Skittles and weathering

Thought I would try and develop my year 9 class this week by getting them to develop their own experiment. We are currently just starting to look at weathering and erosion, so at the beginning of the second lesson, I showed them a very old youtube clip which reminded them of the types of weathering and what they do.

They were then provided with a handful of skittles, a cup of water, kitchen roll and a experiment sheet.

The idea was they had to design an experiment using these materials to demonstrate a type of weathering. With the materials provided, the obvious choice was a little hydration but the range of ideas was brilliant!

They had to identify what they were going to do, predict the outcome and what role the skittles played in the process. We had people trying to heat up the skittles with lights, breaking them apart or crushing them and then adding little roots, doused in water, dunked in the cup, loads of different things.

The best thing was the range of understanding they were showing by undertaking the experiment and an exam question the following lesson showed that the wide range had led to a lovely level of detail in their answers.

All in all, jolly good fun!



Engaging exam classes through questions

Exam pupils are not always keen to attempt a million and one exam questions. In reaction to this, I thought I would give them the opportunity to do exam questions under their own steam but also using their own understanding and creative skills.

I set up a series of lucky dip boxes using the cards on the attached slideshow, and pupils select one card from each box. They then have a command word, a key term, a resource and a mark allocation. From here they have to create a question using all these elements for someone else in the class.

The focus of this is to further pupil understanding of command words and mark schemes. The aim is to encourage pupils to know exactly what each question is asking them to do and is used in conjunction with attendance at an AQA webinar for Geog 1.

The feedback so far is that pupils feel more comfortable with all the command words and feel confident about how to utilise unseen resources to the best of their ability.

The link for the lesson as I used it is here…


Deforestation through strategy games

Whilst looking at Ecosystems with year 8, I have tried to emphasise the impact that humans can have on these fragile environments. With our focus on the Amazon and having looked at the structure, foodwebs, life in the rainforest and now how humans interact with the ecosystem, it was clear that many of my pupils saw human involvement as a very black and white issue, cutting trees down was always bad, there was no possible way that deforestation could yield any positives.

As such, I devised a strategy game to allow pupils to see the complexities of resource management through role play, empathy and a game format. Each set of tables was provided with a role ( loggers, government etc). These were differentiated and pupils allowed some time to soak in what the aims of their role were and to read the game rules I had provided for them.

I drew a large chalk grid in one of our courtyards, acquired many many cones from PE and walked the pupils through the game itself. As with any game, there would be winners, although it was more difficult for some groups to achieve their aims than others ( a clear nod to real life challenges). After a few goes each, the pupils fully realised what to do and how to go about it, which was a lovely organic process.

Although the game itself is quite complex, it was a very interesting task as it allowed very strong pupils to lead and explain concepts, which they do not always have chance to do.

The lesson is here

Feel free to use and/or abuse it as you wish!




Making a life expectancy tube map

With year 9, we are looking at London and how the city changes spatially. With this in mind and thinking about doing something the class could all get involved in, I designed a playdoh/wool/researching/group work hybrid.

The task was simple- create a Bakerloo tube map ( as it is the one the pupils use the most) that also detailed how life expectancy changes across London.

Each group within the class was given a differentiated task, be it creating the actual line, identifying and locating the stops, researching the expectancies, developing the scale or building the playdoh located bars to show the expectancies.

It took all lessons, lots of researching, checking of stats, building and lots of teamwork but we did it and it looked pretty splendid at the end.

With a 12 minutes discussion to use the descriptive structures we are using (HALT’M), we had established a clear working knowledge of how life expectancy shifts across the city.



Homemade Northern Lights on the ceiling

Having visited Iceland in October, I was determined to get my experiences into lessons whenever I could. With year 8 looking at the Arctic, an opportunity arose. I had seen the Northern Lights and was so blown away spent a while figuring out to replicate them in my room. The task was going to be that the pupils learnt about the formation, history and meanings behind the lights and then, if selected, audition for the role of Northern Lights tour guide.

To make the actual lights, I went back in time, found an old OHP, some coloured acetate and some boardmarkers. I coloured in cut up pieces of the acetate, placed them onto the OHP surface, made sure the ‘lid’ of the OHP was down and projected onto the ceiling was a menagerie of lights in the appropriate reds, greens, blues and violets. This is in a completely darkened room, blinds down, only the light of the OHP for sight.By gently moving the pieces around as the pupils auditioned, they could react to the lights changes and alter their speeches accordingly. The best efforts rolled with the colour changes and discussed what each meant and how each was created.


The whole thing was really good fun, the pupils got very excited at the set up and were an excellent tour guide audience, asking questions if they wanted to know more from the guides.

I would definitely do it again and after a blind vote, the most worthy pupils was employed as our tour guide, winning a compass in the process, so he always knew which way to turn.



Silent debates and essays.

IMAG0299[1]Carrying on from a range of literacy strategies to coincide with World Book Week, I decided to work on essays and formulating opinions with year 8 and 13. Having seen silent debates on various sites, including Mrs Humanities and GeoNewbs, I thought giving them a go could be great fun!

My pupils are not the best at opinions, they can be very opinionated verbally but often struggle to transfer these opinions into extended writing, relying on the opinions of others or utilising textbook material if at home. This is especially crucial with year 13 as they have a 40 mark essay in their A2 exam.

I placed a series of inflammatory/controversial/thought-provoking statements with a topic thread around the room and explained that a silent debate wanted to see their arguments on paper, as heated and as opinionated as possible. For year 13 this meant looking at a range of options ( encouraging synopticity) and for year 8 developing the use of appropriate support material.

The pupils really enjoyed the way of going about things, especially being able to argue at length with their peers! Year 8 then structured a piece of extended writing on Antarctic uses, looking at form, expansion and supporting their opinions with evidence.

Year 13 then used the arguments to create a 40 mark essay with a focus on a range of case studies and expansion of key ideas that enabled a clear conclusion. To extend further, I gave the arguments back at the start of the next lesson without the original statements to encourage the year 13s to see how they need to link their ideas back to the original question.

It was all jolly good fun and there has seemingly been a definitive surge in expansion quality of both years’ essay.


The stories of favelas through building.

IMAG0296[1]The study of slums and their environments is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting and important things pupils in the UK can learn about. The standards of living, how people interact, how these communities come to be, how they function and survive are all areas of debate. I have based my year 9 topic on the challenges of urban living in the new AQA GCSE around favelas. Here is how I have included more practical aspects of favelas into my planning.

1.After looking at why urban areas grow, the focus shifts to Rio De Janeiro and each member of the class’ arrival in the city. They will need to make money so apply and are given informal sector style jobs in the classroom ( making gingerbread people/colouring in images/ cutting up pieces of paper) where they can make money ( this is fake Kermit money)

2.Next lesson, the pupils look at the characteristics of favela homes ( subverting some expectations along the way) and then, using their money they earn, buy and scavenge materials to make a cardboard favela home to house themselves in the form of a lego character. Once built, the house gets placed where each pupil likes in the favela- leading onto discussion about type of land in favelas and city composition.

3. Each lesson we learn about a different aspect of the city( sanitation/education/economic development) and one pupil per lesson builds/creates something for our favela, be it a factory, some electricity cables, sewers or the like. This represents the evolution of favelas.

4. We have just passed the point of looking at how Rio’s favelas have changed and how sporting events such as the Football World Cup or Olympics have impacted the informal settlements of the city. I gave all the pupils the option of taking the compensation offered by the government or staying in the favelas. If they stayed, their house would be left, if they took the compensation, they were a offered a number of skittles dependent on the size and quality of their homes and the home stamped on by me in a very public demolition.

5. Unbeknownst to the ‘favela dwellers’ a clearance order was signed by the Rio government (me) for their favela to be demolished over the half term. This will hopefully be met with outrage by the pupils and some debate about why this is (un)fair. This is to represent what has actually been happening in the favelas.

I hope I can extend this building concept further over the coming weeks as we look at how the government has tried to improve favelas beyond the demolition of the environment.



Paperless CSI

I am trying to get more of the lessons I teach into a paperless format, for three reasons really.

  1. a sense that the excess use of paper in schools is something a Geography teacher should be worried about.
  2. we have tablets in the department, why not use them.
  3. although the initial work is larger, it means less time photocopying and the like for me.

I wanted to develop a new skill as well and making a website was something that I have done before but all my efforts were pretty weak! I developed a site using weebly for my cold environments crime scene investigation lesson. The site contained all the information from the handouts and sheets that I have previously used in this lesson and I also embedded a feedback form for all the pupils to respond to the information.

As an outline, the lesson’s aim is to identify which animal killed our friend, the penguin or seal dependent on the cold environment chosen. The pupils have to use a series of materials in a team structure to work out where, how, when and why the animal was killed then create a conclusion based on their ideas. I have been doing this lesson for five years now and enjoy it every time. The website now allows a paperless environment and the pupils can utilise the website for linking evidence together rather than just viewing and researching.

Feel free to use the website if you fancy creating something similar!


Famine! The game everyone is talking about.

In my experience, board games are a great way to engage pupils at many age levels, but I particularly enjoy using them at A level. Today we played Famine!, a board game of my own construction that hopefully elucidates a few key features of the topic ( one which can be a little dull and obviously very sad), allows for some high level thinking, ensures a strong case study knowledge and is jolly good fun.

I have included the powerpoint with all the game elements on, the board needs to be enlarged to A3 or even bigger but everything else is ready to go. The aim is to survive, each trip around the board is one year and the most years of surviving ‘wins’. The ‘win’ is the contentious aspect, as there are no real winners, timeframe or ends to the game. This is to hopefully coax out of the pupils that there is no clear end to periodic famine and all the responses and strategies put in place are merely managing it. Little things, like having more negative cards than positive, giving the characters back stories and linking the use of materials to the malnutrition aspect add to the complexity of the simple game.

The data collection sheet acts as the pupils’ case study sheet and enables all pupils to discuss the aspects of  a case study, evaluating evidence and encouraging team work. Today was a really good example with all pupils getting a really good set of information about famine and having a really strong group discussion on the causes of famine as the plenary.


Hope someone will find it a base to make something else from!

Famine the game