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Planning geography lessons

‘Schools are incredibly busy places and teachers have many demands on their time…Despite these pressures, making quality time for informed and considered reflection and thorough lesson preparation should be at the centre of what teachers do.’

Richard Bustin, 2017

Topics on this page:

  • Why is lesson planning important?
  • The planning cycle
  • Where do I start?
  • Why do I need a lesson plan for all my lessons?
  • What planning format should I use?
  • What does the jargon mean?
  • Reading

Why is lesson planning important?

Lesson planning is very important. It is a professional skill that you will refine and develop as you learn more about teaching and learning. You should never teach a lesson without planning it first. Take all the opportunities you can to discuss your lesson plans with your geography tutor, mentor and other experienced geography teachers.

Before you get into the ‘nitty gritty’ of lesson formats and plans, take time to reflect on what you have read about geography subject teaching and students’ learning in geography. Think about what makes classroom practice effective and the different teaching approaches you can use. All of these, and more such as the school context, have a direct bearing of what happens in your lessons and what you plan to do.

Every lesson you teach is your lesson, and is unique to you. It may be derived from the school’s medium-term plan (scheme of work) but it is your interpretation of how you decide to teach the content identified in the scheme of work to your class of pupils. You will find that no two lessons on a topic, even if based on the same scheme of work, are identical because they will have been adapted to the particular class needs, their prior learning and their present learning needs.

As you plan your lessons bear in mind these three well-established principles of geographical learning:

  • Students come into geography lessons with some preconceptions about how the world works. If you do not engage with their initial understanding of a topic at the start of the lesson, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and knowledge that you are setting out to teach them in the lesson.
  • Students need to understand geographical ‘facts and ideas’ in a conceptual framework so they can internalize this knowledge and apply it in other geographical contexts. Your lesson should provide them with a secure understanding of the subject matter, so they can begin to transform the factual information into useable geographical knowledge.
  • Teachers should help students to take control of their own learning by sharing learning goals with them and encouraging them to monitor their own progress in achieving them.

The planning cycle

Biddulph et al (2021) describe lesson planning as a process where the teacher thinks through:

‘the relationship between geography as a discipline (your own subject expertise), geography as a school subject (what pupils will learn in geography and why) and how young people learn (the processes of teaching and learning that will enable your pupils to develop new understandings in geography)’

They see the lesson planning process a cycle of Plan – Teach – Assess – Evaluate where each step informs the next.

  • Study Figure 3.3 on page 85 of Biddulph et al (2021) which captures this process.

Where do I start?

A good way to start as a trainee teacher is through ‘collaborative’ (or team) teaching with your mentor or another geography teacher. You plan the lesson together and you contribute to it. Although at first you might play a small part in a lesson, you should plan this in detail so that it fits into with the overall plan of the lesson. When you feel more confident, ask if you can lead on planning the whole lesson, with the class teacher or mentor making a contribution to it.

When you start teaching lessons, your geography mentor will provide the framework into which your lesson should slot; this is the geography department scheme of work. (Later you will need to think about how these are constructed – but one step at a time!) Acquaint yourself with the scheme of work as the context or rationale for your lesson and find out from it, or by discussing with your mentor:

  • What geographical content am I expected to teach?
  • What will students have already learned?
  • What will they move on to later?

Why do I need a lesson plan for all my lessons?

Trainees commonly ask this question because they think that experienced teachers don’t plan. This assumption is incorrect; experienced teachers who teach good lessons DO plan; they just do not always write down every single step of the lesson because many of the organisational things they do instinctively.

However, good teachers must think carefully about the purposes and content of the lesson; the learning outcomes; how they will match the lesson to different students’ needs in the class, the strategies they are going to use and the resources – and most importantly how they are going to know whether the students have successfully achieved what they want them to.

If you talk to experienced teachers about the lessons they have taught, or are going to teach, you will realise how much they have thought about their lessons in advance, even if it is not all written down! Good teachers do write detailed lesson plans when they want to share plans with others, or are planning a new unit of work to teach.

As a new teacher, you need to plan your lessons in detail, this ensures that you have thought through all the elements of the lesson in advance. Having a good plan will help you to teach better lessons. You must be clear about what geography you are going to teach, why you are teaching it and how you intend to teach it.

This will be set out in your lesson plan. Keep a record of the lesson plans you have taught in a professional file (or e-portfolio); you may be required to do this as a trainee teacher for evidence for your assessment. Do not think of this as a bureaucratic process, make use of your lesson plans which provide an excellent resource for you to refer back to.

What planning format should I use?

You may be given an outline plan to use by your training provider. If it is a general plan you will need to adapt it to also cater for the geography-specific aspects of planning. Other webpages consider outline plans and the fundamental elements to include, but the actual format of the plan is not so important. There are many different variations used by ITE providers. Some templates are referred to in Exploring lesson plans.

What does the jargon mean?

You will find in teaching that there are lots of terms used, especially in planning, that you will need to get your head around. Look at Bustin (2017) p 136, Figure 2 which shows some of the key terms associated with lesson planning.


  • 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 pp 86-93.
  • Bustin, R. (2017), ‘Teaching a good geography lesson’ in Jones, M. (ed) The Handbook of Secondary Geography, Sheffield: Geographical AssociationChapter 11.