A while ago, I blogged about an outline for a lesson building on Alan Parkinson’s original ‘landscape in a box’ idea (see March archive). I made a few adjustments and added some new ideas before using this for my first lesson with the new intake students this year. The feedback from them was really encouraging, so I have decided to share the lesson on this platform.
I wanted to create a high-impact memorable first experience for the new students, and avoid an opening lesson of ‘teacher talk’, covering classroom rules and protocols – there will be plenty of time for that as the term progresses. I called the lesson ‘Amazing Places’, and as the students entered my room for the first time, they were greeted by a short film with David Attenborough reading the lyrics from Louis Armstrong’s famous ‘Wonderful World’ song:
They chose their own seats, and on each desk was a cardboard box and a mini whiteboard and pen. The boxes contained a ‘landscape in a box’ made for a final homework assignment by last year’s year seven students.
The new students were told not to touch the boxes yet – and that raised their level of expectation while the lesson continued. I wanted them thinking about geography straight away, so I prepared them to watch a Powerpoint containing a dozen images of amazing places from around the world. While the images played on the screen, the students were asked to jot down on their whiteboards any adjectives (describing words) that came into their minds. At the end of the presentation, we shared these as a class, using my lottery picker tombola and the numbered desks rather than asking for students to put up their hands.
Following this, I asked them to share ideas with a neighbour before writing an answer on the whiteboards to my question “What makes an amazing place?” They came up with some answers such as: “Awe inspiring”, and “Magical, interesting and beautiful” but my favourite was: “Too cool to believe!” We then shared a few other examples of amazing places before coming to the much anticipated time to ‘open the box’. I explained that they were about to see some models of amazing places made by last year’s students, and there were various noises of pleasure as they opened their own personal package.
After giving the students a few moments to explore their models, I asked them to write a description of their landscape. A couple struggled with this, so I got them just to draw up a list of appropriate words, while the students who were obviously good writers were asked to boil down their (lengthy) descriptions into a 140 character ‘tweet’.
Some of the students became distracted by one model (of Niagara Falls) which actually had a working pump circulating water in a large sealed box, and so I had to bring it to the front for them all to see. After sharing a few descriptions, we soon ran out of time and as I rounded off the lesson, it was clear the students wanted more – so we promised to revisit the landscapes the next time we met.
They were well and truly hooked! With them on my side from day one, I could now look forward to some deep geographical learning over the coming year.
When we met for the next lesson, a few students told me they had already started to make their own models, so I hastily replanned my homework diary. Together we negotiated a first homework task which involved a choice of: a landscape in a box model, a Powerpoint or film of selected ‘Amazing Places’ images, or even just a single photo of an amazing place. The support sheet for the landscape models is can be downloaded below:
When the homework task was completed, we shared the results in class and attempted some creative story writing based on an amazing place that grabbed attention. To do this, we used ‘Rory’s Story Cubes’ (see March article for full explanation) to give it some structure. This is a great tool to support writing in class, and can be used in a variety of ways to challenge students of differing abilities. I will post some of the results at a later date.
If you read the original article, you will see how this planned activity has evolved over time. It was originally planned for use with year six students on their visit days, but I am happy to keep it where it is and repeat the task next year when another group of eager students arrive waiting to take the geography bait!