Humanities - A room with a view

9th March 2012 at 00:00
The art of observation will help pupils to really see the world

"Look through any window, yeah, what do you see?" I'm sure that when The Hollies sang these words many years ago, the last thing they were thinking about was developing geographical skills. Yet you could do worse than use their question to help your pupils gain a real sense of their immediate surroundings.

A simple idea, suitable for any age, it is particularly appropriate for the transition to secondary school. Pupils can really look around and establish what geography is about: building on their "own experiences to investigate places at all scales, from the personal to the global" (key stage 3 programme of study). It requires no more time, resources, risk assessment or staffing than any standard lesson, and yet it can employ specific geographical techniques and skills that are usually associated with the organisational nightmare known as "fieldwork".

Observation is a crucial geographical skill and pupils should be encouraged to describe their view in as much detail as possible (try using a word wall). Colours, shapes, textures, sizes and materials are all important. And do not forget to look up - there is a lot to observe in the sky.

A survey of your students' reactions to the view provides a useful introduction to the collection of primary data and the role of subjective information in geographical study. Offer some starter pairs of words, such as uglybeautiful, dirtyclean and threateningsafe, but also challenge pupils to come up with some indicators of their own. Follow-up discussions about the value of their differing opinions can lead into exploration of a range of geographical issues.

Simple presentation of their results provides a host of opportunities for pair or group work, ICT, poster displays, speaking and listening, extended writing - the list is almost endless. A set of images showing views from other locations can be used for simple comparison, for introducing concepts of local, national and global scale and, crucially, for setting up a sense of curiosity and wonder about what the subject might have in store in future lessons.

Even a less-than-inspiring vista opens up the opportunity for really big questions: "What if you could see this view in a time machine?", for example, or "Imagine you could change things."

After 25 years as a geography teacher, Lynne Deacon is now a freelance trainer, writer and consultant

What else?

For a fieldwork foray, Mission: Explore turns observing and exploring into an exciting assignment.

Help pupils to understand their environment with s0402433's extensive "My Surroundings" scheme of work.

In the forums

Geography teachers discuss Michael Gove's proposal to make the subject compulsory until at least 16. What do you think?

Find all links and resources at

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