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Developing a sense of place

All too often, students go about their school lives without a second thought for their surroundings. These activities encourage them to start thinking about different aspects of their environment; their likes and dislikes, the feelings associated with particular places and ultimately to develop their own set of personal geographies connected with the school grounds. The activities can be used alone, but also act as an excellent foundation for accessibility surveys and a personal safety study as described below.

Thinking about this place: a fieldwork starter activity

Thinking about this place is a great starter to encourage students to think about their surroundings, takes the form of cards which can be distributed amongst the class. Individuals will think through their particular scenario for a few moments before feeding back to the rest of the group.

Personal geographies, emotional mapping

Here are some ideas for mapwork to develop and explore students’ personal perceptions of the school grounds:

  • Annotating or colouring maps of the grounds with pleasant and unpleasant areas

  • Highlighting favourite areas, areas associated with different feelings or activities

  • Matching photos to locations in the grounds: which were easy to find, which not so easy? What does this tell you about the importance attached to particular places? Have the places changed since the photo was taken?

Further ideas can be found in "Emoting with Maps", an article written by Diane Swift for the Winter 2004 edition of Mapping News.

Field sketching

Sketching is a key skill in geography fieldwork, but one which many students find difficult. To help them to develop their sketching skills, try using overlays of tracing paper or acetate. These can be used to trace and label the key features of a photo, to complete a half drawn sketch, or to alter a photo or sketch to show how the area could be improved or perhaps what the place might look like in 50, 100 or 500 years time.

An accessibility survey

David Caton, writing in the GA’s Secondary Geography Handbook, describes an activity in which students devise a trail around a place for users with special needs. The students decide what type of visitor they are planning for, and travel around the site considering the potential needs of the visitor: are there any particular hazards, or places that the visitor might find difficult? What places might be of interest to them? The students then draw an annotated trail map to highlight these features. In Caton’s case study, the resulting trail map for elderly visitors to Bridgnorth is available from the local Tourist Information Centre – an excellent example of fieldwork resulting in local action.

This activity may be easily adapted to the school grounds, addressing accessibility issues for students with particular needs. To empathise more fully with the needs of others, students could take it in turns to lead each other on a blindfold walk around the site, they will be amazed how heightened their other senses become, or to borrow the medical centre’s wheelchair to gauge accessibility. This resource enables students to rate wheelchair accessibility around the school site.

A personal safety study

Students can draw on their own and other’s feelings about different areas of the school grounds (from thinking about place above) to complete a study of personal safety; where do individuals feel safe in the grounds? What can be done to alter intimidating areas? In the activities provided, students evaluate different areas of the grounds and, using empathy skills, think about what they might mean for different types of people. They also conduct a questionnaire survey amongst other pupils and staff to gauge individuals’ perceptions of the grounds and how they might be improved. The information collected by the students can subsequently be used to create maps of safe and unsafe areas of the grounds or to take action to improve problem areas by submitting proposals to the Senior Management Team or governors. Alternatively, students could use their research findings to draw up risk assessments for students or visitors using the grounds – familiarising and involving them in a process that is key to geography fieldwork wherever it takes place.

  • What is your opinion resource 

  • What people think resource

  • Risk assessment template 

Designing a sustainable garden

This is a longer project than some of the others listed above, but can be adapted and separated into separate activities where appropriate. The aim of the exercise is for students to design a sustainable garden for the school grounds.

Survey the school grounds and select a suitable site for the garden

Students walk around the school grounds and evaluate different sites (of their own choice or a predetermined selection) in terms of their suitability for the garden. The appropriate size for the garden should be decided on beforehand (for example 15m x 30m), so that students can then measure the site as well as ensuring that it meets a range of criteria.

  • Site survey resource

  • Sample site map

Research possible features for the garden

Our list of websites  encourages students to research, for example, organic plants, water-saving devices and sustainable seating to incorporate into their garden.

Research priority wildlife species and their habitat requirements

The UK has a Biodiversity Action Plan which targets rare and unique species. Students can be encouraged to research priority species for their area and find out how they can be encouraged into the garden. The research cards relate to priority species in London (listed on the London Biodiversity Partnership website). Information on other areas can be found on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan website. In this case, the students were also taken on a visit to the London Wetlands Centre to gather ideas for their project. The Centre has its own sustainable garden area, including insect habitat, compost heap and drought-resistant planting – all with annotation to explain their importance.

Produce an annotated plan of the garden

Students use their research findings and site details to draw an annotated plan of their sustainable garden. For differentiation purposes, students can either draw their site and features to scale, or be provided with a template.

  • Student work example 1

  • Student work example 2 

A microclimate investigation with a difference

Microclimate studies provide an excellent insight into the influence of factors such as shelter, aspect and ground cover on our local climate but they are often not that exciting. Adding a particular focus to the study and enabling students to make decisions as a result of their findings can make the investigation more engaging and relevant. Below are three ideas for adapting your microclimate study.

Renewable energy

Completing a microclimate investigation might identify areas of the school grounds that are particular sun traps or wind tunnels, and therefore would be suitable sites for solar panels or wind turbines. A simple way to test the strength of the sun is for students to leave cups of water in different locations for the duration of the lesson, and record the temperature change.

Choosing the site for a new…

It is simple to base a decision making exercise around a microclimate study in the school grounds. Ask the students to identify the best location for a new seating area, an outdoor swimming pool or weather station. They will have to think carefully about the criteria for each before they go out. The Royal Meteorological Society website provides information on where to site a Stevenson Screen.  

Solar kitchen

Your microclimate investigation could link to a wider project to build and use a solar oven in the school grounds. Popular with Science departments, such a project involves students choosing the materials and design for their oven to ensure that it receives maximum solar radiation. They also select the best site for locating the oven, and then test their oven to see whether it is capable of cooking an egg or causing bread dough to rise. Solar ovens are provided by several charities to families in LEDCs as cheap, safe and hygienic alternatives to cooking on an open fire, and as a result, this activity also links well to Development aspects of the curriculum. To get more of an idea of what building a solar oven involves, see instructions for building a solar oven (or ask your science department!). For more details on the implications of solar cooking for LEDCs, read the Solar Cooking Wiki Archive. Trevor Gale has written an article entitled “Solar Cooking Project” in the Summer 2005 edition of Teaching Geography. You can also find out more about cooking with solar power.

Mapping mobile phone reception

This activity is easily adaptable to your school grounds or local area.

Fieldwork example

Dick Bateman, a Geography AST from Bristol, here describes a fieldwork activity he has developed for Key Stage 3 students to survey and evaluate the environment of the school grounds.

Fieldwork example

Uffculme school in Devon has set up an electronic weather station in their grounds which feeds data to the school website, allowing pupils and the general public to access live (and some historical) weather data. Find out more about the project in the weather station article. 


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Quick and Easy Ideas Thinking About this Place


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Quick and Easy Ideas Thinking About this Place (1)


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Quick and Easy Ideas Emoting with Maps


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Quick and Easy Ideas Wheelchair Accessibility Assessment


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Quick and Easy Ideas Wheelchair Accessibility Assessment (1)


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Quick and Easy Ideas What is your Opinion?


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Quick and Easy Ideas What is your Opinion? (1)


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Quick and Easy Ideas What People Think


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Quick and Easy Ideas What People Think (1)


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Quick and Easy Ideas Risk Assessment Template


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Quick and Easy Ideas Risk Assessment Template (1)


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Quick and Easy Ideas Site Survey Resource


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Quick and Easy Ideas Site Survey Resource


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Quick and Easy Ideas Sample Site Map


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Quick and Easy Ideas Sustainable Garden Websites (1)


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Quick and Easy Ideas Sustainable Garden Websites


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Quick and Easy Ideas Biodiversity Research Cards (1)


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Quick and Easy Ideas Biodiversity Research Cards


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Quick and Easy Ideas Student's Work Example 1


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Quick and Easy Ideas Student's Work Example 2


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Quick and Easy Ideas Completing a Microclimate Investigation


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Quick and Easy Ideas Completing a Microclimate Investigation (1)


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Quick and Easy Ideas Mapping Mobile Phone Reception


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Quick and Easy Ideas Mapping Mobile Phone Reception (1)


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Quick and Easy Ideas Survey and Evaluate the Environment


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Quick and Easy Ideas Weather Station Article


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