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Printed materials and textbooks

“Textbooks do still have a role in the modern geography classroom, but it is unlikely to be the same role that they have had in the past.”

John Widdowson and David Lambert, 2006

Topics on this page:

What print resources are available? | Newspapers | Why use textbooks? | Explore and review a range of geography textbooks | How are textbooks used in your school? | Evaluating textbooks | Reading

What print resources are available?

Many resources used in geography lessons depend on the printed word – e.g. books, maps, worksheets, leaflets, posters, diagrams and charts, newspapers. 

However, be aware that articles that can be useful for geography teaching are often written for adults and require high reading ages. All text should be evaluated critically before you use it with students.

Students may find the text difficult to comprehend if it:

  • Is written in a formal writing style
  • Uses geographical vocabulary that is specialised and not met in daily life.

When you plan lessons discuss with your geography mentor any vocabulary or texts that students might struggle to understand. You may need to edit text before you use it with students, or support it with visual images.

Look at Articles: the big 6 by Nick Lapthorn which identifies common print resources that geography teachers use with students. David Rayner (2017) cautions us to consider when we use text materials that ‘all too often what students take from using a resource is not what we expected’.

Newspapers

Cuttings from newspapers can be a fruitful resource especially for topical issues. They can provide case study material and are often written in a lively and stimulating way, or take a personal angle on a current issue. But newspapers can also give a biased view, for example they can reflect a particular political stance, and they may oversimplify the real situation.

  • Refer to Media literacy for further information about using newspapers.

Why use textbooks?

The term ‘textbook’ may appear arcane in the 21st century but it is used to encompass a broad range of resources. 

Today’s geography textbooks usually have a published student book supported by related digital and on-line resources such as student work-books, resource sheets, teachers’ handbooks and multi-media resources that can be used for interactive display or tailored by the teacher and copied for class use.

To use or not to use, that is the question! There is a ‘great divide’ amongst geography teachers as to whether geography textbooks should be used or not. You may find yourself in a geography department that relies strongly on a particular textbook series at key stage 3 and uses course texts for GCSE and A level classes. 

Or you may be in a department where textbooks are not in regular use, but the teachers provide and develop their own geography resources. Or, most likely, you are in a department that is somewhere between the two.

A case can be made for both sides of this argument. There are, of course, dangers in the total reliance on one textbook; it can stifle a teacher’s creativity and the geography content gets out of date. Textbooks are often aimed at middle-ability students and in doing this they can fail to challenge the more able or support poor readers.

On the other hand, writers of textbooks are often very experienced geography teachers and curriculum experts and their textbooks provide some excellent resources for teachers. 

They bring together several types of resource on one double page – text, pictures, maps, cartoons etc. – and good textbooks provide stimulating and engaging activities for students. So careful and selective use of textbooks can support good teaching.

It all depends on how well a teacher uses the textbook and how they mediate the content so that it is appropriate for their students. A textbook should be seen as starting point for a topic, that you can develop in any direction you decide upon.

When you are a new teacher, you can find that a good textbook will:

  • Be helpful in making learning progression clear
  • Provide clarity in the key concepts and core knowledge addressed
  • Include a wide range of examples and applications
  • Have high quality visuals – pictures, diagrams, maps – that each student can have on their desk to study
  • Give useful ideas for assessments and questions.

A good question to ask is what is the advantage of textbooks to students? Discuss this with a group of your students and find out what they think.

Workbooks are becoming commonly used in some schools. These are teacher produced and somewhere between a textbook and a worksheet. Read the different viewpoints about them in the articles by Facer (2021) and Enser (2021).

Explore and review a range of geography textbooks

It is important to ascertain how textbooks are usually used in your geography department. Search out the information in the box below. These factors are important in determining how you plan the use of textbooks and atlases in your lessons and for homework.

  • Does every student in a class have a textbook?
  • Does the department hold sets of books and distribute them as required?
  • Is there a policy about students taking books home?
  • Do examination courses at GCSE or A level each have a copy of a geography course text?
  • How are atlases made available for students to use in lessons?

As well as class sets of textbooks, you should find out what other textbooks or published resources are available for reference or in multiple copies for occasional use with classes. Explore what is available and bear this in mind as you plan resources for your lessons.

  • As you observe geography lessons, watch for the different strategies that teachers adopt in using textbooks. Discuss these with your geography mentor.

As you prepare lessons, it is very worthwhile exploring how different textbooks approach a topic that you have been asked to teach. You will find they adopt a variety of approaches and this can give you some ideas for different foci for a topic and alternative learning activities. No textbook is likely to be a precise match to how you want to teach a topic, so be creative in the way you use a textbook as a resource.

You may use some of the text and images and create your own learning activities. Or you may wish to supplement the use of the textbook with images projected onto a large screen to discuss with the whole class. Often teachers provide different activities for students who require more challenge, or for those who need more support.

  • Refer to Biddulph et al (2021) pp 157-9.
  • See Using geography textbooks in which John Widdowson and David Lambert consider the role of the textbook in the modern geography curriculum.

Look at a range of textbooks that are used in your school/s and carry out task 6.1 on page 159 of Biddulph et al (2021) to evaluate textbooks and identify bias.

In addition, consider:

 

  • Does the geography textbook support a particular learning approach – e.g. geographical enquiry, a focus on skills, place-based case study, thematic geography?
  • Is there a coherent learning progression within the textbook, and within the textbook series?
  • Is the geography material stimulating and does it support learner reflection?
  • Is there a focus on key geographical concepts and ideas, with appropriate explanation of geographical terminology?
  • Is the geography accurate, avoiding oversimplification and stereotyping?

Reading

  • 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. 157-9.
  • Enser, M. (2021) Why I avoid using booklets in my lessons, TES online.
  • Facer, J. (2021) How to create brilliant remote learning booklets, TES online.
  • Rayner, D. (2017) ‘Resources’ in Jones, M. (ed) Secondary Geography Handbook, Sheffield: Geographical Association, Chapter 12 pp. 153-4.
  • Roberts, M. (2023) Geography through Enquiry: An approach to teaching and learning in the secondary school, Second edition. Sheffield: Geographical Association, Chapter 6.