Handle with care;Subject of the Week - Geography

27th March 1998 at 00:00
A wide range of resources need not cost the Earth, says Phil Nash

If, like me, you are a geography teacher using the key stage 3 textbook series Key Geography, you might be concerned with the warnings given by Andy Schofield in last November's TES Geography "Extra".

He commented on geography texts and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's analysis of David Waugh's series, which is used in most UK secondary schools. The books came in for some justified criticism relating to unchallenging student tasks, a lack of extended text leading to oversimplification and stereotyping, and a bias towards certain types of information presentation.

Where does this leave cash-strapped geography departments that may have bought this series? I believe it to be an excellent resource. However, as Waugh has admitted, it needs to be used with care.

While most departments base their teaching on sound planning, this is not always the case. We must begin with learning objectives to describe what we want our students to know, understand and be able to do.

Much of this for key stage 3 will be contained in the national curriculum orders, but they should not be regarded as a straitjacket. Instead, we should be taking account of the curriculum and the needs of the students to provide an exciting course.

Careful planning will lead to the search for appropriate resources to support a variety of learning activities. Many may start with textbook series for the basics, but teachers should always be looking to widen and extend their resource base. This can be done by:

* buying additional half-sets of other texts; * using video effectively - recording all the schools geography programmes and looking for other relevant programmes; * taking and using photographs - sticking them on card and laminating produces a cheap and flexible set of resources; * searching newspapers - they can provide free case study material; * looking for free leaflets or publications; * using the Internet or multi-media programmes - these can provide photographs, statistics, background information and case studies; * joining the Geographical Association, which publishes a wide range of resources and the journal Teaching Geography, which contains excellent teaching ideas; * looking for local fieldwork opportunities and for visitors to come into the classroom.

Classroom activities are at the heart of teaching and learning, and should not be constrained by those in any particular resource. If our planning has been good, we will know what we want the students to achieve at a particular time, allowing us to devise the most appropriate learning activities.

To avoid relying on textbook tasks, the following activities could be applied by pupils to almost any section of text: 1. Set questions for each other about the material.

2. Choose 10 words to represent the information that would help you remember the key points.

3. Write down five things this tells you about . . ., then write down three things it does not tell you about it.

4. Summarise the main points in 50 words or less.

5. Write a 40-word sentence about . . .

6. Pick out something that surprises you that you can tell the class about.

7. Write down the five most important words about . . .

8. Put the text into some kind of picture or symbol.

9. Write the longest sentence you can about . . .

10. Find evidence from the information that . . .

These are all activities that may use only textual information. However, all geography textbooks contain photographs, which provide excellent opportunities for a wide range of activities, including questioning, describing or picking words to label. All such activities will encourage deeper thought and analysis of the image, and develop pupils' geographical skills.

There are opportunities for extended tasks, such as writing letters, reports, articles, interviews, or devising leaflets, games or management plans. Such tasks could be used for assessment.

All of these activities show effective use of resources, without necessarily relying on tasks in the textbook. So if, like me, you mainly teach with Key Geography, do not despair. These are excellent texts which, with careful planning, effective use of additional resources and well-planned classroom activities, can act as the foundation of an effective course.

Phil Nash is head of humanities at Stanground College, Peterborough

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