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We're going nuts about Brazil

Excite even the most bored with this magnificent land of contrasts. Pete Flaxman, David Norman and Vicky Murphy tell you how.

This is a good exercise to familiarise pupils with the geography of South America, to appreciate the landscapes of Brazil and to work as a team. The technique works for any area and at different key stages: we use it at key stage 3.

Set up tables for pupils to work in groups of fives, placing weaker pupils with more able classmates. This task plays to everyone's strengths.

Show photos, each with a different, contrasting landscape. Ask groups to guess which country is pictured. They'll be surprised to find all the photographs depict the same place - Brazil.

Discussions often focus on the desert images, as they dispel many pupils' belief that Brazil is entirely rainforest. This can introduce the issue of different climatic regions and ecosystems.

Many pupils are keen to talk about the images from a shanty town, where a youth band is playing, but with a young boy holding a gun in the background. This image can be edited in such a way as to initially hide the armed boy, forming a useful discussion point in itself.

Then, pin a sketch map of Brazil outside the classroom and explain that the groups' task is to recreate this map on their sheet of A3 paper.

Discuss what makes a good sketch map. This is a key skill and one that we have started to teach at KS3 as a response to the poor quality of sketch maps seen on A-level field trips.

Pupil number one goes to study the map first and describes it on return. Groups then discuss possible tactics and a strategy. Pupils then each have a minute to look at the map, returning for one minute of drawing time. They must give as much detail as they can to their peers, who then decide on the priorities for the next pupil who leaves the classroom.

Halfway through, ask pupils to evaluate their tactics and change them if necessary. Finally, pupil number one leaves the classroom and reports back. Then the task is over.

Give groups plenty of time to finish and display their work for everyone to see. Explain you are looking for accuracy and quality of presentation.

At the end of the lesson, give each group a self-assessment sheet to complete. This should cover how good their map is on a scale of one to five, accuracy, neatness and spelling, and how well they worked as a team.

They should compare their map with the original. As a class, discuss which tactics were successful and which weren't. You might then proceed to have a discussion on why the activity was valuable from a geographical point of view. Why is it important to learn how to look at maps in detail and identify key features?

For homework, give pupils a blank map of Brazil and ask them to label key geographical features, provided by you, to reinforce their knowledge.

We have also used the memory map exercise at KS4, to introduce Europe and floods in Bangladesh. For the Europe map, we started the lesson by asking pupils to draw a map of the UK from memory first, to assess their prior knowledge. This was eye-opening for pupils and staff. It worked well if the teacher had a go too - it is certainly not easy.

To differentiate between key stages, the maps are more detailed, and less support is provided during the exercise in terms of tactics.

Pupils also commented that the memory map lessons were an enjoyable and effective way of learning about new places.

Pete Flaxman is an Advanced Skills teacher, David Norman is director of humanities and Vicky Murphy is geography teacher at Barking Abbey Specialist Sports and Humanities College in Barking, Essex.

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