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Starting to Plan Primary Geography

This section provides advice and support about planning your geography curriculum

This section of ‘Developing Primary Geography’ is aimed at individual class teachers as well as subject leaders and provides advice and support about planning your geography curriculum. Here you can find out more about the statutory requirements of the subject, different approaches to planning and see suggestions about what you might teach in each year group. There are supporting planning examples and templates to download.

Key Stage 1 and 2 Guidance

We’re following the National Curriculum. What do I have to teach?

All local authority maintained schools should teach the Programmes of Study (POS) for geography unless you have good reason not to.  These POS and attainment targets are statutory and you should follow them. However, how much time you spend on each aspect is up to you. You may choose to cover one aspect in depth and other aspects in less depth. You can also decide how and when, within a Key Stage, you teach them. 

Geography skills are inherent in all geography content and so should be practised regularly. The subject benefits from an enquiry-led approach that starts with questions and deepens knowledge and understanding through the gathering and evaluation of a range of data. Fieldwork is a statutory component of geography across each Key Stage.

The geography POS comprise the core curriculum and you can add what you like to personalise learning for your pupils. For example, if you already have a successful, locality-study of a place in a country in Africa in Key Stage 2, there is nothing to stop you continuing to teach this, provided you also cover the aspects required in the POS.

We're not following the National Curriculum? What should we teach?

Although it is up to you, most schools who do not have to follow the National Curriculum still use it for guidance. This ensures some consistency of progression when pupils move schools and/ or move up into different Key Stages. The National Curriculum feeds into assessments and later qualifications that schools may need to take into account.

What should I teach in each year group?

The National Curriculum for Geography states what should be covered by the end of a Key Stage but does not specify which of this content should be taught in each year group. This is for you to decide. However, it is sensible to consider progression when looking at the prescribed content. For example, in Key Stage 1, it is often advisable to teach children about their local area in depth before studying the local area of a non – European area. A well-structured unit of work that uses concrete experience through fieldwork can better enable children to develop learning about distant places that requires more abstract thought.  Similarly, in Key Stage 2 you may consider it prudent to teach children about climate zones and biomes before learning about trade and why, for example, some foods are grown where they are. But teachers and schools have the discretion to decide how to sequence learning within a key stage.

The ‘Planning with the National Curriculum Overview’ document provided, shows the key aspects of the primary National Curriculum for Geography with space for you to make notes about what you are already doing for each year group.  This will help you identify what you already do and to identify where the gaps are. Whether planning a new geography curriculum or tweaking an existing one, it can be helpful to start with the places and countries that you want to study first and then look for sensible links within the geography curriculum to make year group planning coherent. 

For example, you might be learning about life in a village and city in Kenya as your Non-European study in Year 2 and could use this to illustrate discussions about living on or near the Equator, a term that children need to learn about in KS1. Or you might choose to do a unit of work on Australia and link this to work on hot and cold places. You might be looking at the Amazon region in South America in Year 5 and link this to rivers and resource distribution. There is an example of a planning overview with suggested content. The document ‘Planning with the National Curriculum Content Suggestions’ has some ideas as to how you might start to organise content across each key stage.

It is helpful to have a whole school conversation about what else is taught in each year group so that any sensible links can be made without forcing connections between subjects. Whole school guidance is a something for senior management and / or the geography subject leader to lead on. (See section four on Leading Geography for more information). Very often, geography can be the driver for learning in other subject areas as it provides a wonderful context for learning about the real world.

Should I teach geography as a topic or as a stand-alone subject?

Geography provides opportunities to develop meaningful and creative opportunities in mathematics and English. Geography straddles science and history and can both enhance, and be enhanced by, both of these as well as other foundation subjects. Some examples of opportunities for cross-curricular links can be found on the RGS-IBG and Geographical Association websites.

Ofsted have noted that geography is often not particularly well-taught in all primary schools and advise that it is taught as a stand - alone subject. Geography does lend itself well to topic work but it should retain aspects of core knowledge that need to be covered as well as vital geographical skills. 

An example of rigorous geography might be a locality study where pupils undertake enquiry-led fieldwork using a range of skills and present findings using maps and other media such as graphs and reports. They also evidence learning some core geographical knowledge.  Here, there are clear links to English and mathematics to be made but the core essence of geography is also evident through the mapping and fieldwork activities as well as the knowledge gained. 
An example of geography that is not so rigorous might be a trip to a zoo where pupils have just mapped the route beforehand and called it fieldwork, even though there was no specific data gathering, sense of place or mapping elements involved. Another example of weak geography might be a study of a rainforest which is beautifully described and presented but which has no sense of location. 

Geography might be thought of as having three modes of engagement such as detailed below. Ideally all three modes can work together in a complimentary way.





Stand alonelessons

Geography has rigour and focus.

Can lack the deeper understanding that a wider subject context might give.

Make sensible links between subjects where possible rather than mix.

Topic work

Can deepen understanding and provide relevant context.

Can produce weak geography if not carefully planned. Children may not realise they have ‘done’ geography.

Use geography as the driver for real world learning in topic work. Ensure rigour. Use the ‘geography’ word and make learning explicit.

*Incidental geography

Flags up the geography all around us in our everyday lives and learning

Can trivialise geography if not supported by other modes.

Keep a globe to hand and use opportunities to flag up the ‘geography’ word where appropriate. Use this to keep geography ‘alive’ if teaching is taught in blocks.

How often should I teach geography?

Ideally, you should have at least one geography lesson per week but there is no requirement to do this. Most schools like to block teaching and may have a block of geography one term and then a block of history. If this happens, it is advisable to either introduce some rigorous geography as appropriate in other topic areas and / or use *incidental geography to keep the geography ‘alive’. Collaborations with the English or mathematics subject leaders can often bring about some extra geography by highlighting opportunities for giving writing or mathematics a real context.

The very best school practice has regular, rigorous geography that often includes some kind of fieldwork every term; whether a sustained enquiry or just a short visit to the school grounds. 

Sometimes, a sustained block of teaching geography in topic mode, such as over the course of one or two weeks in a term, can enable real depth and enquiry. It can also more easily focus class displays on the evolving enquiry and allow children to immerse themselves in geographical thinking.

What about fieldwork?

Fieldwork is statutory and should be carried out at least every year with each year group. See section three on fieldwork for more information.

Useful Links

The Geographical Association provides a wide range of publications and online resources for primary geography, CPD, the Primary Geography journal, primary membership and other support including the Primary Geography Quality Mark.  For full details click here.

The Ordnance Survey’s Digi Map provides whole school access to the entire OS mapping of the UK.  For further details click here.

The Field Studies Council run a national network of field studies centres and are an invaluable sources of advice, guidance and locations for fieldwork.  For further details click here.

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Planning with the National Curriculum - Content Suggestion


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Planning with the National Curriculum - Content Suggestion (1)


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Planning with the National Curriculum - Overview template


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Planning with the National Curriculum - Overview template (1)


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