Humanities - Discover the neighbours

23rd September 2011 at 01:00
Geographical exploration can be carried out close to home

Geography offers the chance for teachers to explore the wider world and it's tempting to plunge straight into the exotic: volcanic landscapes, arid deserts, frigid tundra or the teeming streets of Rio de Janeiro.

But it is important not to neglect the geographies that students will perhaps be most familiar with - their local areas. Jeff Stanfield, geography adviser for Hampshire, is passionate about the importance of harnessing the experiences that students have before they even set foot in a school. "It is important that children know the geography of `their' place and have a real feel for, attachment to and involvement in it."

The Geographical Association has explored some of these issues through the work of photographer Jonathan "JK" Morris, who documented the groups of young people using Castle Square in Swansea. He observed that they are often "segregated from the rest of society and have a feeling that they shouldn't be in certain places". Are there areas of your school's town where young people might feel excluded? Try identifying and mapping the daily journeys that students make to discover the "unknown" areas and summarise them in word clouds.

I have recently worked for National Geographic Education, with colleague Daniel Raven Ellison, to provide the following ideas for exploring local environment.

- Can you find something you've never noticed before about your own street?

- Photograph (using mobile phones) the things that you think provide your community with its identity.

- It is said the suburbs are "areas where they chop down the trees, then name streets after them". Can you find the hidden trees in your neighbourhood in street names, etc?

As Michael Palin says on the homepage of the new Discovering Britain website: "All too often we forget that travel doesn't have to involve trains and boats and planes . some of the world's most varied, spectacular and accessible landscape is only a strong pair of boots away."

The Discovering Britain website launches in October at

Alan Parkinson was secondary curriculum development leader of the Geographical Association between 2008 and 2011, following 20 years as a geography teacher. He is currently an independent author, trainer and curriculum consultant.


Find these resources and links at

In the forums

Check out the TES Forums for locality activity suggestions for those who cannot leave the school building.


TES Resources has also created a local area study resource collection, perfect for use with primary pupils.


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