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Primary curriculum content

Planning and development at the school level is often shaped by wider constraints. The figure below shows how school curriculum development activities can fit into a wider context.


Selecting appropriate content for the curriculum

‘Curriculum-making’ is a process in which teachers are guided by their knowledge of pupils’ needs and interests when selecting appropriate subject content and develop this into challenging and relevant teaching experiences using their professional skills.

It is important to use the ethnic diversity and personal geographies that pupils bring to school to enhance and develop your curriculum. Similarly, draw on the interests, backgrounds and experiences of staff. Add into this the contexts provided by real,  local and global issues to ensure the curriculum is full of lively, relevant and contemporary content.

Use the key questions from the figure above to help mould your curriculum:

  • What is special about our school, our pupils and our contexts?
  • How will this guide our geography curriculum?
  • What is our vision for geography?

High quality geography provision, by its fundamental  nature- learning about the world-, intrinsically links to and enhances all areas of learning whether mental, social or emotional. In turn effective geographical learning only happens in conjunction with its own intricacies and those of other disciplines. For example the article, ‘Art and the locality’ by Jon Clayton in Primary Geography, Spring 2016, delves in to this relationship between Geography and Art, demonstrating  an element of symbiotic learning while carrying out fieldwork.



Leading Primary Geography is designed to be the definitive guide for all primary geography leaders, class teachers and trainee teachers, this book offers:

  • a carefully considered approach to planning for, and delivering, outstanding geography across the primary age range, in and outside the classroom
  • a clear statement of what constitutes outstanding primary geography and a rationale for geography’s place in the primary curriculum.


 Developing geographical knowledge, thinking and skills

Thinking geographically offers a uniquely powerful way of seeing the world and makes connections between scales, from the local to the global. We need facts in order to think, but we also need concepts to enable us to group bits of information, or facts, together.

The three main organising concepts of geography are frequently said to be place, space and environment. They are the key ideas involved in framing the unique contribution of geography as a subject discipline and can be applied across the subject to identify a question, guide an investigation, organise information, suggest an explanation or assist decision-making.

When planning the geography curriculum, these three central concepts can help provide a touchstone ensuring some rigour, especially when planning in a cross-curricular way. 

Geography knowledge is rarely static. The subject is dynamic because the world, and our understanding of it, is continually changing. Yet some key geographical concepts are enduring and will be relevant in any geography curriculum past, present or future:

  • ‘Space’ – the location of points, features or regions in absolute and /or relative terms and the relationships, flows and patterns that connect and / or define them.
  • ‘Place’ – a construct that is defined in terms of what it is like, what happens there and how and why it is changing.
  • ‘Scale’ – the ‘zoom lens’ that enables us to view places from global to local levels.

So, when planning geography lessons or units of work ensure that all three of these key components are present to some extent. Developing a sense of place – such as for example, a sensory exploration of a ‘rainforest’ – is not geography until you understand the significance of location and links with other places at global and local scales of study.

Other concepts add depth and support a deeper understanding of people, places and environments. Geography synthesises different ideas and types of knowledge which is why it is both a challenging and exciting subject.


Enquiry is and always will be important

Planning is often best focused around enquiry. Geographical enquiry is an active process of investigation in which pupils are fully engaged. Enquiry work can and should include open-ended activities in which pupils are independently discovering things for themselves as well as more tightly teacher controlled activities, and a full range of more or less structured approaches in between.

Whether the teaching and learning situation is one of exposition/response (e.g. a teacher explaining an idea to the class) or creative activity with minimum support (e.g. students carrying out an independent project or piece of creative writing) it may be described as enquiry if the activity is oriented towards answering questions, opening up problems and issues and moving towards general principles and solutions. The role of the teacher in all scenarios is in organising, managing and supporting an appropriate range of teaching and learning experiences.

A suitably-framed enquiry is the most powerful vehicle for developing geographical knowledge and understanding, and is not simply a ‘bolt on’ for skills development. An enquiry approach helps us to select suitable content and appropriate geographical questions in order to tackle an issue or theme in a distinctly geographical way. This approach can work at different scales in the classroom as well being used to frame one lesson or a whole unit of work.

The starting point for many enquiries is the harvesting of  ideas, thoughts and avenues of questioning  through co-operative ‘talking’ activities in class. Through their article , ‘Generating enquiry skills’ in the Summer 2016 issue of Primary Geography Sarah Whitehouse and Karan Vickers-Hulse offer a range of strategies to develop this ‘talk’ time to ensure that it is focused and productive.

There are many versions of an enquiry approach but it has a set of distinguishing characteristics as illustrated in this diagram

The GA’s manifesto for geography is also a good source of geographical questions about our identity and our place in the world (p.21).


Locational and place knowledge

The curriculum refers to the study of areas at different scales to widen pupils knowledge of the world, the UK (plus Europe and North and South America for KS2) and their locality.

As you’d expect the national curriculum emphasises the geographical study of the home nations which as Stephen Scoffham, in his article in Primary Geography, Spring 2016 , explains offers great opportunities for creative cross-curricular links

Their locality should focus in on the area in which people live their everyday lives. For school pupils this usually encompasses where they live, go to school and play. It may also include places they visit with parents on a regular basis to shop or visit relatives for example. In contrast, a geographical region, as referred to in the KS2 requirements, is generally a large area of land with distinguishing geographical, ecological, cultural or political characteristics that set it apart from other areas and may exist within one country or be spread over several.

Your school  may traditionally teach a study of India or a country in Africa and these can provide valuable experiences and link well with a particular cohort of pupils and this is absolutely fine, especially at KS1 where you are instructed to teach about a small area within any contrasting non-European country. However at KS2 the inclusion of study of aspects of Europe and the Americas are statutory in the 2014 curriculum and units of study focusing on these locations need to be included.


Human and physical geography

The requirements to teach elements of human geography such as resources, settlements and economic activity as well as key aspects of physical geography such as rivers, mountains, volcanoes and climate zones can be done through the study of whichever locality you feel are appropriate, although linking much of it to those chosen with the guidance from above would make sense.

An example of a premise for a scheme of work on the Americas might be:

With the Americas being such a vast place start by developing pupils’ core knowledge e.g. knowing the location and names of the North and South American continents and their make up in terms of countries, regions, key cities and physical features. Then, drawing on the idea of a ‘zoom lens’ and  study several places in more depth, making comparisons between them. For example, you might be guided by: contemporary events such as the Olympic Games or World Cup; study the significance of  physical features like the Amazon rainforest or the Rockies and/or Andes or alternatively chose a more human-centric theme such as world cities or even holiday destinations of the Americas. Whatever the angle, the study of broader regional and more specific locations and case studies will provide the detail to engage and challenge pupils in their learning.

Remember this is a core entitlement curriculum and you can supplement it with whatever you think will inspire your pupils in their learning.


Skills and fieldwork

Many geographical skills are in fact life skills which once mastered will help pupils live a fulfilling and successful life. Each skill can be taught discretely, but more impact is likely when maps are read and made about the areas pupils are studying and can associate with- their local environment and regions studied under the ‘zoom lens’ above.

The Everyday Guide to Primary Geography: Local Fieldwork

The Everyday Guide to Primary Geography: Local Fieldwork provides inspiration for a wide range of stimulating fieldwork-based enquiries at key stages 1 and 2.

Further guidance and suggestions in terms of practical fieldwork:

Primary fieldwork fold-out guides

  • Mapwork skills, Colin W. Bridge, Ch8 Primary Geography Handbook. (2010)
  • Using photographs, sketches and diagrams, Margaret Mackintosh, Ch9 Primary Geography Handbook. (2010)
  • Getting outside the classroom. The Geographical Association magazine, summer 2016 no. 33

Fieldwork is a hugely valuable aspect of geography that helps to motivate and inspire pupils, which in turn raises standards of attainment. It is statutory for all key stages and ideally should be done at least once in every year by every year group.

Key stage one might focus on the school grounds and the immediate locality of the school, i.e. what can be reached by walking, whereas key stage two pupils would investigate the wider locality and/or a contrasting locality to the one  in which they live. Pupils from different year groups might visit the same place, for example the local High Street, but adopt a different focus or enquiry.

  • Fieldwork and outdoor learning, Paula Richardson, Ch10 Primary Geography Handbook. (2010)

Fieldtrip funding is available for a group of students between 5 and 18 years of age from the Frederick Soddy Trust Schools Award Scheme.

Primary geography and literacy page


Primary geography and creativity

Creativity is often simply associated with art and music, but in fact, it is very much broader than this. Creativity permeates the curriculum and is a vital aspect of every academic discipline.

Geography, because it synthesises material and ideas from different areas and applies these to a range of places and situations, has the potential to be a highly creative subject. It is important to recognise this and to allow time and space for creativity in lesson planning.

‘Creativity does not automatically imply talent, nor is it something that is fixed. Everyone is capable of creative activity and achievement and everyone can improve their performance’

Geography, creativity and place, Jonathan Barnes, Ch2 Primary Geography Handbook. (2010)

In his article ‘Geography and Creativity: an overview‘, Stephen Scoffham shows how we are always being creative throughout our daily lives. The article then goes on to consider how creativity and geography are related.

Throughout our publications there are examples of how teachers inspire and motivate their pupils by engaging them in creative learning opportunities. These experiences often draw on stimulating the senses and  developing hands-on activities, but can also just be by looking at things from different angles and playing devil’s advocate by challenging perceptions and stereotypes.

The Everyday Guide to Primary Geography: Art

This Guide is about the use of works of art to stimulate, enliven and enrich geography teaching and learning at key stages 1 and 2.

Three recent examples of planning to allow children to explore the world from different standpoints can be found below:

  • In ‘Making Waves‘, Primary Geography, 87, 8-9, Jason Cannons discusses how to excite and inspire pupils by building on their interests and employing  a range of teaching and learning strategies such as: e-devices, high quality discussions and  hands-on activities like a working diorama.
  • In ‘Rivers in Reverse’, Primary Geography, 89, 26-27 Alison Mansell showcases some extremely creative enquiry based geography using a local news story as the stimulus.
  • Rachel Gowland, Sue Greer, Richard Thompson and Philip Maudsley in their article ‘Beach Adventures’, Primary Geography, 90, 28-29 demonstrate how pupil safety and wellbeing, art, environmental awareness and geographical knowledge can be creatively intertwined when planning and leading a fieldtrip.


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