A New Twist On Landscapes In a Box

Back in 2010, Alan Parkinson wrote an article in ‘Teaching Geography’ about this fantastic teaching idea – landscape in a box.

The activity involves students constructing their own representation of a landscape inside a food take-away carton, a shoe box, or something similar. The selected landscape may be a real one they have visited on holiday, one they would like to visit if they had the chance, or a landscape produced from the imagination.  The inside of the lid of the container serves as the background, and the base is used as a foreground. All sorts of materials can be used to show the different aspects of the landscape, from pipe cleaners to clay, tissue, sand and balsa wood. 3D objects and figures can be created and used to bring the landscape alive. The models seem to work best if a lid is closed to keep the secret, and a map or photograph can be added as a clue.

I have used ‘landscape in a box’  with moderate success ever since first reading Alan’s article, and some of my students’ efforts are shown here. However, I was recently inspired to revisit the activity once more after  watching Noel Jenkins’ inspirational film on the ‘Vimeo’ website: http://vimeo.com/37202192  

I cannot recommend this film too highly – fantastic work! More from Noel at: bit.ly/9ID8H8

The quality of the handiwork – plus the tremendously vivid descriptions narrated by the pupils themselves made me sit down and think how I could further develop the idea at my own school.

So, I am currently putting together a plan to work with year seven students in the summer term to construct some ‘landscapes in a box’, and then take them into our feeder primary schools and use them as a stimulus for some creative writing.

To assist this process, I have added a couple of twists of my own.

After the initial excitement of revealing the secrets in the boxes, I am going to encourage our students to work with the year six students on a creative writing project, using the landscapes as a stimulus. To support this, I am going to use ‘Rory’s Story Cubes’ – another brilliant idea put my way by Alan Parkinson. Story Cubes consists of 9 dice, illustrated with a different image on each face. They can be used in a number of ways  to stimulate a child’s imagination and encourage them to form their own stories based on the landscape models in front of them. Ideas on how to use Story Cubes can be found at  the following web link, and they can also be purchased from here. Please note that the ‘Voyages’ set has rather more geographical pictures:  www.storycubes.com

If you feel like digging a bit deeper with this idea, you can actually design and make your own story cubes. This might make a nice extension exercise for more able students. It is possible to sign up for a free account at http://www.bookleteer.com and  upload pictures or PDFs to print your own cubes.

After reading an article in ‘Creative Teaching & Learning’ (Vol 2.4) by photographer Jane Hewitt, I decided to try to help the landscapes ‘come to life’ by using models of ‘micro-people.’ I have purchased a number of HO or 00 scale models from a company called Preiser.  These are available from their own web site, and are also sold on Amazon. They cost around £7.40 for a set of six, but students may have their own at home, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they could not be picked up from EBay at bargain basement price. I particularly like the sets titled ‘mountain climbers’ and ‘hikers’ to add to the students’ landscapes.

Similar products are also available on most model railway sites that show up from a Google search. The models help the teacher scaffold the story writing process, by getting the students to give the models names, occupations, and creating their own personal histories.

Using the models sent me off on a slight tangent (isn’t that always the case when you are trying to come up with new ideas?), and led me to explore the work of Slinkachu – a modern street artist based in London – who creates tiny scenes and then abandons them for people to find. A couple of these images are shown here.

Web Links:



I also stumbled across a publication called ‘Microworlds’ by M Dessanay and M Valli, and a search of Google images will give you some inspiration of how micro-landscapes can be created.

I discovered another possible writing aid at: www.100WC.net  This is the ‘100 Word Challenge’ project that persuades students to write short stories following a stimulus – like a landscape in a box.

If everything goes according to plan, the finished stories could be blogged and shared with students from different schools for some peer Assessments. I also like the idea of turning some of the stories into sound files – especially for those who might find a written task difficult.

At the back of my mind in this planning is OFSTED’s current drive to improve literacy across the curriculum. It is still early days, and I usually change or modify new ideas once I have tried them out with students. Perhaps you have some creative ideas of your own that might lend themselves to this work. I would be really keen to hear from you – leave a comment on this site!

About devongeography

Head of Geography and Assistant Vice Principal at South Molton Community College, North Devon. Exeter Chiefs supporter!
This entry was posted in General Geo, Human World, Physical World, Teachers and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.