Geography Lessons in Education 3000 words

Report on Geography Classes

This report provides a brief comparison between the John Cleveland College in Leicestershire and a typical school in a South East London Borough.  It describes how lessons have been planned and delivered, and presents a proposed outline for a module to progress students to the next level of attainment.  The report finally provides an analysis of problems that might arise within a teaching environment and some examples of good teaching practice.






The John Cleveland College


The John Cleveland College (JCC), a Secondary Foundation School in Hinckley, Leicestershire, is a specialist Science College.  With approximately 1,600 pupils, aged between 14 – 18 years old in attendance, the college is much larger than most secondary schools.


The college draws students from across Hinckley and reflects the town population, with the vast majority of students coming from White British backgrounds.  The proportion of students entitled to free school meals is much lower than the national average.  Likewise, the 7% of students identified with learning difficulties/disabilities is also lower than the national average.


Ofsted has commented favourably on the good teaching provided by, and the above level results achieved in the school.[1]  In 2006, JCC was the first college in Leicestershire to achieve the Challenge Award, which recognises the high level of work done with Gifted and Talented students.


The Geography Department at JCC aims to stimulate students’ curiosity about the natural and human world, places local and distant, and our precious and fragile environment.  The teaching staff within the Geography Department has been remarkably stable and all are subject specialists.  Their individual areas of expertise within the subject are particularly exploited in the delivery of the AS and A2 syllabus.



The Sir John Cass Foundation


The Sir John Cass and Redcoat Foundation, which is a specialist Language College, has over 1,400 pupils on roll.  Situated in Tower Hamlets, East London, the college is in one of the most 4 deprived authorities in England.


The school draws pupils from across its local community, which has a unique ethnic composition including White, Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean, persons born in Ireland, Black African, Chinese, Indian and Pakistani.



The school was deemed to be outstanding in its most recent Ofsted inspection with its key strengths being identified as:

  • leadership and management
  • support for students
  • educational and social inclusion, which successfully widens participation
  • educational, business and community partnerships

It is evident, that there is a distinct marked contrast between the two colleges in terms of the ethnic backgrounds of students and the comparative comfortable circumstances and deprivation of the colleges’ local communities.



I worked in the Geography Department at JCC as a Teaching Assistant in a one-hour weekly class for 10 weeks.

I assisted the teachers by providing support to students in a one-to-one capacity as well as working with small groups in Year 12 Geography classes.  My specific interest is in physical geography and I assisted in classes which included lessons on:

  • the lithosphere and plate tectonics
  • the atmosphere and biosphere
  • rivers and ocean changes
  • the environment and climate change.







Lesson Planning


The lessons in which I participated were broadly based on the premise of:


          “Failing to Plan equals Planning to Fail’’ [2]


JCC has a general school tenet that post-16 teaching requires all of the planning, structure and focus as teaching and Key Stages 3 and 4.  This requires local and specific learning aims and objectives, which here, as elsewhere, provide a support to collaborative and focused learning.  In short:

  • objectives set out what the lesson is designed to achieve
  • aims explain how these objectives will be achieved.


As a whole, lessons were divided into three phases or sections:



Usually teacher led, this sets the context of the lesson.

The key aim at this phase is to engage the students’ interest and attention.




Usually the largest section of the lesson, this contains the major learning experience together with various activities.

This gives students the opportunity to explore the lesson content and topics.



The final section summarises what has been learnt, assesses student progress and reinforces the lesson.  This enables students to elaborate and extend the learning process.


The above mode of lesson planning has been used as an exemplar in the lesson plan on the Earth’s lithosphere, detailed below.



Areas of geography that were taught


In a broader context, lessons also dealt with the numerous factors that contribute to climate change including:

  • how the climate can be powerfully influenced by changes in the flow of ocean waters, including both surface currents, such as the Gulf Stream, and other deeper reaching movements
  • the outer shell of the earth (the lithosphere) and how the separation or collision of tectonic causes Oceans, such as the Red Sea, or Mountain ranges such as the Himalayas
  • how changes in the composition of the atmosphere can also bring on climate change the greenhouse effect.


The lessons covered key areas of physical geography and environmental issues.  There was a good balance between teaching specific detailed information whilst conveying a broader sense of the significance and consequences of natural features.  Students, for example, were taught the four different mass movements that occur on slopes under different conditions, namely:

  • rock fall
  • mudflow
  • landslip
  • soil creep


Students were taught how to describe and explain the processes which lead to the formation of slopes affected by mass movement to a standard that would meet examination requirements.



Feedback on lessons


Lessons were taught in a positive environment, conducive to effective learning.  Classrooms were tidy and organised, and colourful and bright.  Any equipment used was already set up and ready, and a wide range of resources was available to students, tailored to the lesson contents.  These included:

  • worksheets/task cards – with the exercise or activities for the students to complete, either individually or in small groups
  • briefing sheets – to provide background information
  • supplementary information – to expand the basic information provided in textbooks
  • source/stimulus material – to provoke discussion and add a dimension to students’ understanding.


All the handworks were clear, concise, targeted to the students’ ability levels and written in user-friendly language.  In some instances where students shared resources, they asked for extra copies to keep.


The above indicates that lessons were well received and feedback on what the students had learnt was achieved through a variety of assessment techniques. These indicated:

  • what the student had understood
  • what skills the student had required
  • where the student stood in relation to other students
  • what the student knew at the end of a lesson or completion of an assignment
  • what the student had not understood
  • where any gaps in learning were
  • whether the student was ready to progress to the next stage of learning


The Geography Department at JCC had examples of schemes that they were currently using or had used in previous years so there were readily available models to access.  These included:

  • oral and written tasks
  • by criterion-referenced tests
  • by self-assessment, peer-assessment or teacher assessment
  • through continuous assessment or end of term or module tests
  • through formal/diagnostic assessment or summative/final assessment
  • marking oral, written and practical assignments.


The feedback achieved through these various assessment methods was positive and encouraging.  Both practice work carried out in the class and set homework were completed to very high standards. Students were highly motivated, demonstrating a willingness to develop a genuine understanding of the subject.





In addition to providing support and assistance in the classroom I was involved in a number of other key activities including

  • working with students on the Internet on project research.
  • shadowing the Department in lesson planning and assisting in marking
  • some work with the College’s Support Staff to gain insight into the administrative system of the college.


JCC also has an extensive programme of extra-curricular activities including participation in the Duke of Edinburgh Award schemes and local community projects and funding.  I worked with a small group of students to research sources of funding for an environmental regeneration project.





The proposed project ‘A Generation that Cares’  will progress the students to the next learning level by increasing awareness and understanding of the causes and impact of climate change.  This project will be completed by a number of students before the end of the module.


Further to discussions with the Geography Head of Department, it has been agreed that a lesson on the earth’s lithosphere will initially be delivered.  Working in small groups, (ideally of four) students will then continue to research examples of environmental problems and what action needs to be taken to address issues of climate change.  Students will then prepare and produce a presentation, using a media of their choice, which will be shown to class members.

The module aims to meet the following learning objectives:

  • students are able to identify and describe the features of geographical environments
  • students are able to make links between the physical environment and the human environment
  • students are able to describe and explain the interactions in geographical environments
  • students are able to extract, process and analyse geographical information.


The equipment required for the project, may include a video recorder, overhead projector and overheads, PowerPoint projector, and access to the Internet for the students.


Estimated time for completion of course:  3 – 4 weeks based on 2 classes/week (1 Geography, 1 Study time)[3]





Context        Intermediate AS level


Title             The Earth’s lithosphere: the impact of tectonic movement on the long-term climate


Lesson Duration:  1 hour



Learning Objectives


  • students are able to describe and explain how the planet is shaped by plate-tectonic processes


  • students are able to extract, explain and analyse geographical information on plate motions


  • students are able to describe and explain the key environmental issues facing the world and their own community.




  • students will know and understand the theory of plate tectonics


  • students will learn how people are affected by the various consequences of plate tectonics, including an understanding of seismology and related earth movements.


  • students will know and be able to describe the historical perspective of plate tectonics


  • students will understand plate motions and the forces that drive the plates


  • students will be able to compare the Earth to other planets in our solar system


  • students will be able to describe the formidable challenges we face to prevent further damage to the environment.



Content and Method


  • students will learn about the Earth’s lithosphere through a variety of learning techniques including

ü  teacher to students

ü  open class discussions

ü  whole class activities






Teacher activity:  Engage the attention of the students by expanding on areas taught previously on the course – this also provides the opportunity for informal assessment of the students’ knowledge.


Opening questions to the class – such as:


  • Can anyone tell me how fast the Himalayas Mountains are raising?[4]
  • What influence can tectonic activity have on long-term climate change?[5]



Teacher focuses lesson with a comment about our general awareness of the environmental issues facing the world.[6]


Beginning teaching session – teacher led:

Teacher sets the context of the lesson by outlining:

  • The emergence of the theory of plate tectonics
  • The historical perspective to how the term plate tectonics refers to how the Earth’s surface is built of plates.

Teaching/learning methods:  Use of overheads to combine verbal and visual learning – students take notes on ‘framework’  templates to reinforce learning, enabling students to organise their own study and revision notes.





Open class discussion on tsunamis


  • Distribution of archived press cuttings on 2004 tsunami in Thailand



Teacher/student activity:  to explore the subject by discussing how this event could demonstrate how human action has contributed to climate change.


Practical exercise on understanding plate movements – whole class activity


  • Teacher outlines the four types of plate boundaries found in the Earth’s lithosphere by using PowerPoint presentations and supplementary handouts.
  • Class divided into small groups to discuss possible causes of plate movement and how the Earth might differ from other planets in our solar system.
  • Groups present back briefly to the class.



Teaching/Learning methods:  Following basic information provided by the teacher, students are encouraged to use their deduction and communication skills, and extend their knowledge basis.

The exercise also provides a good opportunity for the teacher to assess gaps in knowledge and understanding.





Student/Teacher activities:  Students elaborate on what they have learnt.  The teacher can evaluate the teaching learning process.


Students write a brief synopsis on their perception of what life might be in the future if nothing is done to address the environmental issues facing the world today.



Ending the lesson


The teacher summarises the challenges we face today in limiting further damage to the global climate.



Contingency plan


“Tectonic shoot out game”[7]


Resources needed


Archived press cuttings on 2004 tsunami in Thailand

Overhead projector and overheads

PowerPoint equipment and presentation

“Framework” templates for opening phase of lesson

Briefing sheets to provide background information

“Tectonic shoot-out game”


Risk assessment





Homework set


No homework will be set in this lesson as the students will be assigned to a special project

‘A Generation that Cares’ in which, they will be required to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of environmental issues.  This will be gained through further research, with a particular focus on the Internet as a resource.  Students will expose examples of how environmental problems are evidenced through the planning and production of a presentation that will be given to class members.


The presentation should explain:


What are the main environmental issues facing the world?  (List 10 issues)


What is the main cause of each problem?


What changes can we make to address these issues

  • As countries?
  • At a local government level?


List 5 examples of environmental issues in your own:

  • community
  • school.


How can we tackle these issues on a shared/individual basis?





Recommended Reading/Research sources for students:


George Ochoa, Jennifer Hoffman, Tina Tin:  Climate – the force that shapes our world and the future of life on Earth   Rodalle Publishers


Philip Keary and Frederick Vine: Global Tectonics   Blackwell Science


James Lovelock:  The Revenge of Gaia   Penguin Books



Analysis of Classroom experiences


Through my classroom experiences, together with discussions with teaching and support staff, I have gained insight into both situations to avoid and teaching strategies that ensure success.


Situations to avoid


There are many common ways in which teachers unintentionally hinder or prevent learning by creating difficult situations within the classroom.  These are often due to a lack of self-confidence in Trainee or Newly Qualified Teachers who are susceptible to the following errors:


  • Insufficient authority/over-politeness


  • Over-helping/over-organising students


  • Weak rapport – creation of a poor working environment


  • Teacher Asks, Volunteers Answer.



Successful teaching


There are a number of repeatable teaching strategies that teachers can use to facilitate students’ learning including:


Planning and preparation

The skills involved in selecting the aims and objectives for a lesson and how to achieve these.

Lesson presentation

The skills involved in successfully engaging students in the learning experience, particularly in relation to the quality of instruction.


Lesson management

The skills involved in managing and organising the learning activities taking place during the lesson to maintain the students’ attention, interest and involvement.


Classroom climate

The skills involved in establishing and maintaining positive attitudes and motivation by students towards the lesson.



The skills involved in maintaining good order in the classroom and dealing with any misbehaviour if it occurs.


Assessing students’ progress

The skills involved in assessing student progress covering both summative (past attainment) and formative (intended future development).


Review and Evaluation

The skills involved in assessing student progress covering both summative (past attainment) and formative (intended future development).





Successful learning is most likely to occur in an environment where the teacher demonstrates awareness of the variety of abilities within a class and aims to support the least able and challenge the most.  This can be achieved, for examples, by:

  • Offering a range of activities around very clear learning objectives, occasionally offering choices to students
  • Checking that questioning covers both abstract and concrete approaches
  • Involving students in the planning of the work





There are striking differences between the John Cleveland College in Hinckley and the Sir John Cass and Redcoat Foundation in terms of the ethnic backgrounds of the students and their family circumstances.  It is notable, however, that the colleges share a strong commitment to enabling their students to achieve their potential in a challenging and enjoyable environment.


It seems sensible then, that whilst no two Colleges can be the same, teachers, too, will have their own individual teaching styles.  There are, however, common strategies which teachers can follow, which lead to effective learning.


These strategies are set out in the special project at JCC – ‘A Generation that Cares’. – a project that explores the issues of global warming within a geographical framework.


“The tsunami in December 2004 starkly revealed the power of the Earth to kill.  The planet that we live on has merely to shrug to take some fraction of a million people to their death.”[8]


This project also fits neatly into the school’s commitment to encourage students to think laterally by delivering a curriculum that opens the eyes of the community to the world in general.



John Cleveland College ~ School Prospectus


Sir John Cass’s and Redcoat Foundation ~ Prospectus


Ofsted Inspection Report on John Cleveland College ~ January 2006


Ofsted Inspection Report on Sir John Cass’s and Redcoat Foundation ~ February 2005


Jim Scrivener:  Learning Teaching   MacMillan Heinemann 1998


Trevor Wright:   How to be a Brilliant Trainee Teacher   Routledge Group 2008


Marilyn Nathan:  The New Teacher’s Survival Guide   Kogan Page  1995


Roger Dunn:  Dos and Don’ts of Behaviour Management   Continuum Publishing Group 2005


Sue Cowley:  Getting the Buggers to Behave 2   Continuum Publishing Group 2005


George Ochoa, Jennifer Hoffman, Tina Tim   Climate – the force that shapes our world – and the future of life on Earth   Rodale 2005


Frances Drake:  Global Warming – the Science of Climate Change   Arnold 2000


Susan Forrester, Dave Casson:  Environmental Funding Guide   Directory of Social Change   1998


James Lovelock:  The Revenge of Gaia   Penguin Books 2007











[1] In 2007, 195 students entered for A Level with a record pass rate of over 97% of which 38% were A and B grades.  Over 150 students applied to Higher Education.

[2] Roger Dunn  Dos and Don’ts of Behaviour Management  p13

[3]   Support for this project may be available from the local Groundwork Trust – an environmental regeneration charity whose activities include work with schools on educational projects.

[4]  The fastest plate moves at about the same rate as the growth of a human fingernail

[5] Tectonic activity can influence climate change by raising mountains that are high enough to affect the circulation of the wind and rain.  This is why the region of Asian north of the Himalayan Mountains is a desert:  the Himalayas block moisture-laden winds from reaching areas to the north.

[6] The younger generation are too often considered to be the representatives of the future, when it is in fact, they who represent the present.  What young people do today will determine what others will be able to do in the future.

[7]  A multiple answer quiz game in the event that students complete the work planned in the lesson more quickly than anticipated.

[8] James Lovelock:  The Revenge of Gaia  p1