Risk it all for the sake of Geography and History Education

Remember when your parents tried to sneak vegetables onto your plate and thought you wouldn’t notice? Just as you wouldn’t eat those vegetables because they were ‘good for you,’ students won’t learn ‘because they have to,’ especially difficult subjects such as geography. I’ve never had a strong grasp on geography, which is apparent when I watch Jeopardy, but then again I never played Risk as a kid – connection? I think so. Well, it turns out, learning geography is as easy as conquering the world … and believe me, as a pre-service teacher, I am always thinking about ways to enhance student learning and comprehension.


The Risk 1959 Game from Winning Moves Games (a classic reproduction of the original game) is the game that helps children focus on the basics of world geography while exuding the timeless appeal of strategy, luck, and bargaining. For those unfamiliar with the game of Risk, it is designed for 2 to 6 players, and focuses on conquering global territories to control the world and dominate your opponents. Risk is an in-depth game, but players begin by forming armies on continents/territories that they think will become beneficial as the game progresses. As play continues, players “attack” opponents in neighboring territories by rolling dice (whether you are attacking or defending, the goal is to roll the highest number). If the attacker die roll is successful, the defender must remove one his or her “armies” from the “attacked” territory. Once a territory has been conquered, the territory leader may collect a Risk card, which he or she can trade-in for more armies – and, consequently, more world domination!

While the size and boundaries of the territories are not accurate and include more than one country, these expanded territories are meant to facilitate game play, while teaching basic geography. How, you ask? The game is comprised on 6 continents, each with various territories, and represented by different colors:


  • North America – 9 territories (yellow-brown)
  • South America – 4 territories (turquoise)
  • Europe – 7 territories (blue)
  • Africa – 6 territories (pink)
  • Asia – 12 territories (green)
  • Australia – 4 territories (purple)

Because of the limited number of geographical locations that a player needs to know to successfully play Risk, this game is a great starting point for students who are either new to world geography, or who are struggling with geographical concepts. Using a hands-on activity allows students to visualize the countries, not just as lines on a piece of paper that they must label, but as pieces of useful information that help them conquer.

Are you teaching history instead of geography? No problem. Excite kids about the great wars by re-enacting WWI, WWII, the path of Alexander the Great, or the triumphs of Napoleon right before their very eyes with the Risk 1959 Game. Students who are able to visualize countries, or the progress of troops during a war, are more likely to participate in learning because history, and geography, come alive for them. The downside of using the Risk 1959 Game as a teaching tool is that it takes a long time to play a complete game.

So what have we learned today? Be like your parents, but instead of sneaking in overcooked broccoli, sneak in some fun, allow your students to dominate for a day, and possibly even “Risk” it all for the sake of geography and history education.


Note: The idea of using the Risk 1959 Game as a metaphor for history was first introduced to me by my favorite comedian, Eddie Izzard during his bit entitled, “Hitler never played Risk as a kid.”

“In the 30’s, Hitler, Czechoslovakia, Poland, France – Second World War, Russian front not a good idea. Hitler never played Risk when he was a kid. ‘Cause, you know, playing Risk you could never hold on to Asia. That Asian – Eastern European area, you could never hold it, could you? Seven extra men at the beginning of every go, but you couldn’t hold it. Australasia – that was the one. Australasia. All the purples. Get everyone on Papua New Guinea and just build up and build up.”


This post was brought to you by Nicole McCann, a future secondary English Teacher. Here’s a little more info (in her own words) about this dedicated future professional:

I began my education at Penn State with a B.A in English, but have since chosen to persue a secondary education degree at Slippery Rock University. Since switching gears from appreciating language to teaching it, I find myself unable to stop thinking about ideas for classroom use. I am currently learning and discussing education on any and all levels—both the theoretical and the classroom aspects. I will be graduating with an M.A. in education in 2010, with future plans of being a secondary English teacher.

2 Responses to Risk it all for the sake of Geography and History Education

  1. DennisG November 21, 2009 at 9:25 pm #

    Wow what a great idea. Risk helped me with my geography too except Kamchatka never really showed up on any test or quizzes.


  1. Erederic - September 16, 2011


    love your blog, http://www.free-blog-site.com/beaulaes ,Thanks again….

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