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Games and simulations

‘It is important “to grapple with ideas based on their own experience and on discussion with their peers, rather than being told about the ideas”‘

Rex Walford, 2007

Topics on this page:

What are geographical games and simulations? | How to use these activities | Reading | Examples of games and simulations

What are geographical games and simulations?

These are classroom activities that provide students with opportunities to learn ‘through experience’.

They are based on ‘real-world’ situations so they bring geographical relevance and students imaginatively put themselves into the scenario to think through problems they are presented with. Like other forms of decision-making activities, they are collaborative activities and promote student talk and discussion.

Key reading

How to use these activities

Similar considerations are applicable to this activity as for decision-making and problem solving. Before students undertake the activity, they need to have adequate knowledge of the topic – probably built through explicit teaching.

The game or simulation should be chosen because it is appropriate for the overall purpose and learning objectives of the lesson, or series of lessons, in which it is to be integrated. It could be used as an introductory activity, or to help students to use and think hard about new geographical knowledge. Particularly when a simulation topic involves sensitive issues, a teacher must group students thoughtfully to avoid any unnecessary conflicts.

Classroom management needs to be considered because of the relative freedom that the activity offers and the teacher needs to carefully monitor any students that are opting out or not coping with the cognitive demands. It is often a delicate judgement to decide whether to interrupt the flow of the activity to give more factual input or guidance for discussions.

Debriefing is important at the conclusion of the activity to draw out the key elements of geographical learning.


  • Biddulph, M., Lambert, D. and Balderstone, D. (2021) Learning to Teach Geography in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience, 4th edition. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 81-82.
  • Heath, R. Geography Games and Simulations, GA Conference 2017 and notes.
  • Tidmarsh, C. (2006) Think Piece – Using Games in Geography, Geographical Association online.
  • Walford, R. (2007) Using Games in School Geography. Chris Kington.

Reading: Examples of games and simulations

  • Clemens, R., Parr, K. and Wilkinson, M. (2013) ‘Using geographical games to investigate “our place”’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Jenkinson, C. and Macleod, P. (2012) ‘Playing with Risk’, Teaching Geography, Summer – simple games for economic geography such as snakes and ladders.
  • Morgan, M. (2019) ‘Emotional enquiry; accessing a new level of engagement in the classroom?’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
  • Norton, A. (1998) ‘More geographical games and puzzles’, Teaching Geography, October – includes games such as taboo, geographical consequences, the challenge game and what can I see.
  • Rawding, C. ‘Three geographical games;’ Teaching Geography, July 1982, June 1984, April 1987.
  • Spencer, H. (2014) ‘The sweatshop production game’, Teaching Geography, Summer – using a sweatshop production game in a scheme of work on global fashion.
  • Taylor, L. (1994) ‘An idea for comparing different economies’, Teaching Geography, January.
  • White, R. (2009) ‘Shanty: The game’, Teaching Geography, Autumn – practical activity building a shanty town and living there.

Simulation games

  • Christian Aid – a good selection of simulation games on global issues with good support material and guidance on debriefing. This includes widely used simulations such as the trading game and the poverty challenge.
  • Oxfam Education – more games based on real-life issues such as Can You Beat the System? Oxfam: Is food fair?.
  • Cafod – various ideas for games, including the Trading trainers game.