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Teaching thematic geography (menu)

Geography is a discipline with great breadth, as Mark Enser (2018) writes:

‘Geography is a fascinating subject. One term you can be studying cities, their growth and challenges, and then the next term the way rivers shape the land. A topic on tectonic hazards is followed by one looking at deforestation in the Amazon. The programme of study might evolve as a teacher takes an interest in the issue of plastics in the ocean and so that topic appears sandwiched between one on migration and something on the geography of crime.’

On the surface some of these themes seem to have little in common, and there is a danger that each could be taught distinctly within ‘silos’ of information. It is important that a geography curriculum is designed to draw together these disparate elements into a cohesive whole. Rawding (2014) explains that geography teachers should incorporate as broad as possible an approach to topics that are studied in order to provide the synthesising elements that are vital to geography and advocates ‘holistic geographies’.

Teaching topics in thematic geography is about the application of geographical knowledge, concepts and practice to the world around us. This can be applying students’ knowledge to understanding climate change, applying a concept such as diversity to a place or using GIS practice to analyse economic patterns.

Students are taught the concepts and processes associated with each geographical theme and given opportunities to apply their knowledge in the context of different places. This helps students to understand process, practice and place. A good geography teacher is continually explaining to students how the themes are connected and uses in-depth studies of places to help students make sense of how different processes operate. Thinking geographically is all about studying geographical interconnections.


  • Enser, M. (2018) How to take a thematic approach to the curriculum, TES, 30th November.
  • Rawding, C. (2014) ‘The importance of teaching ‘holistic’ geographies’, Teaching Geography, Spring.

Start by looking at these different geographical themes: