Geography - Where on Earth? - What to do if your pupils think they can take the Tube to Malta

Paula Owens

I once drove some teenagers to Wales from Kent and one of them thought we would need to go through Scotland. Another pupil, who had seen a sign on the London Underground advertising cut-price travel to Malta, said: "Brilliant, I didn't know you could get there on the Tube".

Are you shocked? Or not at all surprised? There is a bit of a crisis, it seems, in knowing where places are in the world - and it's not only pupils who struggle. My geographical knowledge is far from encyclopaedical, but I use maps, globes, satellite images and atlases to locate places I'm not sure about. This is not just what geographers do; it's what 21st-century citizens do and we need to start raising awareness of this at primary level.

To help develop this kind of geographical thinking in your classroom, get an inflatable globe. Play games at the start of lessons where pupils take it in turns to catch a globe and answer a question: "Show me somewhere you'd rather be and say why", "Show me a country (or continent) in the southern hemisphere", "Show me somewhere you've been on holiday" and so on.

Pin news stories or holiday leaflets to a map of the world on the wall. Locate places mentioned in the news or on television, or perhaps just map where pupils and their families come from. Laminate A4 maps and have them in reading boxes or for reference on tables. Have a mystery image of the week, using satellite photography from the Nasa archives or images of landmarks.

I have only one word of warning: to avoid "pub quiz" geography, contextualise the locations. Knowing names and facts about a place is useful knowledge; knowing where a place is located is spatial knowledge; understanding how the "where", "what" and "why" work together and making connections between places is geographical knowledge.

Dr Paula Owens is a primary curriculum development leader for the Geographical Association, an author and an educational consultant and trainer

What else?

Download the Geographical Association's free teaching ideas on the many uses of inflatable globes from

Find aerial images of places around the world with Nasa's photographs.

Join the Geography Champions blogging community to share thoughts about places and maps with other primary teachers.

Explore the world through kyleb99's fictional postcards from across the globe.

In the forums

How can you embed geographic information systems into existing schemes of work? Join the debate.

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Paula Owens

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