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Using resources for geography teaching

“The ‘resourceful teacher’ is able to understand the pros and cons of resource selection and is able to select, create and bring together exciting and relevant student resources that engage and promote geographical learning.”

David Rayner, 2017

Topics on this page:

  • Key readings for using resources in geography teaching
  • What resources are available?
  • Planning the use of resources
  • Questions for choosing resources for a lesson
  • Designing your own resources
  • Reviewing resources
  • Be imaginative!

Geography is a resource-rich subject. Your students may not have had any direct experiences of many of the places and issues you are teaching them about in your lessons, so the range and quality of the visual and other resources that you use is an important influence on their geographical educa­tion.

It is very true that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ to a geography teacher. Maps and imagery are very important to bring topics alive and digital technology provides us with access to a wide choice of materials.

You need to become a ‘resourceful teacher’ as David Rayner (2017) describes in the opening quote. He goes on to say, ‘It isn’t ‘what’ resources you use but ‘how’ you use them that has the greatest impact on both the teaching and the geographical learning’. 

Good geography teaching very much depends on selecting the appropriate resources for the learning you want to achieve and then using them well. This means you must:

  • Be aware of the range of resources that are available
  • Be able to critically evaluate the potential of different resources as learning aids
  • Know how to produce resources, or tailor existing ones, for your students’ needs
  • Be effective in using resources to bring about successful learning.

Key readings for using resources in geography teaching

  • Biddulph, M., Lambert, D. and Balderstone, D. (2021) Learning to Teach Geography in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience, 4th edition. London: Routledge. Chapter 6.
  • Rayner, D. (2017) ‘Resources’ in Jones, M. (ed) Secondary Geography Handbook. Sheffield: Geographical Association. Chapter 12.
  • Roberts, M. (2023) Geography through Enquiry: An approach to teaching and learning in the secondary school, Second edition. Sheffield: Geographical Association, Chapter 6, 7 and 14.

What resources are available?

The pages in this section refer to many different resources that geography teachers use. It is extensive, but not exhaustive! It is unlikely you will have the opportunity to use all of these in your initial training year but the links and references will provide information and case studies that you can use during induction and throughout your teaching. You should always be alert to new resources that become available so that you can evaluate them.

The GA can provide you with on-going information about geography resources. There is a GA resources page on the website. The GA journals and magazine, sent to all GA members, are packed with information about how teachers have used resources, and the new resources available. The GA conference has a publishers’ exhibition in which resources are on display from many different organisations, not just textbooks.

New sources of geography resources emerge all the time. You need to be watchful and find out ideas from the geography community. For example, RETEACH is a free-to-use initiative providing teachers with resource guides written by subject experts. It aims to introduce fresh and broader perspectives, challenging ideas and diverse thinking into topics you teach or would like to introduce into your curriculum. 

The resources could help to save you time when planning your teaching. To gain access to the resources you need to log on with your school email address. Geography topics include: natural hazardsecosystems and environmentsphysical landscapesclimate change and sustainabilitychanging urban landscapesdevelopment, economic change and globalisation.

Today many resources used by geography teachers are on-line. Such resources can be readily available and very up-to-date, but most are not created for use in schools.

  • Read Roberts (2023) pp. 140-3 to find out about some of the opportunities and challenges of online resources.

Think ‘outside of the box’ and you will discover plenty of different resources to use geography teaching. See the ‘be imaginative’ section below and keep alert to resources as you go out and about in your normal life, particularly when you visit different places. You can uncover potential lesson resources from the most unusual places!

Planning the use of resources

Consider possible resources very carefully as you plan lessons. Resist the temptation to build a lesson around a resource just because it is available. A resource is a tool to support your lesson aims and objectives, not the other way around. Key questions to ask are:

  • What are you trying to achieve in the use of a resource?
  • Is the resource appropriate for the learning needs of the students and accessible for them?

Selecting and adapting resources that support the curriculum is an important part of the planning process. Very occasionally you will find a significant resource that you want to build some lessons around. Such significant resources are described as curriculum artifacts (see From intent to implementation: curriculum making)

In most cases you will be choosing and tailoring your resources to support the activities you have already decided to include in a lesson. The resources you use will depend on what is available in your school, but also on your creativity. It is not always the most hi-tech or glossy resources that make the best learning tools or motivate students to learn.

Topicality, relevance to the curriculum and appropriateness for different students are also very important. Always bear in mind what learning you want the lesson to achieve, and how the resource will contribute to bringing about that learning.

  • Do my students have the necessary background understanding/life experiences to make sense of the information in this resource?
  • Does the use of this resource require me to teach any skills to give them access to the information?
  • Is the information up to date – do I need to check it?
  • Does it represent the real world accurately? (Some teaching resources have been ‘simplified’ but then lose authenticity)
  • Whose voice is represented? The media? The government? Local people? Should we provide alternative view?
  • Refer to Media literacy for further information on things to consider as you select resources from the media and the internet.
It is important to be critical of the teaching resources you use and Roberts (2023) p 56 sets out some questions to consider in ‘How can critical examination of geographical sources be encouraged?’
 

Think carefully about how you will introduce the resource and whether you need to explain anything, such as any specific vocabulary mentioned or the scale used. Ask some questions to check how students are interpreting the resource. 

As you write lesson plans remember to think about how you will manage resources within the classroom and how you will organise transitions as you move between resources.

However carefully you select your resource and prepare how you will use it, do not be surprised if the students’ learning outcomes are not exactly as you expected! Students will often surprise you and take more, or less, from the resource that you anticipated. Reflect on this when you evaluate your lesson and bear any student reaction in mind when you use this, or a similar resource next time.

From your reading you will see that selecting and creating resources requires a good deal of thought. Use the guidance in the three key readings listed above to create your own checklist of questions to use when you evaluate resources. 

It is important, as Rayner describes, to take a ‘second look’ at resources before you use them. Also note the warning that an internet search for resources can overwhelm you and keeping resources organised and in digital format can make sharing much easier.

  • Read Roberts (2023) chapter 7 for information on representation and misrepresentation.

Designing your own resources

You need to develop the skills to prepare your own resources, because the specific type of resource you want to use may not available elsewhere. But producing high quality resources takes time, so beware of reinventing the wheel and look around for appropriate resources you can adapt for your needs first.

Simple resources, such as cards, question sheets, images, graphs can be invaluable to focus students when they are working on a task in pairs or in small groups. It does not have to involve a great deal of work to produce these with the technology currently available. More detailed worksheets and resource sheets require a greater investment of time.

Make spending the time worthwhile by filing your resources electronically, so you can adapt for different groups or for a different content. Be smart by creating templates into which you can slot different topics to make your efforts worthwhile for several contexts.

There is a balance to be struck between making your workload unmanageable and undertaking the creation of resources of which you are justly proud. This is what Biddulph et al (2021) describe as a ‘most enjoyable, creative and vital element’ of your work.

  • Follow Figure 6.1 Stages in planning, preparation and use of resources in Biddulph et al (2021) p156 when you prepare your own resources.

Biddulph et al (2021) identifies some things to consider about the design and layout of resources but for further information for things to bear in mind when creating worksheets and resource sheets see Designing your own resource sheets and worksheets and Resources for poor readers. Both of these provide follow up reading about resource creation.

If you do make your own resources, share these with other teachers in your department. Such a collaborative approach to resource development reduces the workload and ensures that resources are tailored to the students in your school.

Rayner (2017) points out that resources are widely available to share on the web, but using internet resources can raise questions about the provenance and suitability for your students and your teaching. Biddulph et al (2021) put it very succinctly when they comment, ‘High-quality teaching is not about ‘delivering’ other people’s lessons’.

Look back at some resources you have prepared.

  • Consider the design and language you used. Think about your use of point size, line length and the use of white space. How readable is it?
  • Did the students find the tasks/instructions easy to follow? Were there any common questions asked for clarification?
  • Evaluate how students respond to the resources you created. What impact did they have on learning?
  • On the basis of your reflection, would you change them?

Be imaginative!

  • Refer to Figure 6.1 in Roberts (2023) p 50 for an idea of the wide range of sources of information that are available for geography. Let your imagination go wild!

Consider ways in which some less obvious resources can make your lessons interesting and motivate students, for example the ‘Arts’, models, artefacts, games and people.

The ‘Arts’ can provide excellent stimulus materials for geography lessons – literature, poetry, paintings, music, dance, drama, film. Look at some of these references:

  • Biddulph et al (2021) pp 177-8 on the ‘arts’ as imaginative resources for geography
  • Fitzgerald, E. (2005) ‘Geography’s got rhythm!’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Fryer, L. (2019) ‘From the Archive – musical geography’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Wilkinson, J. (2023) ‘Vinyl revival: using a retro resource in the modern classroom’, Teaching Geography, Autumn. This considers practical techniques and strategies for integrating popular music into geography lessons.
  • See Creativity in geography lessons which includes ideas for resources.

Audio: e.g. podcasts from the BBC, or your own recordings. See Rayner (2017) p 162 for suggestions for using these in the classroom.

Models and artefacts: Geography teachers can use models or bring artefacts into the classroom. Common artefacts include rocks, items of clothing, flags, coins to illustrate different cultures and landscapes. They could be from your travels, but students should also be encouraged to contribute artefacts too.

Look at these examples for inspiration:

  • Biddulph et al (2021) Learning to Teach Geography in the Secondary School: A Companion to School Experience, 4th edition. Abingdon: Routledge, pp 178-9 – ‘Models’
  • Briggs, H. (2006) ‘From Crack to Stack!’, Teaching Geography, Spring 2006. (Using play dough to model).
  • Cook, I. et al. (2007) ‘Made in…? Appreciating the everyday geographies of connect lives’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
  • Parkinson, A. (2009) ‘Think inside the box: Miniature landscapes’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
  • Pearson, C. (2011) ‘Pet rock: bringing geology into the classroom’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.

Games and Experiments: See Games and Simulations and also Rayner (2017) p163 for information.

People: do not forget yourself! Teachers are a very important resource in the classroom and their real life experiences and travels can provide an excellent resource. Also invite other adults into the classroom such as: a planner, a farmer, an industrialist. Arrange for visitors to talk to students, or act as an ‘expert’ for whom your students prepare questions using a ‘hot seating’ activity. People who have lived in other countries, are also a valuable resource – including students.