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Jessika Richter
Jessika Richter
(Lund - Sweden)

The short and sweet: I have been a passionate teacher since 2001.  I first worked with the National Park Service in Washington (state), then moved to Australia where I completed my DipEd at the University of Melbourne and then taught at Hailebury  ...

CIA World Factbook


The CIA World Factbook is an extensive web database of facts about foreign countries. The section for each country opens with a brief background paragraph which is followed by much more detailed information in many categories.  The available information is organized first by geographical location, and then into several categories such as geography, economy, culture, military, and transportation, among others.  The major sections are further divided into areas that provide more specific details on topics like leadership in government, language, and demographics.  In addition to the basic information available, there are also images such as maps, flags, and photographs of the countries listed, as well as a country comparison tool, which lists rankings of countries according to certain characteristics.  Aside from these rankings, teachers and students are also able to pull lists and information based on a specific attribute of a country, such as pulling a list of all countries that rely heavily on open markets, or have totalitarian governments. These tools and features will be discussed in greater detail below. 



How to Get Started with World Factbook:

From the homescreen of the site, there are several avenues that can be taken get to information of interest to students or teachers.  First, the user can click on their country of interest using the world map in the center of the screen.  Another option is to select a country from the dropdown menu found at the top right of the screen.  Finally, users can click on the buttons listed on the bottom left of the screen to access other tools available on the site, including a database of regional maps, flags of the world, and a country comparison guide.  The first two of those tools are self explanatory, but the country comparison guide is more complex.  This tool is a set of lists of countries that is categories by the sections mentioned above, and place countries in descending order in each category.  For example, a user could pull a listing of the labor force demographics, which lists the numbers for each country included in the Factbook.


Another great tool available from the Factbook is that all information that students or teachers pull using the databases or country comparison guide can be downloaded into an Exel spreadsheet.  The instructions are provided on the site: to save a Country Comparisons page in a spreadsheet, first click on the 'Download Datafile' choice above the Country Comparisons page you selected; then, at the top of your browser window, click on 'File' and 'Save As'. After saving the file, open the spreadsheet, find the saved file, and 'Open' it.  Using these instructions, students or teachers can save data and access it later for further analysis or use in lessons. 




Classroom Examples:

Comparative Economic Systems                                                                   

This lesson is discussing world economic systems, including third world and communist nations.  As the main activity for the lesson students use the CIA-World Factbook to fill in their Comparative System Worksheet. Students use the World Factbook for its most basic purpose, by searching several different nations to look up fundamental economic information, students are able to compare and contrast different nations and their economic system. In doing this students have used the World Factbook to get a better understanding of other countries and how their economies compared to other major world nations.

Life Expectancy                                                                                       

In this lesson students are comparing life expectancies for the people of 5 different nations chosen by the teacher. In this lesson students once again search individual nations to look up specific information. For this lesson students use the CIA-World Factbook to research the average life expectancy and then decide whether the people living in that nation have a good or bad quality of life. For example, students can compare a third word nation like the Congo and compare to a major industrialized nation like China. In doing this the World Factbook provides students with  basic information that can allow them to draw major conclusions about different nations, such as quality of life or world political involvement.

International Food Court                                                                             

Students will use two interactive websites in this lesson, including the CIA- World Factbook, to create their own imaginary international food court. First students use a site where they can pick out different kinds of food and find out where they originate. Once students decide what foods they want to serve in their food courts, students use the CIA World Factbook to search each of the countries where the food originates. In the World Factbook students dig into more detailed information, such as climate, landscape, and culture, of these different nations. This lesson shows the Factbook’s versatility in a unique way. The Factbook provides a veriaty of information from basic economic facts to agricultural and cultural information. This lesson and the World Factbook allows students to research multiple cultures and people in one easy to use website.

To Market, to Market: Photograph Analysis                              

The ultimate goal of this lesson is for students to understand the importance of the market to different cultures around the world. To familiarize students with different nations the CIA-World Factbook is utilized. As a pre-activity students use the World Factbook to research different regions and nations throughout the world. Students use the Factbook specifically to further their knowledge of nations that rely heavily on public open markets. When students find different nations that utilize markets students use the World Factbook to deepen the background knowledge of the people, culture, agriculture, economy, and history of the nation. Once students have background information the teacher displays different pictures of different world markets, allowing students to understand different ways of life and different world cultures.

Comparison of Countries of the World                                          

In this lesson students use the CIA-World Factbook to research and compare five different countries in different parts of the world. Students use the Factbook to look up the nations, of their choosing, population, literacy rates, number of TVs and telephones, currency, GDP, etc.  Students are expected to create an excel spreadsheet and then create graphs to compare the information that they found in the World Factbook.



Assessing World Factbook for the Classroom:


One of the main affordances of this web database is the depth and breadth of information available in a very organized, easy to navigate interface.  Students and teachers alike will find the site to be logically organized and each of the facets of the site is accompanied by brief instructional paragraphs to help users find what they are looking for.  A secondary student at any level should be able to navigate this site to compile information ranging from the very basic to very complex about any country in the world.  Additionally helpful for student use is a fairly comprehensive glossary of terms and definitions that is linked throughout the text on the site so that students can access definitions to unknown vocabulary words as they read.  Another strong aspect of the Factbook is that it can involve direct engagement on the part of the students, as was illustrated in the To Market, To Market lesson example.  Students were asked to conduct their own research related to open markets.  Overall this is a simple but useful tool for Social Studies teachers and students.



The CIA-World Factbook is a fantastic classroom tool, however there are a few constraints. First you have to know exactly the name of the country you are looking for in order to retrieve the information a student or teacher wants. For example if teachers were using any of the lesson plans above, especially “Comparison of Countries of the World” “Life Expectance” or “Comparative Economic Systems,” and students could get lost in the number of countries that the Factbook has information on. Because of this class time could be wasted on searching multiple different countries, or students could get frustrated in not knowing the name of the nation they are looking for. Second, the Factbook is only updated once a year, if something occurs (a country splitting, forming, etc.) this will not be reflected in the Factbook until the next yearly update. Similar to the previous constraint, any of the above lessons, especially ones like “Comparison of Countries of the World” or “Life Expectancy,” where students are looking at third world countries current updates in the nations name, economic status, population, etc., may not be up to date. Finally, this source is only really helpful for specific purposes, geography, economics, cultural geography etc. Because of this the lesson plan basis for this site is limited. This constraint in particular is demonstrated by all of the example lesson plans provided above. All five of them are focused on cultural geography or economics. Although, historical information is provided it is very basic and not necessarily useful for an in depth history lesson.


Considerations for Teachers:

The CIA- World Factbook is an excellent resource for any classroom, but especially for the Social Sciences. It has a vast amount of information that is easily accessible for teachers and students, and because it is sponsored by the CIA one can be relatively certain of accuracy. However, that being said this source is really only applicable to certain social science classes, such as geography and economics. These are certainly not the only areas where this source can be useful, but it is definitely the most common, and therefore has the most accessible lesson ideas.  In many ways, the simplicity of the site is what makes it so useful and versatile; it can be helpful to students and teachers as they research and build background information for an array of lesson topics in specific topics such as geography, history, or government classes.  Social Studies teachers might use the high quality images, country comparisons and other detailed information not only to present students with basic information on a new region or country of the world, but also this information could be used to illustrate examples in more complex lessons about global issues such as comparative government, language, globalization, and economics.

When preparing a lesson that utilizes the CIA-World Factbook, the most important thing for teachers to remember is to utilize the sites strengths. If your students are going to be researching any aspect of a country limit the student’s choices to a list you provide them. This will save time for two reasons: One students will not be given the opportunity to roam this vast site aimlessly and two students will not be confused or frustrated by looking for a country that no longer exists. Also, the sites biggest strengths lie in the cultural and economic information. This site is perfect for a cultural geography or economics lesson, even political information is plentiful on the World Factbook website. However, trying to use this site to research the history of a nation is only going to provide a shallow overview, teachers looking for this kind of information would be better of using other historical sites. Overall, the World Factbook is an excellent resource for the Social Studies classroom; especially considering it’s free and does not require any kind of log in! All you need is a plan and list of countries you want your students to focus on!