Encouraging discussion about place
The students engaged in a number of starter activities to get them talking about their local areas and their hopes for the future. This also helped the project leaders find out how sophisticated the students’ vocabularies were.
The activities included value lines, active listening, photo and map tasks and word circles.
Here, John Lyon explains the activities and how they encouraged conversations about place.
We began with trust-building exercises and asking the students about themselves and their local areas using value line activities.
We asked a series of questions and the students were invited to place themselves along a scale of one to ten according to their agreement/disagreement with the statements. The classroom formed the frame for the scale – one end being one, the other being ten.
Statements used for the value line activities included:
- Talking helps me to work out what I mean
- It is more fun to be a child than an adult
- I am confident at trying something new
- I like giving my opinion on things
- The future is scarier than the past
- I think homework is a good idea
- I intend to live in this area when I am an adult
- I am proud of my local area
Students were asked to suggest more questions: What came first, the chicken or the egg?
This gave students the opportunity to talk the longest. They gave detailed thoughtful answers which were linked to prior knowledge, theories, use of terminology and links to television programmes such as QI. They were much more able to talk with confidence when they had the opportunity to link their opinion with knowledge in a format they had experience of.
When we asked ‘are you proud of your local area?’ the majority were proud giving reasons like ‘there is lots to do’ and ‘it is multicultural’. But negative comments included ‘too many homeless people’ and ‘too much spending on the Rock (shopping centre) when there are homeless people and vacant shops’.
We felt that this exercise encouraged a range of positive outcomes, particularly through seeking contributions from all group members. It also gave us the chance to talk about what makes a good listener:
- Being positive and open to new ideas
- Questioning others about their ideas
- Respecting and valuing other people’s opinions and ideas
- Explaining ideas and opinions clearly
- In the case of alternative proposals, deciding together which statement is supported by the best reasons
- Keeping to the subject
- Being ready to compromise and reach agreement
Photo activity: Bury or not?
We used photos of Bury/Greater Manchester and asked the students:
- Do these images represent your place?
- Can you describe the photograph?
- Can you locate it?
- What impression does it create?
Next, each student was given a different image and asked ‘Does your image represent your place?’. NB The language of what we mean by ‘represent’ needs sharing with students.
Students were again invited to place themselves along the values scale according to their agreement/disagreement with the statement. They were then asked to describe their image to the others and explain whether or not they felt it represented their area.
- What can’t we see or know from the photo?
- Can you see ‘change’?
- What do they think other people think of their place?
As they discussed the views and images we found that the students used a very limited vocabulary to describe the photographs.
For this activity we arranged the students in a circle and asked each of them to supply a word to describe their local area. The words they chose were fairly generic (e.g. ‘cool’, ‘busy’, ‘modern’) and showed their limited vocabulary for capturing places.
We repeated the exercise and this time gave students chance to prepare their words and encouraged them to be more specific about describing their town. This time the words students used had much greater relevance to Bury and their personal feelings about it.
We developed the activity by asking students a range of deeper questions:
- Is it possible to have an idea, concept or belief that you can’t express in words?
- Is the way you perceive the world influenced by the way your language chops it up and represents it?
- How can we act to develop a richer language for talking about place?
- Will changing language change attitudes, or are changes in attitude reflected in the language people use?
Afterwards we realised that a word list to choose from and build on would have been useful.
The words in the list below were put together by searching through a number of GCSE text books related to urban landscapes, the appropriate exam specifications and the Sheffield City Council planning website.
We then organised the list into three sections:
- Specific geographical words like ‘conurbation’ that you would tend to find only in geographical texts or in ‘planner speak’.
- Words used by planners that would extend the vocabulary normally used by a student such as ‘vibrant hub’.
- Words that conveyed simple meanings that most students might use with some support such as ‘noisy, threatening, peaceful, exciting’ etc.
The list could be used for students to select and learn challenging words – perhaps in the bingo game or to pick and use in the photo activities.