I have long considered Google Earth (GE) to be one of the best free resources for developing language in the context of social studies content--though it is great for developing language related to math, science, and even language arts (since it is filled with settings in the story grammar sense). Google Earth is basically the inspiration for the V (Visual) aspect of the FIVES Criteria; it provides endless visual contexts for language, while remaining virtually language-neutral, making it a great stimulus for our scaffolding. For the purposes of this post, I will be talking about what can be done with the free Google Earth iPad app, which keeps getting more powerful, though surely more can be done with the desktop/laptop and Android (this being a Google product) versions.
1. Pull out GE for incidental teaching: I am currently doing some individual language therapy for a student using his class assignments as jumping off points for strategy work (e.g. use of Story Grammar Marker®, Expanding Expression Tool, and Visualizing and Verbalizing®). In working through some reading, he asked me what a gulf was--having my iPad right there, we quickly reviewed a few examples of gulfs and compared it, in sequence, to smaller bodies of water that are formed as water goes into the land: bays and harbors. Geographic features are definitional!
2. Take virtual field trips to regions/countries/states/landmarks/settings of books being studied and use to elicit spatial, descriptive and narrative language: Most major cities in Google Earth now contain "3D Buildings"- providing a great "wow" factor and much visual material to be described.
3. Employ the "Panoramio Photos" and Wikipedia Layers for more specific visual and linguistic material: Google Earth displays information in layers which can be turned on and off via the menu in the upper left corner. These include the 3D Buildings layer but also the moderated and geo-tagged Panoramio Photos (turning this layer on displays blue photo icons that can be tapped and displayed) and Wikipedia, which provides general information about locations (though the W icons can be a bit hard to find)
5. Use Street View even for your youngest learners: Think about the category of community buildings. Street View lets you walk around any town or city and view examples of places in the community- personally relevant ones! Just drag the "Peg Guy" onto the street and you can begin to navigate- sweep your finger around to change view and double-tap to move down the street and describe. Kids love to visit their houses too!
Have fun with Google Earth- it's easy to get started with the tutorial that plays when you first open the app- it's also replayable (and a great following-directions activity) from the Settings menu in the app.