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Exploring Shackleton’s Antarctica

Key Stage 2 teaching resources

The aim of the module is to develop an enquiry on the Polar region of Antarctica focusing on Shackleton’s 1914–17 Endurance Expedition.


Overview and context: The Endurance Expedition

In 1914 Sir Ernest Shackleton set out on another Antarctic expedition – this time to cross the continent. He failed. However he achieved one of the greatest feats of turn of the century polar exploration; he returned with all his 27 men – alive.

Centenary 2014-2017

8 August 2014 marked the start of the centenary of Sir Ernest Shackleton's ‘Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition’ - The Endurance Expedition. On this day 100 hundred years ago, The Endurance set sail from Plymouth. Throughout 2014 to 2017 there will be opportunities to forge links to past and present stages of the extraordinary expedition. The Society will be launching The Enduring Eye exhibition on 20 November 2015 which is kindly supported by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, the Governments of the British Antarctic Territory and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Rolex and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. Several real time expeditions are planned and will provide a meaningful link for learners for then and now comparisons. Go to the Shackleton 100 Website for more information on planned events. For additonal information about Antarctica go the the Discovering Antarctica website.

‘Exploring Shackleton’s Antarctica’

The aim of the module is to develop an enquiry on the Polar region of Antarctica focusing on Shackleton’s 1914–17 Endurance Expedition. This sequence of lesson plans will demonstrate geographical based, hands-on, cross-curricular activities such as role play to nurture pupils’ fascination with and curiosity about this significant remote landscape and extreme environment. 

Proven case studies linked to this topic demonstrate how these lessons engage pupils in the geographical skills of developing knowledge within a context and define the physical and human characteristics and processes of a locality. Pupils will progress with their atlas skills, interpreting a range of sources of geographical information and be provided with opportunities to communicate their findings in a variety of ways. The lesson activities develop geographical and context specific vocabulary and literacy through a series of re-iterative activities that expect pupils to develop and use language in a context-specific way. Moreover, opportunities for cross-curricular subject links will be suggested as a starting point to embed this topic to create a half term or full term’s worth of work. In addition children will be offered opportunities to write at length within this geographical context.

Subject Content Areas

Lesson 1

  • Locational knowledge: Antarctica’s place on the Earth and on a map, position and significance of latitude and
  • Place knowledge: Polar Regions, Antarctica’s size, makeup and surrounding oceans
  • Physical geography: Antarctica as a polar region, seasonal/geographical variations in time, different forms of land and terrain

Lesson 2

  • Place knowledge: Of Antarctic ice types and fauna
  • Geographical skills and fieldwork: Longitude and latitude and visual understanding of Polar landscapes via photographic analysis
  • Physical geography: Visual identification of features of  Antarctic geomorphology

Lesson 3

  • Physical geography: hot and cold climate zones and the influence of the earth’s orbit on climate zones
  • Geographical skills and fieldwork: Using different secondary data sources for geographical investigation
  • Place knowledge: Antarctica and its specific physical geography

Lesson 4

  • Physical geography: Antarctica’s mountainous terrain, oceans and their effects and influences upon the expedition
  • Geographical skills and fieldwork: Mapping, graphing and data presentation, four and six figure grid references
  • Locational knowledge: Understanding of route taking by the Endurance Expedition

Lesson 5

  • Geographical skills and fieldwork: Mapping skills combined with grid references
  • Physical geography: Interactions between physical geography and everyday life, physical features of Earth’s orbit and its effects upon the weather and expedition

Lesson 6

  • Human geography: Trade links, settlements and distribution of natural resources
  • Place knowledge: London, Buenos Aires, South Georgia and Elephant Island


About the author

Emma KerrEmma Kerr is the Headteacher at Egloskerry Primary School in Cornwall and author and editor of the Shackleton in Schools website. Her interest in Antarctica stems from her great grandfather who was the second engineer on Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition and First Engineer on Shackleton’s final voyage – ‘The Quest’. She is also a member of the Geographical Association Early Years and Primary Committee.

This resource has been developed as part of the Rediscovering London's Geography project, funded by the GLA through the London Schools Excellence Fund. It seeks to improve the quality of teaching and learning of geography in London’s schools, in addition to encouraging more pupils to study geography.

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