20 tips for training geography teachers

Author: Martin Sutton
Published: 13/08/2020

1. Be prepared for fieldwork

  • Students should be central to fieldwork; it should not be ‘done to them’.
  • Allow students to be involved in some of the planning stage, if possible. For example, could they design the hypotheses and complete a risk assessment?
  • Discuss who could be interested in their fieldwork and why – the Environment Agency, the local council, shopkeepers, the police… This will allow students to consider the real applications of geography.
  • Can you allow the students to practise the field techniques in the classroom before/after the fieldwork? This will reinforce their understanding of it and may make it smoother on the day! Verbalising the methods will reinforce understanding and possibly be good revision for an exam.

2. Make the most of fieldwork

  • Consider videoing fieldwork practice (with permissions given) which can then be used with subsequent cohorts. Where are the students going? What will they do? Why? What will they need to take?
  • Become involved in fieldwork planning, to some extent, in your training or NQT year. This will build your confidence when teaching it or planning it yourself later on.
  • Allow your students to access Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, Google Earth, Google maps or similar phone apps to look at the landscape before they arrive. Could they plan the route?
  • Make sure that all students rotate the different data collection roles so that they understand each technique themselves. Avoid them sticking with being the clipboard person who records it all.

3. Motivation and engagement

  • Start lessons with a ‘hook’ to grab students’ attention. It may be a photo or a clip that is ambiguous and gets them to start asking good geographical questions.
  • What motivates and engages students in geography? Ask the students! Tactfully speak to a small number to see which parts of the lessons/subject they engage more with. Ask them why. (Don’t be bullied into showing more YouTube clips just because they say so!)
  • Use creative ideas from other subject teachers. What do other trainees do in history that creates enthusiasm and motivation?
  • Use Play-Doh to build coastal, fluvial or glacial landscapes. Students should annotate the sugar paper underneath them to show their understanding of the features.

4. Questioning strategies

  • Plan the questions that you will ask; don’t make them all up on the spot.
  • Try a ‘hands-down’ policy, where students wait for you to direct a question to them. This can be a proactive behaviour management technique and a good form of differentiation.
  • Inform the class of the hands-down policy. Then ask a question, count to 15 and select a student to answer. Thinking time is essential. (Pose, pause, pounce)
  • Try ‘bouncing’ the answer onto another student. Do they agree or disagree? Why? Develop the answer. (Pose, pause, pounce, BOUNCE). 

5. Command words and questions 

  • Use Bloom’s taxonomy to plan your questions. Start with lower-level questions (‘describe’, ‘state’) and move up to higher order questions to increase challenge (‘explain’, ‘predict’, ‘justify’).
  • Google ‘layers of inference’ – a photo in the centre with layers of questions around it that increase in complexity. Margaret Roberts helped to pioneer this in geography.
  • Invite students to ask their own geographical questions about an image. Follow up with them answering each other’s questions.
  • Train students to understand the different meanings of each command word. The exam boards have good definitions of what is expected for each. Create a display. Test students on them.

See all of Martin Sutton's tips for training geography teachers in his downloadable CPD resource

Martin Sutton

Martin Sutton is the subject leader for the Secondary Geography Initial Teacher Training course at the University of Reading. A former Head of Geography and Humanities, he is also a Specialist Leader in Education, while also teaching at a school in Reading.