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Exploring Shackleton’s Antarctica - Fascinating imagery

This lesson develops place knowledge and introduces Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition (1914-16) to pupils.

Exploring Shackleton’s Antarctica

‘Fascinating imagery’ allow children to explore the work of Frank Hurley. Frank Hurley was the expedition photographer tasked with documenting the expedition. Pupils will take on his role and imagine what he would have seen through the camera lens. Pupils will be given opportunities to draw their ideas prior to showing them any photographs of the Antarctic. This is a chance to challenge any common misunderstandings such as ‘polar bears in the Antarctic’ (whereas they actually live in the Arctic). Following this initial activity, original photographs from the expedition will be shared and aerial photographs used to explore the landscape.

Key questions

  • Who found Antarctica and when?
  • Which explorer got to the South Pole first?
  • Why is Sir Ernest Shackleton an important ‘Antarctic’ historical figure?
  • What would the crew of Shackleton’s expedition have seen along their route?

Subject content areas

  • Place knowledge of Antarctica: Fauna, ice types etc.
  • 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



Introduce the ‘Explorer’ element of this unit.

In ‘thinking pairs’, pupils should discuss what they know about Antarctica already and how they know this (e.g. TV, internet, films etc). They could explore the questions such as:

  • How did people know about this continent in the past e.g. 100 years ago?
  • Do the pupils have any sense of when the continent was first discovered, first stepped on, when the South Pole was first reached? 

Teachers should then display the reproduction of Shackleton’s Advert for the Endurance expedition (see downloads). 

To introduce the expedition to pupils, please watch one of the following trailers and collate pupils' thoughts or first impressions. Use pupil answers to make a spider diagram on the whiteboard.

Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition Trailer

Endurance Trailer

Get the children to consider how the explorers would have evidenced their expedition. Share the photo webpage (but do not explore the web page straight away). Go to the Kodak website.

Ask the children what might the explorers have seen along their route? Refer to the fact sheet. Teachers can then elicit misconceptions at this stage e.g. polar bears in the Arctic, and penguins in Antarctica. 


The bulk of the lesson allows pupils to apply their previous learning of latitude and longitude and to link this to their learning about polar explorers. Pupils will use mapping skills to plot and flesh out timelines and combine spatial and temporal knowledge.

Task one is done in teams using 'Race to the Pole’ activities from the ‘Discovering Antarctica’ website. The activity involves getting children to use longitude and latitude to locate the important events that happened along the expedition. Go to the Discovering Antarctica website.

Task two is an independent activity for assessment. Map and plot the route of the Endurance expedition (see downloads for: Route of Expedition, Timeline of Events) using the ‘Daily Telegraph’ map of the route. Go to the Xefer blog.

By using the mapping activity and getting pupils to draw upon above resources, teachers can pose these questions:

1) Which explorer got to the South Pole first?

2) Why is Sir Ernest Shackleton an important ‘Antarctic’ historical figure?

Extension activities are linked to latitude and longitude, plus other excellent lesson ideas:

Go to Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure Teacher’s Pack

Extra activities for students who finish early can be set easily by the teacher by referring to the activities in the Arctic Adventure Teaching Pack. They include learning more about Antarctica (activity two) examining meals that the expedition would have eaten (activity three), plotting your own latitude and longitude (activity six), reading journal articles written by Shackleton and his men (activity four).


To surmise, the children explore the work of Frank Hurley (expedition photographer). Pupils take on his role and imagine what he would see through the camera lens along this journey. Allow pupils time to explore the Kodak web page.

If time remains, teachers can also show children the Flickr ‘Creative Commons’ search ‘Frank Hurley’ (use of images for educational use). Pupils can then carry out a ‘Poster check’ on their working wall to see what questions they can now answer with their new learning. Add notes where necessary, in a different colour, to show progression.

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