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City streets are paved with gold;Geography;Subject of the week

Jeremy Krause and Elaine Jackson show how to make an urban visit rewarding

Most schools, urban as well as rural, offer their children opportunities to visit the centre of a city. This often involves hiring a coach to take the group as close as possible to the theatre, museum, sports venue.

While it is understandable that schools want to keep the visit as straightforward as possible, this may mean lost opportunities for a richer understanding of city life.

To counter this, what we suggest here are practical activities to maximise the opportunities created by a visit to a city centre.

Before the visit

Use photographs, maps, newspaper articles and the children's own knowledge and experience to predict what the place will be like and what might be seen there. Encourage them to share their prior knowledge and to explain how they gained it.

Get the children to plan the best route. Do they all agree? Is the best route the same for different times of day or day of the week? Use grid references to locate the start and finish of the journey. Use photographs of human and physical features on the route and get pupils to answer questions, for example: Can you identify these features on the map? Can you give their grid references?

On the journey

Use the photographs of places and features on the route and ask the children to mark these on a map.

Another activity is "spot the road sign bingo", which prevents the journey from becoming boring. These tasks can be made into games for younger or less able children.

The children will also gain an understanding of how land use changes as you journey through the city. They will observe variations in such things as wealth, particularly different types of housing; places and forms of employment and the quality of the environment.

Make use of the immediate area around the place you are visiting Get pupils to take a 360-degree look around them. What do they feel about the place? What are their likes and dislikes? Is it the same or different from how they imagined it to be? Look at the nearby buildings, their size, shape and what they are used for. What is the street like - busy or quiet, clean or dirty ?

Make use of the wider area

If there is time, walk the last part of the journey to the place you are visiting or walk back to the bustrain. Get them to compare the use of the land and forms of transport with their local area.

Get pupils to think about the characteristics of a city centre. For instance, the type, size and use of buildings; the different forms of transport, volume of traffic and levels of pollution; identify reasons why people work in and visit the city.

They can use many skills to record and analyse life in the city: map reading, interpretation of the landscape and photographs. And by giving pupils time to observe and interpret what they see, they will begin to understand the dynamics of a city, it's role and function as a place of commerce, culture and entertainment, and gain some understanding of the importance of these places in our lives.

Jeremy Krause is senior geography adviser for Cheshire County Council. Elaine Jackson is headteacher of St Helen's CE Aided Primary School, Warrington. They will be presenting a workshop on "City links, curriculum links" on April 7 at The Geographical Association's conference, UMIST, Manchester (see Noticeboard)

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