Teacher to Teacher
Teaching about rainforests and their exploitation is a popular topic in geography and can be taught in many ways.
After I have taught my Year 9s about the ecosystem and the reasons for and problems of exploitation, I hold a mock election for the Amazonas state government. In addition to the educational benefits of this role play, it helps students let off a bit of steam after what is for many an emotionally charged topic.
Divide the class into about five groups; each will play a political party representing an interest group. At our school, these have included the loggers' party, the settler farmers' party, the Kayapo native people's party, the Manaus free trade party and the Amazonas Green party. The parties are flexible but it is crucial that more than one should have a conservationist standpoint - this avoids the native people's party, for example, being singled out.
Once groups are set, give them a lesson to develop a party manifesto to deliver as a speech. They should also produce campaign posters. At the next lesson, each party is given an opportunity to present its case and answer questions.
Finally, hold the election, for which I produce ballot papers. Ask the students to design a logo for their party which can go on the ballot papers. This creates a good opportunity to discuss adult literacy in places such as Amazonas.
The election should not be held immediately after the hustings, because feelings will still be running high and the students are less likely to be able to make an objective decision.
I hold my secret ballot at the start of the next lesson. Before this, I stress the importance of weighing up the pros and cons of each case and the way in which it was put.
I find that this is not only enjoyable for the students but it makes the issues come alive and encourages deeper thinking. It exposes students to a range of values and attitudes and teaches them much about the (imperfect) process of democracy, which is a key citizenship theme.
Head of geography, Clifton College, Bristol