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Last updated on 23 September 2019
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Know what topics to teach in your geography curriculum and when to teach them to get the best pupil results. Use our National Curriculum coverage checkers to make sure you've included everything you need.

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This article is for you if:

  • You've identified weaknesses in what you're teaching and when, or
  • You're designing, or redesigning, your geography curriculum from scratch

We can't tell you what your geography curriculum should look like because each school has its individual context. However, we can help you structure your thinking and propose ways to design your curriculum, taking into account your pupils' needs.

This guidance focuses on the National Curriculum, but you'll still find the principles useful if you follow a different curriculum.

Be clear on the National Curriculum objectives you need to meet

At Key Stage (KS) 1, the National Curriculum objectives for geography are fairly explicit about what pupils should know and be able to do, but you'll still need to decide:

  • The specific details of 'what' you teach – e.g. the locations you choose for area studies (see the next section, below)
  • Your sequencing – the order in which you teach content to meet the objectives, and how many times you revisit it so that pupils remember it (see the final section below)

For KS2 you'll also need to decide these things, although you'll need to do more thinking about exactly what you teach and when.

This is because the KS2 National Curriculum objectives are less specific and you've got more flexibility.

Download our geography coverage and sequencing checkers

If you've identified weaknesses in your current curriculum, download and use our KS1 and KS2 geography coverage and sequencing checkers, alongside the advice in the sections below, to:

  • Assess how well you're meeting the National Curriculum objectives
  • Note your priorities for improvement and action points/next steps

If you're designing, or redesigning, your curriculum from scratch, use our checkers and the advice below to:

  • Make sure your proposed curriculum addresses all the objectives in the programmes of study
  • Help you spot any gaps or areas for improvement and note follow-up actions

How to decide on the details of what to teach

Think about these factors when deciding on the specifics of the content you'll teach pupils (e.g. which countries you'll focus on):

Factor to consider For example ...
Links between National Curriculum objectives                               In KS1, combine the objective of ‘using simple fieldwork and observational skills to study the geography of your school’ with your 'small area' study by focusing on your local area
Diversity of pupil experience If you live in a city, you may want to cover rural or coastal environments to broaden pupils' experience
Combined content coverage of KS1 and KS2

You might focus on the different aspects of a single location throughout KS1 and KS2 to provide depth. Alternatively you may choose to increase the breadth of knowledge by covering different locations

If you know that pupils won't be studying a specific region or country in KS2, you may want to cover it in KS1, and vice versa

Pupil backgrounds (e.g. ethnicity) If you're in an inner-city school with many Bangladeshi pupils, it might make sense to study an agricultural region of Bangladesh
Any gaps in the KS3 curriculum If you know that the United States won't be on the KS3 curriculum of the secondary school(s) that most of your pupils usually move on to, you might want to cover it to make sure pupils have sufficient understanding of a range of countries
Cultural diversity You may want to study a location that's culturally different from what pupils are familiar with, to encourage understanding and appreciation of diversity
Links to other subjects You might pick Italy if pupils are studying ancient Rome in history, or pick a location linked to texts studied in English. Make sure there’s sufficient learning potential in your choice of location, and that you're not sacrificing geography content for the sake of a link
Whether your curriculum aligns with your school's vision and values If your school vision emphasises 'exploration', you may choose to spend more class time doing fieldwork

How to sequence your content, and examples

Make sure you build on pupils' existing knowledge. To do this well, look at:

  • Your long-term and medium-term plans in detail (e.g. what is it about 'rivers' specifically that you will teach? Which river and why? What knowledge and understanding do you expect pupils to gain? What skills do you expect pupils to develop?)
  • Curriculum maps and plans from other subjects, to make links where relevant

Refer to already-taught knowledge often

  • Reference and build on knowledge taught in KS1 throughout KS2
  • Plan opportunities to practise 'retrieval'
    • E.g. introduce the 7 continents and 5 oceans in year 1 so that pupils have plenty of time to revisit these before the end of year 2
  • Plan many opportunities to revisit geographical skills and fieldwork 
    • E.g. provide multiple opportunities for pupils to practise using compass points to describe locations on maps
  • Include lessons that orient children to countries that feature in other subjects, e.g. Ancient Rome in history

How to build pupil knowledge

Suggested sequencing approach For example ...
Start with what young children know and have experienced. Move from the familiar to the less familiar

Study UK-focused units in year 1, before widening out to cover more abstract world knowledge in year 2

Work from concrete to more abstract examples Watch time-lapsed video clips of coastal erosion before discussing its causes in class
Acquire greater fluency with ‘world knowledge’ Study a country’s natural resources before moving on to the impact of mining and trade in a later year
Work with increasingly complex and/or abstract ideas and generalisations Study pupils’ own town before generalising what a ‘town’ is and discussing typical features
Investigate people-environment relations Analyse the impact of rivers on human life, and the impact of humans on rivers
Apply geographical thinking to new contexts and situations Understand how people adapt to the Arctic, before applying this knowledge to how people adapt to the desert
Become increasingly more precise in language, ideas and skills Move from statements such as ‘volcanoes erupt’ to using terms such as ‘ash cloud, lava bomb, fissure’
Make distinctions Make sure pupils understand that forests are different from farmland, but also that they understand the distinctions between types of forests
Make sure pupils become more comfortable with 'grey areas' where answers are not so clear-cut Discuss what makes a ‘good’ use of land. What are the pros and cons of living in a town?
Connect information and ideas Make connections from a pupil’s own life with another geographical location
Help pupils build knowledge, so they don't just receive it from the teacher Use sources, undertake fieldwork, collect data
Draw on increasing breadth of content and contexts Consider the historical and human context of the land – tourism, climate, key physical characteristics and changes over time
Make sure pupils understand the importance of perspective and recognise a range of values and views

Help pupils understand how people have different cultural beliefs that explain why they revere certain areas of land, environments or physical features

Make sure the level of challenge in fieldwork and geographical skills gradually increases Start by recognising human and physical features in photographs in year 1, and move to using aerial photographs and recognising them on a plan-view map by the end of year 2
Make time for revision of prior learning Check that pupils can still identify the human and physical features they learned in year 1 in a local context, before moving on to identifying them in a different area of the world in year 2
Make time for regular retrieval practice Play a game where pupils sort cards into either continent or country, to practise identifying the names of the 7 continents

An example of order of units in KS1

The objectives below start with the familiar and move towards the unfamiliar – pupils study UK-focused units in year 1, and more abstract concepts in year 2.

 

Year 1
  • Use simple fieldwork and observational skills to study the geography of their school and its grounds and the key human and physical features of its surrounding environment
  • Understand geographical similarities and differences through studying the human and physical geography of a small area of the UK
  • Use vocabulary to refer to key physical features including beach, cliff, coast, forest, hill, mountain, sea, ocean and river
  • Name and locate the 4 countries and capital cities of the UK and its surrounding seas
  • Use vocabulary to refer to key human features including factory, farm, house, office, port, harbour and shop
  • Identify seasonal and daily weather patterns in the UK
  • Use world maps, atlases and globes to identify the UK and its countries
  • Identify characteristics of the 4 countries and capital cities of the UK
  • Use simple locational and directional language – such as near, far, left and right – to describe the location of features and routes on a map
Year 2
  • Name and locate the world’s 7 continents and 5 oceans
  • Understand geographical similarities and differences through studying the human and physical geography of a small area in a contrasting non-European country
  • Use vocabulary to refer to key physical features including soil, valley, vegetation, season and weather
  • Use world maps, atlases and globes to identify the UK and its countries, as well as the countries, continents and oceans studied at this Key Stage
  • Use vocabulary to refer to key human features including city, town and village
  • Identify the location of hot and cold areas of the world in relation to the Equator and the North and South Poles
  • Use simple compass directions – north, south, east and west – to describe the location of features and routes on a map
  • Use aerial photographs and plan perspectives to recognise landmarks and basic human and physical features, devise a simple map, and use and construct basic symbols in a key

An example of order of units in KS2

In the example below for year 4 and year 5 geography, note that this curriculum:

  • Links with topics in other subjects – the science and geography knowledge is combined within one unit of work in year 4
    • 'States of matter' in science includes learning about evaporation and condensation within the 'water cycle' unit in geography
  • Relies on knowledge taught earlier in a different subject ('diagonal sequencing')
    • Some elements of the 'locational knowledge' objective – lines of longitude, the Prime/Greenwich Meridian, and time zones – rely on knowledge of day, night, Earth and space, taught in year 5 science, so are sequenced later
    • The effects of annual temperature and seasonal change on vegetation and animal species in biomes link to 'living things and their habitats' in year 4 science
    • The 'volcanoes and earthquakes' unit requires knowledge of the structure of the Earth; it's therefore taught after the science of rocks in year 3 and after metals and changes of state in year 5 materials science, to build on these scientific concepts
  • Provides opportunities to deepen existing knowledge
    • As rivers are a part of the water cycle, a logically sequenced curriculum includes rivers either later in year 4 than the water cycle, or in a subsequent year

 

Year 4
  • Climate zones/biomes (after 'living things and their habitats' in science)
  • The water cycle (linked with science)
  • Rivers (after the water cycle)
Year 5
  • Lines of longitude/time zones (after 'Earth and space' in science)
  • Mountains, volcanoes and earthquakes (after 'properties and changes of materials' in science)

Sources

  • Clare Sealy and Victoria Morris are school leaders with experience of curriculum design in a primary school in London
  • Vicky Crane is an independent consultant and trainer with over 10 years of school improvement experience, including holding senior local authority positions. She works extensively with primary schools in the Yorkshire region, is a chair of governors for a large primary school and is the founder of ICTWand

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