“Human Geography is about ‘societies, communities and the human processes involved in understanding work, home, consumption and leisure – and how places are made.”
A Different View, Geographical Association, 2009
Topics on this page:
- Human geography – an academic perspective
- Teaching human geography
- ‘The richness and diversity of contemporary human geography’
- Changes in human geography
- Using ‘models’ in teaching human geography
- Teaching about population and migration
- Teaching about health and disease
- Teaching about settlements and urban geography
- Teaching about economic geography
Human geography – an academic perspective
Before you begin to plan to teach lessons in human geography you should think deeply about the conceptual underpinning of this aspect of the subject as well as its substantive content. Professor Peter Jackson’s chapter in The Handbook of Secondary Geography should challenge you to think about this because, as he points out, the diversity of human geography can seem perplexing.
- Jackson, P. (2017) ‘Human geography’ in Jones, M. (ed) in The Handbook of Secondary Geography. Sheffield: Geographical Association, Chapter 7.
Teaching human geography
- Refer to the related pages on the geographical themes Teaching about development and globalisation, Values and controversial issues and Teaching about the Environment.
- Look at Human Geography in the school curriculum. This is an overview of the content of the English National Curriculum, GCSE and A level examinations.
In England teachers have the responsibility to select the precise content they teach. Let’s take the example of ‘cities’ at key stage 3 to illustrate some of the decisions they take. The National Curriculum states students should be taught ‘the key processes in human geography relating to population and urbanisation’. So, a teacher must consider questions such as:
- What aspects of cities to teach?
- Which case studies are best to exemplify urban processes?
- Do students in school need to learn about the Burgess and Hoyt models – why?
- How are cities experienced by different groups?
- What effect do connections with other places have on cities?
- Which cities are relevant for young people to study, in which parts of the world?
All these questions are matters to consider and there is no consensus on the answers.
There are several different perspectives that you should think about when deciding what to teach in human geography, for example:
- relevance to students’ lives
- concern with ‘real world’ issues’
- moral and ethical dimensions
- spatial distributions
- using data as evidence.
Think about this statement and what you read by Peter Jackson. Can you encompass this in your geography teaching?
- How can you encourage students to ‘make connections’ between their lives and geography lessons?
- How can you help students to think across geographical scales and see relationships, similarities and differences between places?
- How can you get students to engage with moral and ethical issues?
- If you experienced the ‘vitality of human geography’ during your university study, can you include some of these ideas in your lessons?
- How can you help students to think about questions of ‘truly global significance’?
- How will you use real world data?
Changes in human geography
In the last thirty years, human geography in higher education has altered dramatically and the notions of ‘place’ and ‘culture’ have become commonplace. Increasingly it has focused on how life is experienced by different groups, in what has been described as ‘the cultural turn’.
This puts an emphasis on multiple, dynamic cultures and reflects the wide range of ‘local’ geographies that exist. Translated into schools it means a greater focus on the learner, as we see in Geography for young people. The earlier absence of ‘place’ and ‘culture’ in A level geography has, to some extent, been addressed by the 2016 revisions
Reading about changes in human geography
- Cloke, P., Crang, P. and Goodwin, M. (2005) Introducing Human Geography (2nd edition). London: Hodder Arnold.
- Rawling, E. (2007) ‘Taking a cultural turn’, Teaching Geography, Spring. This looks at the implications of modern geography for schools. The pilot GCSE syllabus used for illustration in this article is no longer used, but the ideas are appropriate more widely.
- Speake, J. and Fox, V. (2000) ‘Investigating culturally-led regeneration’, Teaching Geography, April.
Using ‘models’ in teaching human geography
A question that has recently been hotly debated in geography education is the role of models in teaching human geography. Models such as the Burgess model of urban land use and Christaller’s central place theory are simplifications of the real world. Read the Teaching Geography articles which have different perspectives as to whether we should include these models in our lessons.
Charles Rawding argues we should not be teaching the Burgess model anymore as it is outdated and wrong. Steve Puttick feels that the Burgess model still has relevance in the classroom. Other geography teachers added to this debate on Twitter (published in Teaching Geography, Spring 2020). Richard Bustin explores the teaching of Christaller’s central place theory.
Read the following three articles on ‘models’:
- Bustin, R. (2020)‘From the archive: Christaller’s central place theory’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
- Puttick, S. (2020) ‘Raising Issues: Taking Burgess out of the bin’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
- Rawding, C. (2019) ‘Putting Burgess in the bin’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
- Wills, K. (2023) ‘Development as modernisation: Rostow’s The Stages of Economic Growth’, Geography, Spring.
Teaching about population and migration
While this is only one aspect of human geography, its content is very broad, including the geography of disease, demography and diversity. Topics are also linked with teaching physical geography, for example people’s response to natural hazards.
Teaching some topics, such as immigration, can be considered ‘difficult’ and you should refer to Values and controversial issues for more information on how to approach these. There are also new themes such as health issues which are now finding a place in the pre-16 geography curriculum.
Migration is an interesting topic to teach and one that can be approached from different perspectives. Mitchell et al (2021) write about how teachers were keen to look at migration in different ways to develop student’s ‘powerful disciplinary knowledge’.
One wanted to turn around the notion of migration as being always into the UK, to look at emigration out of the UK. Another was keen to challenge the stereotype of migration as single long journeys from poor countries to rich countries, by using the concepts of complexity and interdependence. Read their accounts in the article below.
- Hall, R. (2015) ‘Population and the future’, Geography, Spring. This article will update your subject knowledge about population projections over the next 90 years and the demographic pressures and global challenges of population change in the 21st century.
- Mitchell, D., Whittall, D., Dickinson, F. and Eyre, G. (2021) ‘Re-engaging with the discipline – teaching migration with a GeoCapabilities approach’ Teaching Geography, Summer.
- Look at this presentation from the 2021 GA conference by Professor Danny Dorling, The end of the great acceleration: why it’s good for the planet, the economy and our lives.
- Download Reading list for population and migration.
Teaching ideas and resources about population and migration
- From the Geographical Association
- PowerPoint: The changing structure of the UK population from 2017 conference by the Office of National Statistics
- Geo (for A Level students): Global systems and migration
- Geo (for A Level students): What are the implications of China’s changing population?
- Population Reference Bureau: website on demographic data
- Gapminder. ‘Is child mortality falling?’ is the type of question you can ask
- Who wants to live forever? A unit of work from the RGS.
- Changing faces, shaping places. A unit of work from the RGS.
- Devon Geography: Web Resources For the Classroom – Weblinks 1: Population
Teaching about health and disease
COVID-19 has provided catalyst for teachers to review the importance of teaching health geography. This area of geographical study is included in examination specifications and is now also included in the key stage 3 curriculum. COVID-19 provides excellent case study materials for health and disease and the context has been directly experienced by students.
There is scope to embed health geography into topics such as population pressures; urbanisation; migration, globalisation and sustainable development. The articles below offer different geographical perspectives, such as the study of disease spread and inequalities and how health topics can provide students of all ages with opportunities to explore large data sets and develop their analytical skills in geography. The reading list provides earlier reference to other health and disease study.
Davies-Craine (2021) discusses the scheme of work he had devised using enquiry questions and how the topic of ‘health’ could be used as a vehicle for teaching a wide range of geographical concepts and ideas such as climate change, sustainable development and air pollution.
For a case study of how the use of geospatial technology has been used to inform public health decision-making in the city of Chennai in south-east India see Lazaruset al (2023).
- Refer to Why is disease a geographical issue?
- Davies-Craine, (2021) ‘Geography of health for key stage 3’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
- Gatrell, T. (2021) ‘The COVID-19 pandemic: geography matters’, Teaching Geography, Autumn.
- Huckle, J. (2021) ‘Critical School Geography and the post COVID-19 recovery curriculum’, Teaching Geography, Summer.
- Lazarus, B.E, Sanjeevi Prasad, S and Selvan, I. (2023) ‘The contribution of geographical science and technology to address public health problems: the example of dengue in Chennai, India’, Geography, Spring.
- Sittner, T. (2021) ‘A case for the curriculum: health geography’, Teaching Geography, Spring.
- Download Reading list for health and disease.
Teaching ideas and resources about health and disease
- From the Geographical Association
- Teaching Activity: COVID-19 and health inequalities (Huckle 2021)
- GA project: Mapping disease: watch it spread
- GA project: The geography of disease
- (This download refers to the files Aston SoW, Aston unit test, and St Ivo PowerPoint overview)
- Advance Chapter: Bircher, R., Hopkin, J. and Pollard, G. Geography 11-14: Why is disease a geographical issue?, Geographical Association. (eBook)
- Journal Download: Enquiry questions and resources
- Journal Download: Health Geography definition dominoes
- Journal Download: Possible impacts of COVID-19 suggested questions for discussion
- Journal Download: Useful resources on COVID-19
- The Global Health Atlas from the World Health Organization, is a GIS that could make an alternative resource for students who are more competent at extracting and mapping data.
- United Nations: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
- RGS: The Coronavirus
- RGS: Global health in the 21st Century
Teaching about settlements and urban geography
In geography students will study cities and settlements from across the world in geography, but a good place to start teaching about urban geography is to focus on familiar places and involve students in enquiry fieldwork. This gives them opportunities to express their own views based on evidence they have collected about the places they live in.
You may be able to involve the local planning office, because planning legislation requires the inclusion of young people’s views. The GA has worked on several projects that look at settlements from different perspectives, particularly through the eyes of the learners themselves.
- Explore the wealth of resources and ideas from the GA projects and reflect on different ways to approach teaching about settlements.
- Where will I live? project booklet which explored key concepts in urban settlements such as community, sustainability, design, place, geographical imagination and interconnectedness and provides many examples of the learning activities used.
- Download Reading list for settlement and urban geography
- See Urban landscapes and visual literacy: Imaging places.
Teaching ideas and resources about settlement geography
- From the Geographical Association
- GA project What is a sustainable community
- GA teaching ideas based on the images in A Different View:
- RGS: Our place in history
Teaching ideas and resources about cities
- From the Geographical Association
- Resource: Kuala Lumpur – role model or victim of its own success?
- PowerPoint: Global cities – conference 2013
- Resource: Kampala: A Case Study of a City in LIC
- Resource: Park Hill Flats – the infamous ‘streets in the sky’ built in Sheffield in the 1960s and now being redeveloped; plentiful background resources including historical video and resident interviews and lesson resources. See PowerPoint of materials, lesson PowerPoint and a sample scheme (part of the Making my place in the world project).
- PowerPoint: Re-imagining and reshaping the city – 2012 lecture by Professor Michael Bradford
- Awareness week: GA geography awareness week 2013 materials – teaching ideas (KS2 to post 16) and information on the changing high street
- Video: Urban Poverty – a video and supporting resources, discussing urbanisation issues, and appropriate for post-16
- Worksheet: Humankind’s ‘great urbanisation’ –from the 2017 GA Conference together with a Guardian article.
- Geo (for A Level students): Urbanisation and underlying processes
- Geo (for GCSE students): Urban processes
- Geo (for GCSE students): Lagos – an urban case study
- Geo (for GCSE students): Shenzhen – China’s most successful megacity?
Teaching about economic geography
Economic activities are another aspect of human geography with a wide ranging and diverse content which are subsumed in a brief description in the geography National Curriculum – ‘economic activity in the primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary sectors; and the use of natural resources’. This again leaves teachers space for interpretation and selection.
Good teachers are influenced in their selection by what they understand to be important in economic geography, the social context in which they are teaching and the lives of their students.
- Read what John Morgan has written about different geography teachers’ approaches to teaching economic geography. Discuss his comment with geography teachers and your geography mentor. What different approaches to economic geography do they adopt? How has this influenced how economic geography is taught in your school? Where do you stand?
- See Economic Geography and China and its discussion about whether Rostow’s model is helpful for global generalisations?
Teaching ideas and resources about economic geography
- From the Geographical Association
- Brown, A. (2023) ‘A new approach to farming’, GA Conference Handout, April, for up-to-date ideas about teaching farming topics and references.
- Resource: GA’s manifesto for Geography:
- Money makes the world go round
- Thinking through images
- The real toy story
- Are we being taken for a ride?
- Resource: Transport and logistics – includes lessons in such varied topics as supply chain (about Prêt à Manger), internet shopping (Amazon) and humanitarian relief (an incident room simulation)
- Geo (for A level students): Do trade policies matter?
- Geo (for A level students): International trade and TNCs
- Geo (for A level students): Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline: A case study of energy resource issues in a regional setting
- Geo (for A level students): Should food production in the Brazilian Cerrado be expanded?
- RGS: The geography of my stuff– unit of work
- RGS: You are what you eat – unit of work
- RGS: Natural resources a KS3 scheme for the 2014 National Curriculum from the RGS about global distribution and the international relationships these natural resources generate
- Teachit Geography: Tourism in a glaciated upland area – KS4
- Teachit Geography: Resource conflict – KS3/KS4