Themes of Geography - Human-Environmental Interaction

Contributor: Kathi Thomas. Lesson ID: 10359

Human actions can have major consequences! Help the United States Geologic Survey determine whether construction of a dam is a good idea through research, analysis, and presentation of your findings!


People and Their Environment, World

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


You recently learned that the United States Geological Survey has been asked to determine the benefits and harms associated with the construction of a dam across a narrow part of the Colorado River. The area where the proposed dam is set to be built is far from human habitation in a remote location where a developer hopes to build new homes.

An environmental advocacy group has already started a petition to stop the proposed dam. You find yourself wondering, “What is the big deal? How much impact could a small dam have?”

When studying geography, there are five general themes that can be explored to develop a big picture of the physical and cultural attributes of our planet:

  1. place
  2. location
  3. region
  4. movement
  5. human-environment interaction

Watch Five Themes of Geography, from Studies Weekly, which will provide you with a quick overview of each of these five themes:


In the scenario presented at the start of this lesson, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) is being asked to determine the potential benefits and harms associated with a human-environment interaction, an event where people and a specific geographic area will have impact on one another. Human-environment interaction can be defined as how people adapt to, depend on, and modify their environment.

In the case of constructing a dam, the outcome would be a modification to the environment, ideally in a way that does little to no damage to the environment and presents a great benefit to the human population who hope to live there.

Here is an historical example of how humans have worked with environmental challenges over time to gain the most value possible from a natural resource:

  • Dependence on an environmental resource In ancient times, the annual flooding of the Nile River produced good soil for growing crops.

  • Adaptation to the environment The ancient Egyptians rebuilt their homes each year after the annual flooding. As time went on, they built their homes above the flood plain.

  • Modification of the environment The ancient Egyptians built irrigation ditches to help water the crops. In modern times, Egypt built a dam to control the flood waters of the Nile River.

While the ancient Egyptians may not have had the benefit of an official study by an environmental science organization, it is still likely they pondered and discussed the possible effects and may have even thought through and discussed different options for harnessing the plentiful waters of the Nile River.

While this lesson is designed to focus on the theme of human-environment interaction, you should know that the 5 themes of geography are closely related.

For example, the ancient and modern Egyptians inhabit(ed) a location where the Nile River not only provides water for growing crops, but also provides a means for the movement of people, goods and services. In a geographic region, such as the desert that encompasses much of Egypt, this source of water has been critical to the survival of the people who call this place their home.

Take a look at this Andy Roundy concept map, Five Themes of Geography, to review the five themes of geography. Click on any of the themes to explore each one farther, but especially be sure you have a good understanding of human-environment interaction before you move to the next part of the lesson.

(To learn even more about the 5 themes of geography, check out the Elephango lesson found in the right-hand sidebar under Additional Resources.)

When you are ready, continue on to the Got It! section to evaluate some real-life interactions.

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