As a homeschooler, I found it rather difficult to find interesting materials for U.S. geography, and the resources I had were lacking in cultural aspects. So, I had to get creative. What I did was break the states down into regions, such as
New England - intro to history, then I picked out one item we consume from that state, e.g., Maine - Lobster...this assisted in remembering what made the state unique. Second, I gave lessons on the big cities (something my daughter really enjoyed) such as New York, here we studied different skyscrapers, the different neighborhoods such as Harlem (history included), Greenwich Village (artists included), Broadway (saw some plays on public television) and so forth. Third, we went on field trip to a New York style deli, studied the Wall Street Journal and looked up shopping and other tourist sites on the net. There are several children's sites on New York with coloring pages, activities, and information on theme parks. Also, listened to alot of music and watched films or looked at various books with pictures, then tested on different buildings (Empire State, Twin Towers, etc) and tested on various places and what they were intended for, i.e., Wall Street, Boston landmarks and Philadelphia (too many to mention here), even Walden's Pond.
Vermont was the Maple state (of course, we had to try out different maple syrups, and the hill state); Wisconsin the Cheese state (of course, trip to store for various cheeses was in order - and yes, I did gain 5 pounds!);Boston was the state of History, first library, first public school;Texas the cattle/oil/San Antonio state; Colorado the mountain/snow activities state; and so forth. Basically, we found one or two unique products that the state specializes in, whether it was textiles or shoes or oranges and brought the state to our very door.
You could have each student pick a state and focus on the 'big' cities of that state and do a class report, bringing food known to the state, or types of music, such as jazz (New Orleans) or mariachi (Texas) and so forth. Even dances, amusements, natural landmarks make the state become more 'Alive', easier for student to grasp than the ole' dry textbook pick and choose latitude/longitude - though important, students loose interest quick--after all, when we travel, we want to see the people, taste the food, don't we, kids are no different.
I also found that this approach aids in the understanding of culture differences from state to state and even town to town, including differences within the physical landforms and how they affect populations in the states. You might need to have three students choose California, Alaska and Texas to relay the vast diversity of the physical geography and cultures. Also, I found that this was also a great means of introducing my daughter to the 'economic dependency' and how commerce works from state to state, leading to discussion of the interstate highways, laws from state to state regulating commerce and how droughts in one state will affect food prices in another state.
Review, 1. Break down the states into regions
2. Isolate each state (have students pick one, or three students to work on large states) and do focus study on big cities, e.g., LA, San Francisco, Austin, NY (my daughter loves NY, NY by Sinatra now), Nashville, Chicago...then do comparisons, between downtown designs - LA and NY is good one, due to different structures of skylines - earthquake engineering, etc (good geology intro), food production differences (good for weather/plant growth) and environmental/demographic challenges.
3. Also include within each state the rivers, landmarks, and other national parks.
4. For states with little glamour to some, like Kansas for instance, we focused on the landscapes, farming, and the Dustbowl period. Get creative...chamber of commerces are great resource for information and the State Tourist Industry on the net is also great source. I learned alot myself and I'm somewhat of a geography fanatic!
Although this has taken us six months to complete, for a class of 15 to 30 students, it wouldn't take that long. What I have found (since much of my teaching is trial and error) is that not only is my daughter learning the states and capitals, she is also learning the importance of seeing outside her world, appreciating differences of other peoples and lifestyles, and now has understanding of interdependency theory (great intro for global-international studies).
BTW, started homeschooling due to problems with oversized classrooms and gangs in my district...and one thing I've learned, and I only teach two children...teachers Don't get paid enough and its the Hardest but most challenging and rewarding job I've ever done...have great respect for all of you. Hope my ideas help...and I love this site. Thanks!