Geography - The big questions

1st February 2013 at 00:00
Use enquiry-based learning to teach pupils about slums

Good geography starts with good questions: what is an informal (slum) settlement? Why do they exist? Are they places of hope or places of despair? Putting good questions at the heart of a lesson encourages the very best kind of learning: active, focused, independent and informed.

A good question can tell us so much about what a pupil knows and understands. Giving pupils the time and space to frame their own questions stimulates their curiosity and capacity for critical understanding - qualities we all seek to foster.

The challenge for geography teachers in setting engaging, topical enquiries is finding the time to sift through the significant volume of information and materials available. So the resources on informal settlements produced by Comic Relief as part of this year's Red Nose Day - organised by key stages 2-5 and including photographs, slides, background data and ideas - should be very welcome.

They offer a great opportunity to use enquiry-based learning to develop geographical skills while encouraging pupils to take positive action. The resources can be used as individual schemes of work, or as a bank of activities that can be added to existing plans.

The starting point is to generate good enquiry questions. And asking questions about the questions is an important step in determining whether they are good ones. For example: are my questions geographical? Do they cover who, what, where,when, why and how? Do they require me to think about different opinions and sides of an argument? Can some of them only be answered with facts? Have I thought of one big, important question that I want to research and answer?

Having generated their questions, pupils can form groups to discuss and compare before selecting what they believe is the most important question, along with 20 or so others. They could use an enquiry matrix template to scaffold their enquiry, putting the most significant question at the top and following with the secondary questions.

Allowing pupils to structure their own enquiries promotes independent and informed learning from the outset. It will be their questions that set the agenda and their questions that drive the research, giving them a sense of ownership that will stimulate and sustain their learning.

Kate Amis is a freelance education consultant working with education projects and geography teachers in London and the South East


Investigate the development of slums using these resources, including a presentation, a photo pack and worksheets.


Find out why people leave other parts of Kenya to live in slums and learn about the impact of rapid growth with this film and resource pack.


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