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Creativity in geography lessons

‘We hope that the National Curriculum in geography will stimulate the use of painting, photography, music, prose, poetry, dance and drama as well as radio, film and video. They are of value in the evocation of a sense of place and can stimulate hearts and minds. They also add immensely to the enjoyment of geography.’

Department for Education and Science, 1990

Topics on this page:

  • Why should geographers be interested in creativity?
  • Types of creative activities
  • Creativity in your classroom
  • Using the creative arts in geography
  • Reading

Why should geographers be interested in creativity?

The aspirations expressed in the opening quotation are rarely heard today from ministers. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that first aim of the 2014 National Curriculum is that:

 ‘It introduces students to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.’ 

Creativity features strongly in several subjects in the National Curriculum, although not in the current statutory geography curriculum. Geography isn’t always thought of as one of the ‘creative’ subjects because it deals with real world learning but it gives students the opportunity to express their visions of the world around us and use it to think creatively. For example, students can think creatively about actions that can be taken for sustainability and the future of the planet.

There are many things in the natural and human worlds that can stimulate students’ creative development. Creativity in geography is about originality and ingenuity and making links and connections. Learning to be creative is about independence, initiative and problem solving – all of which are part of geographical enquiry. In geography criticality and creativity go hand in hand.

Educationalists in England have become more interested in the importance of creativity since the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) announced that, from 2021, it will include creative thinking. 

The interpretation used in this context involves abilities such as seeing problems in new ways, recognising which ideas are worth pursing and which are not, and being able to persuade others of the value of a specific idea. These are ideas that are very comfortable for geographers to teach within our curriculum.

Reading

  • Kinder, A. and Scoffham, S. (2019) ‘Making space for creativity’ in the GA magazine, Spring.
  • Rawling, E. and Westaway, J. (2003) ‘Exploring creativity’, Teaching Geography, January. This whole issue was about creativity; the page references below refer to other articles in the same issue.
  • Scoffham, S. (2013) ‘Geography and creativity: developing joyful and imaginative learners’, Education 3–13: International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education , vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 368  81. Also available online.

Types of creative activities

  • Find out about each of these different types of creative activities from Teaching Geography, January 2003.
  • Expressive: where students have opportunities to express themselves, such as their interpretations of places or feelings of awe and wonder; and also, to use the expressive work of others (e.g., poetry, literature, painting, music) as a starting point for an activity (See ‘My favourite place’ by year 7 students (p 9)).
  • Imaginative: where students apply imagination in response to a geographical situation e.g., year 9 letter to a friend about visiting Tokyo (p 7); year 9 using visual images alongside text (p7); year 8 creating a ‘rainforest’ environment in the school corridors (pp 10-11);  year 9 student’s comparison between the Eden project and the creation (pp. 15-7); year 9 cartoons with messages about tourism (pp. 18-9).
  • Critical thinking: where students are asked to investigate and critically address problems and issues about places and environments e.g., the environmental audit display and newspaper article produced for the local area by year 8 students (pp 12-4).

Problem solving is also a creative process as well as involving critical thinking. ‘Thinking outside the box’ is creativity in problem solving and bringing in new insights and ideas. When students are asked to solve problems in geography it requires them to think around the concepts and content that form the substance of problems and be creative in finding solutions.

Creativity in your classroom

Creativity is a process or a way of thinking, rather than an activity or an event. It is part of a constructivist approach to learning that puts students into situations where they engage in problem solving and create something of value. Young people think creatively by generating and exploring ideas and making original connections.

Students should try out different ways to tackle a problem, and it can be beneficial to work with others to do this so that they ‘spark’ ideas and find imaginative solutions that are of value. By working collaboratively in groups, they have the opportunity to question their own and others’ assumptions and try out alternative ideas.

You will need to apply your own creativity to develop lessons and teaching to support students’ creative development. If you ‘think outside of the box’ you will see many opportunities for creativity. 

A well-planned geographical enquiry can encourage curiosity and require students to use their imagination to think about the things they haven’t included as well as the things that they have. Delve into Rogers (2017) text that is full of creative ideas, as well as having a chapter devoted to creativity.

Simmons and Mole (2014) define the pedagogy of creative geography as the methods and practices that engage students ‘to take control of their own learning without being restricted by set boundaries’. 

They emphasise that the outcomes are creative geographers who ‘can reach goals independently’ and ‘reflect critically on their successes and failures’ and can use their experiences to inform future decision making. The report on some of the creative geography activities they used to achieve this in their year 9 students.

Rawling and Westaway (2003) found from their research that:

  • Students are most creative when constraints are given – a time limit, a word limit, a limit on the resources they can use – rather than when the task is completely open-ended.
  • Creativity is not always a lone activity; involving students in discussion and sharing ideas can be an important stimulus.
  • When students are provided with a purpose or an audience for their work, it brings good results.
  • It is helpful to encourage students to evaluate their own, and others, work.
  • Students in the full ability range can engage and get involved in creative activities.

Durban (2003) argues that interpreting the world around us for others is fundamentally a creative pursuit. 

He reminds us that geography teachers are creative in their approach to teaching they – tell stories, use visuals for impact, encourage students to question and experiment with ideas, use thinking skills activities that students achieved more and remember better the areas of the curriculum where they were encouraged to be creative.

The article gives examples of creative approaches to enquiries on coastal geomorphology and studying countries. It also introduced the ‘creativity wheel’ (see diagram) in this case applied to teaching about maps showing how maps can be criticised, imagined and debated.Creativity wheel

Renshaw (2011) believes that geography teachers should promote creative thinking within their curriculum and it needs to be ‘learnt, practiced and used to flourish’. In his article he suggests four creative thinking techniques and how he employed these when teaching about ‘ice’. In the second article he explains his approach to assessing the outcomes.

The Field Studies Council (FSC) promotes creative fieldwork alongside more traditional approaches, for example for the NEA at A level. Thinking creatively can help students to access the higher levels in the mark scheme. 

Maddison and Landy (2018) explain some of the  approaches used by the FSC and acknowledge that creative, student-led approaches need to be introduced from key stage 3 to open up students’ minds to the possibilities before they tackle the A level investigation. 

Using the creative arts in geography

Biddulph et al (2021) point out that ‘things happen somewhere, and this gets transmitted in so much of human creativity.’ Therefore, geography is intrinsically involved! They also remind us that when the National Curriculum was introduced over thirty years ago, the geography working group advised:

 ‘(we) hope that the National Curriculum in geography will stimulate the use of painting, photography, music, prose, poetry, dance and drama as well as radio, film and video. They are of value in the evocation of a sense of place and can stimulate hearts and minds (Winchester et al., 2003). They also add immensely to the enjoyment of geography’ (DES, 1990: para 7.20).’ (quoted in Biddulph et al (2021).

Consider some of these ideas:

  • ‘The ‘arts’ can provide imaginative resources for geography’ with interesting ideas to fire the imagination (See Biddulph et al (2021) pp. 177-82). Cultural geographers in universities are looking to literature, painting, walking, photography, playing sport and exploration as activities with the potential to show how our ‘being in the’ world takes shape (See Rawling (2010)).
  • Using literature provides many opportunities for creative and imaginative work in place-based geography. Rawding (2013) provides a list of authors that have written extensively about locations.
  • Fitzgerald (2006) writes about using music for ‘mood’ and music as the context for ‘place’.

Reading

Explore some of these readings that are introduced in the text above. There are many opportunities for creative thinking to be embedded in your teaching and be part of your curriculum design.

  • 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. 177-82 and 202-5.
  • Durbin, C. (2003) ‘Creativity: Criticism and challenge in geography’, Teaching Geography, April.
  • Fitzgerald, E. (2005) ‘Geography’s got rhythm!’ Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Maddison, J. (2018) FSC-Creative Fieldwork Guide, Sheffield: The Geographical Association.
  • Maddison, J. and  Landy, R. (2018) ‘Casting aside our hammers: Creative fieldwork approaches and methods’, Geography, Autumn.
  • Rawding, C. (2013) Effective innovation in the secondary geography curriculum, Abingdon: Routledge, p 46.
  • Rawling, E. (2010) ’The Severn was brown, and the Severn was blue’ – A place for poetry in school geography?’ Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Renshaw, S. (2011) ‘Creative thinking and geographical investigation’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Renshaw, S. (2011) ‘Creative thinking: assessing students’ learning’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Rogers, D. (2017) 100 ideas for Secondary Teachers: Outstanding Geography Lessons, Bloomsbury Education, Part 4 Creativity.
  • Simmons, M. and Mole, K. (2014) ‘Becoming creative geographers’, Teaching Geography, Summer.