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Exploring Shackleton’s Antarctica - Shaping of the World

This lesson looks at Shackleton's Endurance expedition in more detail.

Exploring Shackleton’s Antarctica

Once locality, place and physical processes are established, the next phase for pupils is to understand the key aspects of human geography in this extreme environment. Comparing ‘then and now’, they can explore the ‘shaping of the world’ and access to this remote landscape. Using table top maps in conjunction with timelines, pupils plot and role play the journey of the expedition. Using geographical skills such as keys and classification, the timeline can be brought to life, giving consideration to all elements of the expedition - for example, The Ross Sea Party (the food depot ship which was given the task of laying food depots which Shackleton would have used after he had reached the pole). Through discussion pupils consider the reasons why these routes were chosen, considering the environment of Antarctica. Comparisons are made to modern day expeditions and opportunities are provided for explorer talks in school and/or links to expedition blogs.

Key questions

  • What was the planned journey of the Endurance Expedition?
  • What journey did they actually take to survive?

Subject content areas

  • Physical geography: Antarctica’s mountainous terrain, oceans and their effects and influences upon the expedition
  • Geographical skills: Mapping, graphing and data presentation
  • Locational knowledge: Understanding of route taken by the Endurance expedition



This lesson is designed to recap on Shackleton’s Endurance expedition from lesson two to introduce human geography on Antarctica which leads into lesson five, enabling pupils to see how exploration in Antarctica has ‘shaped the world’. Pupils will learn how the expedition did not follow the planned route due to the ship Endurance becoming stuck in the Weddell Sea’s pack ice.

Task one: Brief overview of the route
Use of maps and research (see resources) will show pupils the intended and actual routes. Pupils then plot and map onto atlases, table top maps or on map of Antarctica provided in downloads.

  • The Shackleton 100 Website provides a simple historical overview (plus centenary celebration links). Go to the Shackleton 100 website
  • The Daily Telegraph map of the route. Go to the Xefer blog

Task two: In-depth overview of the Endurance expedition
Carrying on from task one, pupils should explore the story of The Endurance and use a variety of video and texts on the subject matter. Again, use of table top maps for pupils to plot the route, using keys where appropriate, would develop graphicacy skills at a range of scales.

Resources for this lesson include:


  • The Endurance (cert PG) DVD – Drama Documentary about Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. It uses contemporary footage alongside the real footage of the expedition taken by cameraman Frank Hurley.
  • Shackleton (cert 15 – Requires editing for KS2) DVD – Setting out in 1914, Shackleton (Kenneth Branagh) and his crew set sail for Antarctica, but get into trouble when their ship, the Endurance, becomes stuck in pack ice. Abandoning the doomed vessel, Shackleton then takes the only course of action available, and sets out on foot, determined to lead his ailing crew to safety.


  • Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill: Shackleton's Journey is a unique visual re-telling of Ernest Shackleton's landmark expedition crossing the Antarctic from one pole to the other. William Grill's impeccably researched and informative illustrations celebrate the 100th anniversary since the historic exploration by Shackleton and his crew on Endurance. Children will love exploring Grill's exploded diagrams and the fascinating details of this landmark voyage.
  • Mrs Chippy’s Diary by Caroline Alexander: This is the (fictional) journal of Mrs Chippy, the cat who accompanied the carpenter Harry "Chippy" McNeish on the Shackleton's "Endurance" expedition in 1914.
  • Avoid Joining Shackleton's Polar Expedition! (Danger Zone) by Jen Green: An account of Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition presented in cartoon format. This book charts the events of the Endurance expedition and describes the ways in which Shackleton's polar team dealt with extreme cold, strong icy winds and the lack of food and water. The illustrations and text provide an insight into the conditions experienced by the explorers on this epic journey.


Pupils will continue with their work on mapping and plotting the route of the Endurance expedition. In addition, use of timelines and links to mapping work enables solidarity of learning using lines of latitude learnt. Pupils should also give consideration to all elements of the expedition, for example, The Ross Sea Party (the food depot ship).

Task one: Through discussion consider the reasons why these routes were chosen.

Once this has been established, pupils will role play the journey of the expedition. This provides an opportunity to share with children the ‘Antarctica Day’ planned for lesson six. The table top maps and work carried out during this lesson will also be of use in lesson six. You may also use the PowerPoint of Frank Hurley images from the RGS-IBG archives that depict what life was like on the Endurance expedition.
Task two: In groups of three or four, pupils create a 10 minute piece of drama linked to one stage of the expedition from the following ‘chapters’:

  • Departing Buenos Aires, on the way to South Georgia
  • Final few days on land at South Georgia
  • Departing South Georgia and sailing into the Weddell Sea
  • Stuck Fast! The Endurance becomes beset in pack ice
  • Abandon Ship – The crew set up camp on the pack ice (Ocean Camp)
  • The journey to Elephant Island (in the 3 lifeboats)
  • Elephant Island and ‘The James Caird Boat Journey’
  • Crossing South Georgia
  • Rescue

Extension opportunities:

Pupils should compare Shackleton’s expedition to what they have learnt in previous lessons about modern expeditions and how these expeditions might be different. Resources for modern day expeditions are below:

Shackleton Epic - Centenary re-enactment of James Caird boat journey (2013). Go to the Shackleton Epic website 
Re-enactment (via Shackleton Epic) of the James Caird boat journey voyage. Go to the Discovery UK website

Go to the Coldest Journey (2013) website

Future Expedition Links:

Go to the from Fire to Ice website

Go to the Shackleton 2015 website


Pupils should share and perform drama pieces, in the order of the timeline for the class. If not all group performances are seen they can then be ‘fine-tuned’ to show in an assembly or as part of ‘Antarctica Day’ (lesson six).

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