Give cliches the slip

18th November 2011 at 00:00
Look beyond the obvious in teaching environmental issues

Question: Is it possible to teach environmental issues in primary geography without it ending in children making "Save our Planet" or "Stop Dropping Litter" posters?

Answer: Of course it is. But be honest, we've all done it at some time. We need to see geography as a key link to other learning, rather than as a box to be opened only once a week. For geography to be truly understood, it needs to be touched, tasted and experienced at every possible opportunity.

In my Year 5 classes, I spent two afternoons linking citizenship (preparing to play an active role as citizens) and geography (knowledge and understanding of environmental change and sustainable development). I taught a lesson about how humans have positive and negative impacts on their environment.

The children entered the classroom after playtime to find it strewn with man-made (and some natural) litter: banana skins, leaves, drink cans, newspapers, fast-food wrappers and so on. They believed me when I said it had blown in from the street.

After the initial drama, the children began the big clean-up. They then discussed their feelings about the rubbish. How did they feel before and after? Had anything positive come from a negative situation? We went on a trip around the school and completed a survey of man-made litter found on the street. We also looked out for public bins, photographing our evidence.

The next session involved building charts of the types of litter discovered. This led to an investigation into where the litter may have come from. Children worked out which shops were the most likely culprits. From here, we used our evidence to write emails to our councillor and the local paper.

Through two afternoons of interactive work, we linked geography and citizenship to science, English and maths. Children completed fieldwork and became aware of the impact humans can have on their environment.

Chris Fenton is an associate headteacher, author and owner of Mediano Education Consultancy and Writers Agency.



Try tinkerkat's litter assembly to get pupils thinking about litter in their community and school.

With older pupils, why not try some on-site fieldwork to investigate the environmental quality of the school grounds? Lrabbetts has shared material to help you get started.

Find all this week's resources at

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