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Curriculum making through enquiry

The enquiry approach to learning lies at the heart of curriculum making in geography and recalls geography’s heritage of exploration and discovery. In this view, geography teachers perform a delicate balancing act, drawing upon the student’s experiences, the subject resource and their own knowledge and craft skills.

Margaret Roberts has shown how this approach contains four central aspects: the creation of a ‘need to know’ through the use of an engaging stimulus; the collection and use of data; processing and making sense of that data and finally reflecting on learning in order to apply it to future enquiries.


Essential elements of learning geography through enquiry. Source: Roberts (2013).


This model reminds us that motivation is key. This is the only real antidote to the ‘deferred gratification’ model of teaching (as in ‘learn this and you’ll get good grades’), which does not work at all with some students and has diminishing returns for most others. It also reminds us that a good geography lesson involves students applying intellectual effort in order to make meaning about place, spatial relations and environment.

In ‘What makes a geography lesson good?’ (see links below) Margaret Roberts also argues that good geography teaching depends upon curriculum making and is supported through enquiry. In good geography lessons, there needs to be:

  • geographical data, ideas or contexts
  • a connection with the learners’ minds, based on what students already know, understand and can do
  • an opportunity for learners to make sense of new geographical knowledge for themselves, giving students time for students to make sense of geographical information through talking and writing.


References and further reading

Geographical enquiry in the classroom

Roberts, M. (2010) ‘Geographical enquiry’, Teaching Geography, 35, 1, pp. 6–9

Roberts, M. (2012) ‘What makes a geography lesson good?

Roberts, M. (2013) Geography Through Enquiry: Approaches to teaching and learning in the secondary school. Sheffield: Geographical Association

Roberts, M. (2013) ‘The challenge of enquiry-based learning‘, Teaching Geography, 38, 2, pp. 50–2.

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