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Good geography lessons

‘To make a geography lesson good, it is the teaching and learning of geography which is crucial’

Roberts, 2010

Topics on this page:

  • What makes a geography lesson good?
  • Trainee teacher activities: good geography lessons
  • Teaching good geography lessons
  • Further trainee teacher activities

What makes a geography lesson good?

If you have observed a good number of geography lessons, you will probably have in your own ideas about what a ‘good’ one looks like. But I hope that you will agree with Margaret Roberts who has identified these three essential aspects of a good geography lesson:

1. Geography is included. The geography in a lesson will be represented by at least one of the following, and it may include all of these:

  • Geographical dataThis includes maps, visual data of all kinds, statistics, graphs, text, etc. It can be in textbooks, on resource sheets, through PowerPoint presentations or on the Internet. Students need use geographical data to help them understand the complex world in which we live.
  • Geographical ideas. These may be generalisations, concepts, theories; and they should underpin the lesson.
  • Locational context. Students should know the location of the places they are studying and its significance.

2. Teaching connects with students’ minds. The geography teacher should pay attention to:

  • Eliciting what students already know and understand about the geography
  • Checking and correcting misunderstandings
  • Finding out students’ opinions and feelings
  • Supporting students’ learning and progress.

3. Teaching provides opportunities for students to make sense of the geography. The geography teacher will:

  • Give students time to explore new geographical information and relate it to what they already know
  • Allow students to discuss ideas and geographical data with each other and the teacher
  • Ask for extended writing so that students need to sort out geographical information and ideas and make links between them.
The Ofsted 2023 subject report for geography evaluates the evidence gathered by inspectors following visits to a sample of lessons. It reports: 

Most geography lessons are taught well. At their best, teachers have the subject knowledge to provide explanations containing examples and anecdotes that help bring places, processes and geographical issues to life. In many lessons, pupils are given geographical information (such as graphs, pictures, texts and maps), and are taught how to make sense of them and draw conclusions from them. They are then given opportunities to complete activities in which they apply what they have been taught to answer distinctly geographical questions…in schools where practice was strongest, pupils were given authentic geographical data and taught how to use it to answer geographical questions.

Trainee teacher activities: Good geography lessons

  • Download and read the full article ‘What makes a geography lesson good?‘ by Margaret Roberts.
  • Read Mark Enser’s The anatomy of a lesson and make notes on the five elements that he believes are the are the ‘bare bones of any lesson’.
  • Observe some expert teachers teaching geography lessons. Focus on how they include in their lessons the three essential aspects identified by Margaret Roberts and Enser’s five elements.
  • Look specifically for how the teachers provide geographical information for their students, the language they use and how they make sure that students are accurate in their use of geographical terms and vocabulary.
  • Observe how they check students’ geographical understanding during the lesson.

Reading for trainee teachers and ECTs

  • Jones, M. (ed) (2017) The Handbook of Secondary Geography, Sheffield: Geographical Association, Chapter 5 ‘Planning for enquiry’ by Margaret Roberts pp 52-3 (about using students’ prior knowledge and skills).
  • Jones (2017) Chapter 11 ‘Teaching a good geography lesson’ by Richard Bustin p146, Fig 7 ‘Characteristics of a good geography lesson’.
  • Ofsted (2023) Getting our bearings: geography subject report, Ofsted, September.
  • Roberts, M. ‘Geographical education is powerful if…’ Teaching Geography, Spring 2017.

Teaching good geography lessons

Gill Davidson says, ‘I have observed many good lessons which have similar characteristics, but the teachers and strategies are very varied… I would suggest that the characteristics of a good lesson can be summarised under six generic headings:

    • Learning objectives
    • Differentiation
    • Teaching and learning strategies
    • Structure and organisation
    • Assessment
    • Evaluation.

Read the article Davidson, G. ‘Using OFSTED criteria to develop classroom practice’, Teaching Geography, January 1996. This gives useful insights about each of these headings, illustrated with examples.

This article was written over 20 years ago, which shows that although the content and technology used in geography lessons today will be new, the principles of good geography teaching have remained constant.

Further trainee teacher activities

Observe some more geography lessons. This time focus on each of the headings that Davidson has identified. You could also use Fig 7 in Jones (2017) as an aide memoire. This will show you how much there is to think about to teach a good lesson – and there is no one way of doing it!