Teaching the Geography Curriculum
The lessons do not follow a single template, as geography can vary widely based upon the concept, knowledge etc. being delivered. However, the following elements will be present over the course of a topic:
The geography curriculum uses the Rosenshine Principles of Instruction because cognitive research (e.g. Kirschner, Sweller and Clark, 2006) suggests that pupils need a large amount of subject knowledge in their long-term memory to become competent at any subject. In geography, pupils are far better equipped to apply geographical thinking to a problem if their working memory is not overloaded with basic memory recall.
- Daily review: Every unit has a knowledge organiser which supports the teaching of key vocabulary and terminology. Pupils are routinely tested on new vocabulary and terminology during ‘Do Now’ activities and are required to apply the terms in extended written tasks, and when explaining geographical processes or concepts.
- Guided practice and check for understanding: When introducing new concepts, processes, graphical data etc. this will be done by introducing material in small steps and checking for understanding by asking a range of questions, as well as the use of application tasks. For example, when introducing the physical processes that lead to the formation of a waterfall, the teacher could do so by drawing and labelling a series of diagrams, to show the processes taking place over time. The teacher can check for understanding by ensuring that pupils are labelling their diagrams accurately, and by asking questions such as: ‘name the type of erosion which could be leading to the formation of X’. Similar methods will be used to guide practice when drawing graphs, maps and producing extended responses.
- Models: Pupils are required to apply new vocabulary and terminology in extended written tasks, and when explaining geographical processes or concepts. Such tasks in the United Learning curriculum resources are supported with model responses, which are annotated against the success criteria. Where appropriate, high- quality models of diagrams and graphical data will be present within lessons, with clear labels, and carefully sequenced explanations.
- Independent practice: All lessons provide an opportunity for independent practice. This could involve such tasks as explaining the formation of a physical landscape, to writing a report about a geographical issue/ concept in a particular place. Before completing such tasks, pupils will be introduced to the success criteria and with teacher guidance, mark a model response against the criteria. This process ensures pupils are clear about what to do, and as result, a higher success rate is achieved.
- Scaffolds: Where appropriate, scaffolds are provided to support pupil practice and help structure thinking. These can include the provision of essential terminology to use in writing, tabular frameworks to help structure longer response writing, and success criteria to inform self/ peer review during and after a task. In Key Stage 3, teachers will refer to ‘chains of reason’ and P-D-D structures to help support extended responses. In Key Stage 4, the A (application), K (knowledge), U (understanding) approach will help pupils structure their extended responses.
So, When You Walk into a Geography Lesson, What Should We Expect to See?
In Key Stage 3 geography lessons we particularly expect to see:
- Starter activities (‘do now’) test core knowledge and promote fluency with key terminology and the use of place-specific information.
- The use of high quality, challenging Figures in every lesson, which pupils will engage with and use routinely to apply their knowledge. Figures can include graphs, maps, diagrams, photographs, data tables etc.
- Effective AfL, with a focus on pupils writing in ‘chains of reason’ (P-D-D) in Key Stage 3 and, by Year 9 pupils actively evaluating the geographical knowledge and understanding which they have gained as the curriculum has progressed.
- Opportunities for independent practice that are supported with effective models. These models ensure pupils know how to apply the success criteria, but also to support self and peer assessment once the task is completed.
- Opportunities for pupils to think like geographers, for example making geographical decisions and reaching conclusions based upon the information which has been presented to them during a lesson, or over the course of a unit.
Note that geography knowledge is not linear due to the diverse nature of topic areas. Often a pupil may perform at a higher standard when engaging with physical geography when compared to human geography or vice-versa.
Regardless of this, over time we should expect to see a greater depth and complexity to the work completed in pupils’ books.
In Key Stage 4 geography lessons we particularly expect to see:
- Starter activities (‘do now’) test core knowledge and promote fluency regarding key terminology and the use of place-specific information.
- The use of high quality, challenging Figures in every lesson, which pupils will engage with and use routinely to apply their knowledge and understanding. Figures could include graphs, maps, diagrams, photographs, data etc. All lessons will have an opportunity for pupils to complete an exam question based upon a Figure.
- Effective AfL, with a focus on pupils writing in ‘chains of reason’ and the AKU approach to extended responses.
- Regular opportunities for independent practice will focus on extended exam questions. These are supported by effective models so that pupils know how to apply the mark scheme before they start a task, resulting in a higher success rate.
- Pupils routinely using and interrogating geographical data and statistics. Where appropriate, pupils will manipulate data and will understand when to use modes of central tendency.
In Key Stage 5 geography lessons we particularly expect to see:
- Starter activities (‘do now’) test core knowledge and promote fluency regarding key terminology and the use of place-specific information.
- The use of high quality, challenging Figures which pupils will be able to analyse with greater complexity than Key Stage 4. Figures will be more complex and will include graphs, maps, diagrams, photographs, data etc.
- The length and complexity of independent practice will increase in Key Stage 5, with a continued focus on extended exam questions. The AKU approach will still be present however, it will be used with greater complexity and fluency.
- Pupils routinely using and interrogating complex geographical data and statistics. Where appropriate pupils will manipulate data and will understand complex statistical measures such as Spearman’s rank, standard deviation, Chi-squared etc. Therefore, preparing pupils to introduce such methods into their NEA.
- Opportunities for challenging, a high-quality discussion between pupils, as well as pupils referring to well- organised materials, notes, and work from previous lessons to support their learning.
The geography curriculum is designed to provide appropriate challenge for all learners. This curriculum is ambitious because it is designed to ensure that all pupils, regardless of background or ability, will succeed in the subject. Curriculum resources include training and guidance for teachers on how to adapt the resources to account for the pupils they serve. PowerPoints for each lesson contain comprehensive teacher notes and, where required, differentiated task suggestions. For example, amended success criteria, alternative cloze exercises, writing frames, challenge tasks etc.
The wide range of Figures in lessons provide opportunities to engage all groups of pupils by providing a visual prompt to support their knowledge and understanding, as well as providing real-life examples of the concepts they are exploring.
Furthermore, each unit is supported with a comprehensive Scheme of Work. Rather than simply describing what activities the pupils complete in each lesson, these documents outline the pedagogical thinking that has gone into the lesson. They provide an explanation for: ‘Why this? Why now?’ This allows teachers to connect the knowledge being delivered in an individual lesson to the wider curriculum, which should help deepen and challenge the knowledge and understanding of all pupils, and as a result, create a change in long-term memory.
Additional Subject Specific Skills:
- Fieldwork: This is an integral part of teaching and learning in geography. Ofsted is clear on this matter: ‘Schools should recognise the value of fieldwork for improving standards and achievement in geography.’ It is advised that each year group has an opportunity to complete work “in the field.” Evidence of such activities will be present in long-term departmental plans. Resources have been developed to support schools in completing fieldwork, from projects which could be completed on the school grounds, to examples within the local area. In Key Stage 4, fieldwork skills are embedded into lessons where appropriate, so that fieldwork does not feel like a ‘bolt on’ to the subject. Teachers should think carefully about how they can engage pupils with fieldwork within the classroom. For example, when showing an image of the upper course of a river the teacher could ask:
- ‘If we were carrying out fieldwork here, what would we need to consider as part of a risk assessment?’
- ‘How could we measure the speed of the river?’
- ‘What kind of key question could we ask if we were visiting a location such as in the Figure?’
- Thinking like a geographer: In geography, pupils must be given the opportunity to apply their knowledge and understanding, so that they can take part in informed geographical debates of today and tomorrow. Therefore, at the heart of this curriculum is the aim that pupils have regular opportunities to ‘think like geographers’. Throughout the units, there are opportunities for pupils to make geographical decisions, review stakeholder opinions, assess and evaluate different geographical issues etc.
- Using maps: Using maps is a fundamental skill in geography. Teachers should take every opportunity to engage pupils with a range of different maps, both within the classroom and in the field. Pupils should have regular experiences using Ordnance Survey maps, topographical and other thematic mappings, and aerial and satellite photographs. Pupils should also have opportunities to engage with Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to view, analyse and interpret places and data.
- Key Stage 3/4 homework to be focused on the Knowledge Organisers. Pupils may complete “look, cover, write, check” activities as well as other self-quizzing strategies.
- Key Stage 3 lessons include optional extended homework tasks, where applicable.
- At Key Stage 4, pupils complete an extended AO3 style question at least once every 2 weeks. Booklets of extended questions for the different specifications can be found on the curriculum website.
Assessing the Geography Curriculum
Formative Assessment in Geography
Each lesson provides regular opportunities for pupils to undertake formative assessments, allowing teachers to identify the specific things that pupils can and cannot do. Identifying gaps and misconceptions ensure that teachers know when to move on.
Lessons contain a mix of the following formative assessment opportunities:
- Quizzing e.g., at the start of lessons/ online quizzing platform.
- The use of clear, quantifiable success criteria.
- Lessons contain model answers, which are annotated. This allows pupils to apply the success criteria before completing independent practice. As a result, a higher success rate will be achieved.
- All tasks contain ‘did you get?’ feedback. This means that pupils can self/ peer assess their work as they go.
- Whole-class marking is encouraged as an efficient and effective way of picking out key themes from extended pupil responses in particular.
- On occasions (and as signposted via the teacher notes within lessons) the use of mini-whiteboards is encouraged, as well as purposeful circulation, and paired/ group discussions etc.
Summative Assessment in Geography
Each unit has an end of unit assessment which schools are encouraged to complete before moving onto the next stage of the curriculum. This allows teachers to capture what the pupils know, as well as any misconceptions/ gaps in knowledge so they can close these gaps before moving on or in preparation for the end of year assessments.
End of year assessments covering the core units are available for Years 7 to 9 but there is an expectation that all schools complete the end of year assessments. The layout and format mirror the end of unit assessments which reinforces why the pupils should be completing the end of unit assessments throughout the year.
What will be centrally assessed at the end of the year?
- Year 7: Development and Rivers.
- Year 8: Coasts, Tectonics and Population (only two units will appear on the paper. Population always appears. From year to year the second section alternates between Coasts and Tectonics).
- Year 9: Climate Change and Life in an Emerging Country.
- Assessment duration for Years 7 to 9 – 60 minutes.
- NB: Geography skills will be included within each unit for each year e.g., map skills, graphical skills, data/ statistical skills etc.
- NB: Mid-year assessments are available but are optional. Their use will depend upon the amount of curriculum time allocated to geography on an individual, school by school basis. For example, it would be unlikely that a department would be able to complete the mid-year assessments based upon 3x 1hr lessons over two weeks. However, if the department has 4x 1hr lessons or more over two weeks, then they are encouraged to make use of the mid-year assessments.
Recovery and catch-up in geography
Pupils requiring catch up will be identified via the end of year exam data and further end of unit assessments. All pupils will likely have some gaps from lockdown learning that will require a form of catch up. It is likely that there is considerable variation in the amount and nature of the curriculum that needs catching up for different pupils.
Therefore, we do not recommend catch up units at the beginning of the 2021-22 academic year as they are unlikely to be well-targeted. The general approach we recommend is for schools to continue to teach the curriculum and formatively assess relevant prior knowledge as the curriculum progresses and address these gaps throughout the course of the year.
- One method for doing this in Key Stage 3 is via the lesson-by-lesson fluency quizzes/ ‘do now’ and associated activities that teachers will plan based on these.
- Whole class feedback will likely identify common gaps that can be closed in the review lessons.
- Pause point/ buffer lessons can be mapped into the curriculum throughout the year, to reteach fundamentals. Where appropriate, these should emphasise extended responses focused on ‘chains of reason’ (P-D-D) in Key Stage 3 and the AKU approach in Key Stage 4, as writing and exam technique is an area that online learning may have neglected.
Geography departments are encouraged to identify the knowledge, concepts and skills which may have been impacted due to lockdown and identify where such themes reappear within the curriculum. This will ensure that teachers can identify where they may need to spend more time securing background knowledge, which in normal circumstances pupils may already be secure with. For example, pupils in Year 7 may have completed the Rivers unit during the lockdown, therefore they may not be as secure with concepts related to erosion and deposition when compared to previous cohorts. This may mean that teachers need to spend more time focusing on such concepts when completing the Year 8 Coasts unit than they may have done in previous years. This should ensure that gaps are closed, and clear, explicit interleaving is taking place.