A Geography Smorgasbord by @unicorn4275

Stuck for an idea? Read this...

One of the highlights of the 2015 Geography Association Conference at Manchester was the inaugural #gaconf15 Teach Meet. I was lucky enough to get a slot to share some ideas, and (as promised to the audience) this blog expands upon the content that I rushed through in the brief six minutes of the presentation.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Paul Berry and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

Do you have a blog post which you are proud of? Submit your blog post for reblogging on UKEdChat.com by clicking here.

Magic SquareI’m not really sure where the title came from – I must have had a few ciders when I came up with that – but the thinking was to give the audience a little taster of some of the ideas that I incorporate into my teaching. Aiming to cover 16 ideas in 6 minutes only gave around 19 seconds for each one, so if any of the ideas struck a chord with the audience, they could then visit this blog to read them explained in more detail.

The Powerpoint used at the Teachmeet can be downloaded here:
Geo Conf 2015


get-attachmentA lot of recent research has been published about homework, most of it showing that it has significant benefits as a learning tool. A few years ago, I decided to remodel our homework policy and introduced extended homework tasks to our students. Our key stage three curriculum at the time divided neatly into 6 discrete work units for each year group, one for each half term. Although we still set occasional tasks for homework, each of the curriculum units included an extended task – therefore the students completed at least six each year. Some samples of the extended homeworks are included below:

Extended Homework Geography And Me
Extended Homework Volcanoes

shelterThese tasks ran over up to 5 weeks, and were designed to remove the achievement ceiling (especially for more able students), allow students to explore a topic in unusual depth, afford student choice (according to their own preferred learning styles), and also develop time management skills. They always needed some preparation in class to develop planning and research skills, and consider the different ways the finished product may be presented. From week to week, some students need extra support – especially those who find the wide range of choice difficult to deal with. At the beginning of each year, students are issued with the support sheet downloadable below:

Extended Homework Instructions

After the key stage three curriculum was recently reshaped, we decided to keep the extended task – mainly due to positive feedback from the students themselves. However, with the greater flexibility offered by the new curriculum, we found we were able to cover a greater variety of topics, and also found room to include a number of ‘takeaway’ tasks – which have a shorter turnaround time, are slightly more prescriptive, but still allow the important element of student choice. Students can choose from a menu of tasks, which are categorised by the different levels of challenge they offer. We are currently building up a bank of these resources, and I intend to blog about them next month – watch this space!

Check out the my blog  in September 2013 titled “A New Twist on Homework”, and also November 2013 for “Student Responses to Extended Homework”.


HeadlinesAll of our key stage three geography content is now framed around an enquiry title question chosen from a central ‘question bank’. This is amazingly flexible and allows teachers – and even students – to choose the topics they want to study and the time they want to spend on the chosen question. This approach also allows teachers to break off at any time to focus on any newsworthy events. As geographers, surely it is our responsibility to respond to such current events?

Sometimes this calls for some speedy preparation, but teachers can get ahead of the game by preparing some lesson templates which can be quickly adapted to specific world events. this approach works well for ‘geo’ events like volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tropical storms, major floods, a passing deep depression, snow storms, thunderstorms, and particular local events like planning issues etc

the dayOur school library subscribes to a digital publication called ‘The Day’, which is an excellent source of hot off the press news items connected to geography.

Check out my blog for August 2014 to see how we have planned for the new curriculum.


“The infantile mind is the most creative” said Picasso – and who am I to argue with that statement? This idea may not be for everybody, but I love to entertain with my collection of inflatable toys (available from Amazon for just a few pounds each), and I find this an effective way to make a particular point to students, or help them remember some key information.
I use a parrot on a student’s shoulder to squawk ‘So What?’ each time they give a (brief) answer in an attempt to get them to deepen their explanation with additional information. This is a particularly useful tool for GCSE groups dealing with extended answers, especially in their longer case study questions. We talk about ‘Sexy’ answers – S = statement, E = explanation, X = example – and get the parrot screaming in their ears to think further than just a single one mark statement, and encourage them to develop their answers further to maximise their marks.

The crown is my favourite toy, and is worn during the lesson by different students as a ‘King for the day’ or ‘Queen for a moment’ award when they make a significant contribution through things like an excellent answer, a challenging question, a moment of geographical inspiration, or perhaps just a display of especially good manners.

The microphone is used in group situations to encourage the students to respect the rule of one person speaking at a time. With only the person holding the microphone being allowed to speak, group discussions run more fairly and efficiently.

The hammer is a great demonstration tool to ‘hammer a point home’ – be it a particular fact, rule or statement – either on the desk or on the student’s head (I didn’t really say that).

pigThe shark patrols through the shallow waters of Mr B’s geo rules, on the prowl for spelling errors, undated work, untidy presentation or any other such issue that I want the class to focus on.

The aeroplane flies through the room to deliver special gifts to deserving students, or extension tasks to those who are performing particularly well. Students love to have it land on their desk, and be instructed to board the flight to ….. by the airport announcer.

The guitar is purely random, and is often used to accompany the starter music or support a solo rap about the day’s learning.

I must also confess to a collection of glove puppets that have become popular characters in my lessons. Agnes the Pig or Rio the monkey usually invigorate Friday afternoon lessons, when the students are sometimes a little jaded and winding down to the weekend. This started with year seven pupils, but (sadly?) has become a highlight for key stage four geographers at the end of the week!


takeawayThis is a very recent addition to my room, and is modified from a door shoe rack, available cheaply from Amazon or your local poundstore – more of this later). There are 20 separate pockets in the rack, and they house a number of occasional resources that can be easily accessed by students. I find this really helpful to provide extension tasks for more able students, differentiated tasks to fit student’s needs, and ‘fill in’ tasks to maintain engagement when a lesson finishes ahead of time. I currently have my 20 pockets filled with the following, but already I have noticed that this can be easily altered to accommodate new ideas as they arise;

  1. Atlas challenges
  2. Geo Thunks (inspired by Ian Gilbert’s book – ‘The Little Book of Thunks’). These provide neat thought-provoking ‘ungoogleable’ questions to hurt student brains, such as: ‘Is there more happiness than sadness in the world?’ ‘What colour is poor?’ ‘Who would win a fight between a rain forest and a hot desert?’
  3. Step into the photograph exercises (students complete speech bubbles to describe feelings or ask questions of different characters in a photograph)
  4. Odd one out (classic ‘thinking skills’ exercise where students have to identify the odd one out in a group of three – and also justify the reason for their choice)
  5. Countries and capitals (some good old-fashioned ‘place’ geography – Mr Gove would be proud!)
  6. Post its (used for a multitude of tasks, my favourite being to record thoughts at the start of a lesson on a topic or question, and place on a line on the wall ranging from ‘I know nothing’ to ‘I know everything’. This can then be reviewed in middle of lesson and also at the end – with students adjusting the position of their post-its accordingly. Great to demonstrate progress within a lesson).
  7. ‘Ready steady cook’ cards (containing a visual representation of a number of ingredients. Students have to use them to plan a five minute lesson starter or plenary)
  8. Student questions (for students to pose their own questions for the teacher – perhaps from the current lesson, or maybe from more general geographical topics. Great to then use as a starter for the next lesson)
  9. Sweets or credits
  10. Customer feedback (I am always comfortable for students to give feedback on lessons, activities, teaching style etc. Many of the comments submitted in this way have helped to inform lesson planning and even whole curriculum planning for the future)
  11. Clothes pegs (for students to use to add their work to a display clothes-line, or to use to attach comments to an opinion line that ranges from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’)
  12. Volcano top trumps (what a great game!)
  13. John Davitt challenges (unusual twists to tasks to extend students’ thinking, such as ‘summarise a topic as a mime. See loads more by logging on to John’s site at:https://www.davittlearning.net/200ways11.html
  14. legoLego challenge (to create 3D graphs and population pyramids, and also for planning buildings, urban areas etc)
  15. Play Doh challenge (to construct 3D models of physical features like volcanoes, to explain physical processes like longshore drift, to construct stop-motion animations)
  16. Literacy challenge (sentence structures, capital letters etc)
  17. Maths challenge
  18. Matchstick challenge (logic puzzles)

IMG_170719. Rory’s Story Cubes (to encourage creative writing)
scrabble20. Scrabble tiles (to develop vocabulary)

Recent additions include: SOLO cards (printed with the different stages of SOLO along with associated key words), web sites to investigate, tweet sheets (to summarise a topic or task in just 140 characters), map challenges (using cut-outs from old exam maps)


Where would we be without the creative resources and up to the minute factual information available on the Internet? Numerous web sites help to keep our subject current and up to date, for instance, sites showing real-time earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, population changes etc. I would like to construct a magical matrix of my favourite web sites in a later blog, so I will restrict myself now to just one site –https://www.zaption.com

This site allows you to quickly create and share engaging and interactive video lessons by adding text, pictures and questions to any on-line video. It’s basic service is free, but you can upgrade to the Pro version for £60, or get a quote for the whole school – prices vary according to number of students on roll. It can be used by students to select appropriate video, and then demonstrate the depth of their understanding by adding extra features. Teachers can use the site to embellish video they have taken themselves, or enhance a clip from You Tube or Vimeo. It is possible to get this functionality to work within the usual tight filtering services employed by school networks. I have used it in a similar way to another app called ‘thinglink’ (oops, that’s a second app mentioned!), which has become popular in schools recently.

Each month on my blog throughout 2014, a WARP highlighted particularly interesting web sites.


PoundlandI used to hate shopping days with Mrs B, but as long as there is a Poundstore trip included – I now tolerate the experience with a little more enthusiasm. It is great fun visiting pound shops with other colleagues, and competing with each other to see who can come up with the most creative ideas.

On my last visit, I invested in the following items for use in my classroom: plastic tablecloths (for brainstorming, mind mapping, and note taking. I used to use the desk and table surfaces directly – along with windows and doors, but the cleaners were not impressed!), cut-out figures (used to record ideas and opinions of different stakeholders in issues of conflict), lollipop sticks (to use as an alternative to my bingo caller machine to select students for tasks or to answer questions), and paper plates (for a new twist on displaying work). I also topped up my supplies of post its (much cheaper than elsewhere), playground chalk, liquid chalk pens and clothes pegs (to create student work gallery ‘washing lines’.


glassesAlthough poundstores often stock cheap versions of classic games, a visit to Toys R Us often throws up some new ideas for toys and games that can be converted for use in the geography classroom. Jenga, Connect Four, and Twister can all be adapted for use in lessons – particularly in revision sessions. I keep a stock of Play Dough in my room for use in physical geography lessons to model different landscape features like volcanoes, coastal scenery and tectonic plates as well as physical processes like longshore drift. However, it really comes into its own when used with stop-motion apps on the I Pads. Students can create their own sequences to explain the formation of things like fold mountains, and research and then narrate their own commentary.

I have built up enough Lego cubes over the years for whole classes to construct 3D grabs from data (one of my best lessons builds graph columns for population changes in world cities), population pyramid graphs, and also use for planning topics and things like urban zones.

Since my now 2 year old Grandson arrived, I have had a great excuse to make regular calls to my local toy stores, and apart from buying him the odd gift, I have picked up a load of props for my lessons – including my ‘geography glasses’ for students to wear when analysing a scene, pirate’s hat and cutlass ( for ‘answer only like a pirate’ sessions), slimetubs of slime (to demonstrate the mantle and convection currents), slinkies (to demonstrate earthquake shock waves), foam dice, team buzzers, baseball caps (in different colours for students to wear when using De Bono’s thinking hats approach to topics), and liquid chalk pens (for ‘free writing on desks and windows).


pitWhen I am planning lessons (yes, I still do – even after 35 years!), I strive to take students into ‘the pit’ for at least a small period of time. Guy Claxton says we should think of lessons as mind gyms where students get mentally hot, sweaty and tired, and ‘the pit’ is a place where this can happen – a place for deep thinking. Not all lessons can create this opportunity for all students, but it is a great principle to keep in mind when designing activities for learning. As John Hattie says: “A teacher’s job is not to make work easy. It is to make it difficult”


badgesI always grasp any opportunity to raise the profile of my subject in school. The best way to do this is through consistent high quality teaching, but I make no apologies for ‘branding’ my department to keep it in the mind set of students, other teachers and parents. I make sure we figure prominently on our school network of public area plasma screens, with lots of images of fieldwork, trips, students at work and samples of completed work. We have our own departmental polo shirts (ideal for field trips, parents events etc), headed notepaper and memo pads, department pens (great for rewards), and a collection of badges (available from the GA – and really useful around option choice time). I have built up a large collection of geography themed ties to wear to work, including a rather natty world map silk bow tie.

notepaperOther ways we maintain our profile include department bookmarks (left in books in our library), reward postcards for students, social media, regular QR code treasure hunts around the school, and corridor masking tape maps and messages.
Every half term, we designate a ‘Geo Day’, when all department members have to carry a large inflatable globe with them throughout the day to lessons, assemblies, the staff room, dining hall – the whole lot. It generates a huge amount of questions from students (as well as staff).


MonetArchWe often use selected photographs (often as starters) to develop deep questioning skills. Using ‘Geography glasses’ students can search for the geography in an image, supported by this great quote from Rudjard Kipling:
“I keep six honest serving men,
They taught me all I know,
Their names are what, and why and where,
And how and when and who”
(‘Just So Stories’)
For more detailed analysis, this excellent question grid devised by John Sayers helps students to probe more deeply:
Question Grid John Sayers 2
I also like to use pieces of art for this task, and there some great paintings that can help develop geographical thinking, as well as broaden the minds of our students. LS Lowry’s industrial scenes are particularly powerful resources, as are the rural scenes painted by Constable. Selected music and poetry can also be used as resources in much the same way – but more of that in a later blog.


DIRT BanksyMarking student’s books has been part of my life for thirty five years – but only recently have I reflected on how little benefit there has been from this time consuming chore for the students themselves. Assessment for learning theories moved things on from just assessment of learning, and in these more enlightened times we talk about feedback policies rather than marking policies, A number of techniques have recently emerged to reap greater learning gains from the comments added to student workbooks.

My favourite is DIRT (dedicated improvement and reflection time), which has recently been incorporated into whole school policies. It involves selecting a specific part of a student’s work to target for DIRT (perhaps a paragraph of writing or part of an exam answer). This is highlighted in yellow, and a number of codes are recorded from the table below (customised by each subject area). Part of a lesson (maybe 20 minutes, sometimes more and sometimes less) is then devoted to DIRT time to allow the work is returned to the student for reflection. He or she translates the code and responds to any other prompts listed by the teacher. This method certainly cuts down the time a teacher often used to spend adding lengthy meaningful comments – which were often left unread and only rarely actioned. The time spent in lessons provides much more efficient and useful feedback which can encourage progress in the students. More of this in a future blog ……


doink2I am passionate about the effective use of I Pads in my teaching, and this section certainly deserves its own magical matrix in a later blog. Perhaps I will save this for my next Teachmeet opportunity? For now, I will highlight just one app that I have been using recently – Do Ink Greenscreen, which costs just £2.29 to buy. There are many apps that allow students to green screen – that is, film themselves speaking in front of a background of their own choice – but none as straight-forward and simple to use as this one. It is a great way to provide students the chance to be creative in a new way, perhaps writing news reports from specific events, or technical narrations in front of an erupting volcano or collapsing cliff, or a travel report from an exotic location.

Check out blogs on this site for articles explaining how I Pads are used at South Molton School – June 2013 (Introducing Tablets For The First Time); July 2013 (First I Pad Review), June 2014 (Jurassic Coast and I Pads), February 2014 (Fair Trade I Pad investigation) and March 2014 (Avoiding App Frenzy). There is also a monthly WARP throughout 2014 which highlights particular I Pad apps.


hexSOLO stands for ‘structure of observed learning outcomes’, and is a simple to follow framework that provides a shared language for students and teachers to talk about learning and progression. It may have important role to play in schools following the removal of National Curriculum levels, and if nothing else, I urge you to use the ‘hexagon challenge’ inspired by SOLO to allow students to demonstrate relationships between different aspects of a topic.

Check out November 2012 on my blog for an article titled: “Introducing SOLO for the first time”. A further blog in May 2013 describes how SOLO can be used in the geography classroom.


snowThis has got to figure in any list of key ideas. I still put a lot of energy into our flagship trips – to Uganda (working with the Amigos charity – usually with connections to providing clean drinking water in rural areas), and to the Lake District (for GCSE Geography study plus hill walking, canoeing, caving, abseiling etc. The experiences enjoyed by students on these adventures remain long in their memories – I am always pleased when reference to geography trips are affectionately recorded in the year eleven leavers’ books.

Our new curriculum plans for trips for all students in Key stage three – year 7 to Exmoor for river quality studies, year 8 to the Exe estuary for coastal features, and year 9 to Exeter’s shopping centre for a ‘clone town’ study.

Apart from all of this, we try to get outside of the classroom at every available opportunity. We use the school grounds for mapwork (scale), orienteering, geo-caching, affective mapping (what parts of the school make you feel happy, sad, safe, threatened?), longshore drift demonstrations, solar system demonstrations – and so on.

I relish the opportunities provided by ‘snow days’, when half of our students are stuck at home in remote farms and villages. This is a great chance to put coats on and get outside to build snow sculptures of physical features such as Old Harry, pyramidal peaks, upper course river valleys, and the like.
Check out the blog on this site in January 2013 titled “Snowday Geography”.


visWhen I started teaching we used a fantastic device called an epidiascope (anyone out there remember these?) It looked like a giant metal armadillo, and made a fearful noise, but did a good job of projecting an image onto the board (blackboard covered in white paper!) from a textbook or photograph.
Well, things have moved on a bit, and I now have an ‘Aver Vision’ Visualiser on permanent stand-by attached to my desk computer. This does the same projection job – great for instant presentation of textbook pages, newspaper headlines, pictures and so on – but best of all, can be used to model students work, and use samples for peer assessment. I wouldn’t be without this piece of kit now. One recent innovation has improved things further – that is the use of a specialised stand for my I Pad that by making use of the camera tool and Apple TV, turns it into a visualiser. This is a super resource if you have just one I Pad in your Department. The advantage it has is that by pinching to zoom on the I Pad, you can reproduce amazing clarity and quality on the board. Fantastic for zooming in really close on OS maps and atlas pages!


maskingI made a pledge this year that within our new curriculum plans I would give a real focus to developing ‘place’. I have long been a fan of the ‘maps from memory’ thinking skills exercise devised by David Leat, and have really enjoyed working with students on corridor maps using masking tape (another poundstore resource). The students have given really positive feedback for this lesson, and love to see their finished maps left in place for a few days for others to admire. Of course, it is not sustainable to use this technique too often, so we also make maps out of wool and string on our desks.

I have made sure that students make regular reference to globes when studying aspects of the world map – explaining how this is the most accurate representation of the world, and how flat maps have to ‘compromise’ the true shape of some countries and continents. I have found a class set of small, hand-held globes a real asset to the department, and often get the students to make their own globes by drawing maps on balloons (thanks, poundstore) and oranges – which can be safely eaten afterwards with a nod to whole school healthy eating policies.
Check out the blog in December 2013 titled “Geography Games” and find out about Seterra in the blog for August 2013.

If anyone would like to comment on any of the elements of the magical matrix, please complete the form below. I would love to hear of any possible developments to these ideas you can suggest, or ways that they – or other ideas you can give me – have worked in your classrooms.

I am already forming outlines for follow-up magical matrices for future Teachmeets or future blogs – perhaps an Apps matrix, a web site matrix, a You Tube matrix, a mystery photos matrix, an amazing maps matrix – this could be the start of a new series!

You can follow Paul on Twitter…

You need to or Register to bookmark/favorite this content.

About UKEdChat Editorial 3188 Articles
The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.