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Making Geography Happen Teacher Tips

Teacher tips and advice on making geography happen

The aim of the Making Geography Happen project is not just to explore teaching and learning styles in order to help students progress, but to look at how students can develop their ability to think geographically.

In the section Thinking about progression in geography, Paul Weeden explores in more detail what progression in geography means and how to plan for it.

What makes a geography lesson good?

One of the most important components of a good geography lesson is… geography! This may seem obvious but often more attention is given to the process of teaching such as how the students are managed and the pace of the lesson, rather than the development of geographical understanding.

It is important that teachers reflect on the essential characteristics of a good geography lesson. Margaret Roberts has written a challenging article, ‘What makes a geography lesson good?‘, which explores the key elements of a good geography lesson and how to judge them. You could think about this at a department meeting or as a session in a training day.

In the Making Geography Happen project each case study has a section devoted to the core geography that the unit of work is based on. The participating teachers thought about this carefully before the curriculum making took place.

Reflecting on geography teaching

The teachers that took part in the Making Geography Happen project reflected together on what they had learnt about helping their students make progress and how they had ‘made geography happen’ with their classes. The project gave teachers the time to reflect on their teaching and gave students the opportunity to think about what they had learnt.

Here is a summary of some of their collective thoughts:

Starting the unit

All teachers agreed that the start to the unit of work was crucial. Margaret Roberts, in her book Learning Through Enquiry (2003), talks about creating the ‘need to know’ for students through engaging enquiry questions.

For their Australian Outback unit, Louise Ellis at Stopsley High School started with a clear enquiry question: ‘What would happen if you lived ten hours journey from school?’. She also engaged the children with a ‘feel box’ giving them clues about where in the world this could be a reality.

At King Edward VI Five Ways School, students were shown an image of a boy reading in a rubbish dump at the start of their Uneven Development unit. They were asked to describe the boy and his life and were thus able to make links between children’s lives and develop empathy. This activity helped create ‘the need to know’ in the students.

Co-construction of the curriculum

Both Nina at North Reddish School and Paula at King Edward VI Five Ways gave the students an opportunity to participate in the planning of the curriculum. Once the students’ curiosity was awakened, it led to them asking questions which the teachers then used to plan the scheme of work.

The teachers feel it is important that students can understand why they are studying a topic. Paula spent some time with her Year 9s getting them to think about why uneven development is an important topic to learn about. She planned the appropriate ‘next step’ for students lesson by lesson rather than simply teaching the next thing on a scheme of work.

Personal stories

Using personal stories is another hook which can be used to engage and motivate students. At Stopsley School, Louise used stories of children from the outback and the people who set up the ‘School of the Air’. Even though the students were learning about distant places, they could relate to other children.

North Reddish School had a link with a school in Saudi Arabia and by the end of the unit the children had set up email pen pals.

At St Peters Smithills School, older people from the community came to talk to the children about what Barrow Bridge used to be like.

Students at Perton First School wrote letters to students at the school in the neighbouring village of Brewood.


Both St Peter’s Smithills and Perton First School looked at the local area and had a field trip. Even though the places were local not many students knew much about them. Being outside helps students to experience geography, it also engages and motivates them.

During these fieldwork activities and in the preparation in the classroom, the students used maps to enhance their learning and make sense of the places they were studying.

The GA’s Young Geographers project has lots of practical examples of how out of classroom learning has been used creatively by schools to make geography happen.

Encourage students to be creative

At Stopsley High School, Louise gave the students the opportunity to be creative by making models to show what they had learnt. A radio covered with information about the School of the Air was one such example.

Showing students examples of work from previous years helped to inspire them. Anthony’s class at St Peter’s Smithills turned their map making into a large junk model while Nina’s students created Saudi Arabian art and learned how to make flatbread.

Creativity motivated the students and made the learning memorable. High expectations and well-planned work helped the students make progress.

Combine with other subjects

A good piece of geography work draws on many subjects. At St Peter’s Smithills the Barrow Bridge project looked at the area in the past, the present and the future, so combining with history.

At Perton First School the topic included ICT as Chris gave her students the task of creating a PowerPoint that compared the two villages. Students at St Peter’s Smithills used Comic Life Deluxe software to write a comic book history of Barrow Bridge.

Literacy featured in many of the projects – including persuasive writing, emailing or writing letters to other students, reading extracts of fiction books and creating information booklets.

Student reflection

At every school the students were given the opportunity to reflect on what they had learnt:

  • At North Reddish School this took a strong visual form as the students made a mind map showing their knowledge of Saudi Arabia
  • Teacher Chris used peer assessment and success ladders at Perton First School.
  • Students at Stopsley High School completed a reflection log after each lesson.
  • At King Edward VI Five Ways, Paula’s Year 9 students watched lessons and completed Observation Sheets before filling in a questionnaire at the end of the unit.
  • Paula also tried a learning log in which students recorded key questions and thoughts but it proved too time consuming and was unsuccessful as a learning activity. This was replaced by ‘Post-its to Mrs C’ where student were invited to informally submit their questions and comments. These were very effective progress checks and dialogues.

Read more reflections from teachers and students by browsing each project section.

Top Tips from the participating teachers

Next steps…

The participating teachers are now about to teach these units of work again during the 2010-2011 academic year. Having reflected upon the project and taking into account the progress made by their students and their thoughts about they learnt, each teacher will make changes to their units.

Curriculum making is a continual process…

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