globes are made of metal and come with small magnetic pegs. You can mark areas of study or travel. In my research, these globes are usually smaller than 12” and, in general, not great for small children.

Continents Only Globes: This type is best for young children. There’s no equator or country outlines. The globe pictured is more toy/puzzle than globe, so it’s not something you would keep forever.

Novelty Globes: I couldn’t resist sharing this pretty pink globe. I have never seen one of these before, but I guess it could work. Maybe someone can find a glitter globe, or Sponge Bob Square Pants themed globe. Why not?

Yes, choosing a globe can be annoyingly burdensome. Isn’t life complicated enough? I encourage you to stay calm, assess your needs, budget, and educational goals for the year, and select one globe that fits. Now that you know the basic types of globes, browse the links below for student globe recommendations around the internet. Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of these websites.


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