Time To Plan Those First Lessons Again …..

As the summer break comes to an end, teachers all over the country will be thinking about their first lessons with their new classes. Here are my plans for my key stage three groups.

For the new year seven students, I want to create a high-impact memorable first experience , and avoid an opening lesson of ‘teacher talk’, covering classroom rules and protocols – there will be plenty of time for this as the term progresses. Apart from trying to hook them into their forthcoming geography experiences, I also want to introduce them to working with I Pads, and also gauge their writing ability at this early stage.

I call the lesson ‘Amazing Places’, and as the students enter my room for the first time, a short film is running on a loop backed by David Attenborough reading the lyrics from Louis Armstrong’s famous ‘Wonderful World’ song. They choose their own seats for this first lesson (a seating plan comes later), and on each desk will be a cardboard box and an I Pad. The boxes contained a ‘landscape in a box’ made as a final homework assignment by last year’s year seven students. The new students will be told not to touch the boxes yet – immediately raising their level of expectation while the lesson continues.


Landscapes In A Box Instructions

I want them thinking about geography straight away, so I will get them to log onto Padlet (www.padlet.com) and post their suggestions for ‘amazing places’. By using Apple TV, these entries can be updated in ‘real time’ and shared with the whole class.

I will then invite the students to watch a Keynote presentation containing a dozen images of amazing places from around the world. While the images play on the screen, the students will use Padlet again to jot down any adjectives (describing words) that came into their minds. At the end of the presentation, we can share these as a class on the screen using Apple TV.

Following this, I ask them to share ideas with a neighbour before writing an answer on Padlet  to my question “What makes an amazing place?” Previous groups have come up with answers such as: “Awe inspiring”, and “Magical, interesting and beautiful” but my favourite was: “Too cool to believe!”

The lid of the box was a giant flag of India - aclue to what lied within

The lid of the box was a giant flag of India – a clue to what lied within

We then come to the much anticipated time to ‘open the box’. I explain that they are about to see some models of amazing places made by last year’s students, and there are usually various noises of pleasure as they open their own personal package. After giving the students a few moments to explore their models, I ask them to use the ‘Skitch’ app to take a picture of their model amazing place and add their own annotations. Our year seven groups are mixed-ability, and some of the more able students may be ready to use one of the note taking apps on the I Pad to write more detailed descriptions of their amazing place model. The very best writers can be challenged  to boil down their descriptions into a 140 character ‘tweet’.

I plan to round off the lesson by sharing a few descriptions, and explaining that they will have an opportunity to build their own models as part of their forthcoming  first homework task.

untitledIn the second lesson with this class, I want to use the model they studied as a stimulus for some creative writing. After revisiting the photo they took and the description written in the first lesson I am going to use the ‘Rory’s Story Cubes’ app to encourage the students to create their own stories based on  the landscape models they studied. I will frame the story as a ’100 Word Challenge’, and eventually get the students to use their finished best work to begin a portfolio using ‘Book Creator’ app, which will be built up over the year. I might also experiment with turning some of the stories into sound files – especially for those who might find a written task difficult.

There is more information on ‘Landscapes in a Box’ and ‘Story Cubes’ elsewhere in this blog.

For my year eight and nine classes, my first lessons will focus on the world map and a stated intention to develop some good, old-fashioned place knowledge in our lessons throughout the year. As a stimulus, I will use the following recent news article that reported how people who returned from their holidays this year were unable to identify the country they visited on a world map.


After showing the class the headline, I will ask them to use Padlet to share with the class their last holiday location. To avoid any embarrassment, students will be told they can name their ‘dream holiday’ destination if they prefer. Using Apple TV, we can share the class results along with some appropriate focus questions, such as ‘Why did you choose this location?’ ‘What was the best thing about the holiday?’ and so on.

I will then ask the students to draw their own outline world map. I stress to them that this does not need to be perfect, but will act as a ‘pre-test’ at the start of the year. After drawing their map, students will be asked to annotate it with detail that they think is important. The open-ended nature of this part of the task brings a wide variety of responses that will display the full range of geographical literacies amongst members of the class, and give us plenty to discuss when the task is completed. I might try using a drawing app on the I Pad for this job, but will more likely opt for a paper copy that will be much easier to return to in future lessons.

The rest of the lesson will make use of a blank world map on the I Pad, with students using Apple TV to taking control of the main screen to identify selected countries in the news, the continents, oceans and so on. I will try to leave time for students to explore the seterraexcellent seterra.net site  and apps such as ‘Georific’ and ‘Locateit’ to test their own place knowledge. I will also try to find time to use hand-held globes (or possibly the ‘Globe’ app) to relate the flat map to the real shape of our planet – although this may have to wait until the next lesson.

To round off this exercise, I will discuss with the students why a mental map of the world is important, and ways that their mental maps can be improved. It is always interesting to return to their first effort later in the year to see much they have (hopefully) improved.


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, Maps, School, Teachers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Time To Plan Those First Lessons Again …..

  1. Thanks – good to see that Landscape in a Box is getting another run out 🙂
    Best wishes for the new term

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