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Pedagogy and Thinking

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Real issues, relevant contexts, real involvement

Geography offers us a lens for viewing and making sense of the world around us in all its complexities and connections; it is an essential discipline to engage with when teaching for, about and through sustainable issues.

Geographical skills give us the tools to enquire and communicate whilst the big ideas or concepts underpinning the subject help us to construct and review knowledge and understanding about the earth as our home. 'Living geography' is an approach that: 

  • Embraces young children's geographies and everyday experiences
  • is local but set in wider (global) contexts
  • uses enquiry and participation
  • involves thinking and acting sustainably 
  • is current and futures orientated

'Geography deepens understanding: many contemporary challenges - climate change, food security, energy choices - cannot be understood without a geographical perspective. Geography serves vital educational goals: thinking and decision making with geography helps us to live our lives as knowledgeable citizens, aware of our own local communities in a global setting.'

- GA 2009

Everyday experiences

Living geography draws on our everyday lives in a way that makes us realise that we are part of the geography and that it is relevant to our everyday lives.

'It is the realisation that many teachers of primary geography do not make the connection between geography and everyday life that has led me to believe it is time to re-conceptualise geography in a way that is appropriate for the primary context - that is as 'everyday geography'. Everyday geography enables pupils and teachers to recognise that they are already thinking geographically in their everyday lives.'

- Martin, 2006

As well as drawing on existing everyday experiences when teaching children, we need to think about and widen their opportunities for new, outdoor experiences. Research gives us several reasons why this first-hand experience is so vital: 

  • Positive, early childhood experiences out of doors, especially in natural settings, can influence thinking in adulthood towards pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours. (Palmer & Suggate 1996, Tanner 1998, Wells and Lekies 2006)
  • In addition, scaffolded, outdoor learning experiences have been shown to enable rapid language development in young children and effect changes in environmental attitudes over very short periods of time (Owens 2006
  • There is a close relationship between the attachment we form with places and our emotional well being (Tanner, 2009)
boy with camera

Only first-hand experience of a place will capture the sights, smells and other sensory impressions that can make an experience so memorable, which in turn, contributes to our personal identity and development. All of these reasons help explain why fieldwork is such a vital part of the curriculum.


Read the quote from Martin (2006) about thinking geographically. Note down some ways in which you think geographically in your everyday life.

Think back to your childhood and remember a place that was significant to you - what can you remember about it? How do you feel when you think back? What sensory impressions remain?

How might you explore this kind of personal geography with children? And how might this inform and shape the kinds of outdoor experiences you provide?

Local to Global

'What we need, it seems to me, is a global sense of the local, a global sense of place'

- Doreen Massey, cited in GA (2009)

An important part of thinking sustainably is to make that vital connection between our everyday lives at local and global scales. Once we make this connection it becomes easier to see how we might affect things in positive ways - we are involved as part of a wider community. Investigating and embracing diversity on our doorstep as well as further afield helps us appreciate how we are linked through communities and belonging.

'The global dimension is about developing critical thinking and gaining a better understanding of how the world works. It involves challenging racist, stereotyped and discriminatory views and promoting greater understanding and appreciation of different issues, places and people in the world'

- Young (2004)



What do you think Massey means by a 'global sense of place'? How is the global represented in your school?

Audit the school visitor book and talk with colleagues about how you might develop opportunities for pupils to meet with and talk to people from different backgrounds and ethnicity in the local community.

How will these enable greater understanding of the global dimension?

Education for Sustainable Development

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is about developing in pupils the knowledge, dispositions and skills they will need to make responsible and informed decisions, and enquiry and participation are a key part of this.  

The approach to teaching about, for and through sustainability matters. Pupils should feel that they have sufficient knowledge to make choices that are often difficult, that they have the power to make a difference - no matter how small that difference is.

'... it is a process of participation. It is not about telling pupils what to do or believe; it is about developing pupils' capacity to make responsible decisions about what to do and believe.'

- Martin & Owens 2008

'In learning about sustainable energy use, pupils became active energy monitors, worked with the local council to make energy leaflets and investigated temperature differences around their school. Having identified problem areas, pupils had to decide what they might do to remedy this. One solution was to keep doors closed, another was to write to governors and suggest draught proofing.'

- Teacher Eastchurch Primary School

An enquiry approach

An enquiry approach builds on what pupils already know and want to know; developing creative and critical responses to a problem and appropriate outcomes that can be evaluated. This approach builds in participation from the outset.

Download: Enquiry Framework (335k, PDF)

An interim report for UNICEF on the effectiveness of their Rights Respecting Schools programme noted that whilst many schools had school councils, they mostly dealt with playtime and lunchtime issues and often had no real power to affect the fabric of the school such as through teaching and learning and governance (Sebba & Robinson 2008).

The Sustainable Schools Agenda states that sustainable practice should be across the curriculum, campus and community, which suggests a holistic approach with genuine impacts - how much real say do your pupils have?

What framework underpins your planning and how well does it support participation and purposeful outcomes?

teacher with pupils


Choose one recently taught unit of work and audit it in terms of enquiry and participation.  Then devise some questions that you could ask your pupils to find how well they felt involved and compare their views with your audit.

Were the findings compatible? How might this affect new planning?

Sustainable Futures

It was stated at the outset of this unit that teaching through an 'agenda of hope' was vital in combating pupils' fears and in providing a sense of purpose when thinking about possible futures.

The strategies of active enquiry and participation have been discussed as approaches which can empower pupils, encouraging responsibility and motivation. Using pupils' past and current everyday lives has also been discussed as a strategy to make learning real and relevant.

Let us now consider how we might draw on pupils' geographical imaginations and their visions of the world in an ideal future. This strategy of rehearsal for something that has not yet happened can prompt deeply creative and critical thinking and help clarify purpose and intent. You could get pupils thinking about:

  • Visions for the school grounds
  • Visions of sustainable transport
  • Visions for the local park
  • Visions for an ideal home
  • Visions for a better quality of life for others

'It is as vital for children to understand the temporal interrelationships between past, present and future as it is the spatial interrelationships between local, national and global. Yet, if all education is a preparation for the future when and where are pupils given the opportunity to explore the futures that they would like to see come about?'

- Hicks 2006

Browse David Hicks' website Teaching for a Better World.

You may also be interested in Every Child's Future Matters from the Sustainable Development Commission.


Think of one key idea that you will take away from this unit. How will this impact on your teaching? What do you hope your pupils will gain from it? How will you communicate and share your own ideas?

Why not share professional conversations on the Geography Champions Ning?



GA (2009) A different view, Sheffield: Geographical Association.

Hicks, D. (2006) Lessons for the Future: The missing dimension in education, Victoria BC: Trafford Publishing.

Martin, F. (2006) 'Everyday Geography', Primary Geographer, Autumn 2006, pp. 4-7. GA Members can access this article online.

Owens, P. (2006) 'Children's Environmental Values in the Early School Years', IRGEE, Vol.14, 4. pp.323-329.

Palmer, J.A. and Suggate, J. (1996) 'Influences and Experiences affecting the Pro-environmental Behaviour of Educators', Environmental Education Research, 2(1), pp. 109-121.

Sebba, J. & Robinson, C. (2008) Evaluation of UNICEF'S Rights Respecting Schools Award (RRSA) Scheme Interim report at end of the first year August 2008: Summary. Sussex University. View Here.

Tanner, J. (2009) 'Special Places: Place attachment and children's happiness', Primary Geographer, pp.5 - 8. GA Members can access this article online.

Tanner, T. (1998) 'Choosing the Right Subjects in Significant Life Experiences Research', Environmental Education Research, 4(4), pp. 399-417.

Wells, N. M. and Lekies, K. S. (2006) 'Nature and the life course: Pathways from childhood nature experiences to adult environmentalism', Children, Youth and Environments, 16, pp. 1-24.

Young, M. (2004) 'The Global Dimension' in Scoffham, S. (ed) Primary Geography Handbook, Sheffield: Geographical Association. Available to purchase from the GA shop.


Including other websites that will help you in teaching 'the global dimension'.

Cafod - ideas for assemblies and classroom activities that develop global understanding.

DfID - UK government department promoting sustainable development and the elimination of poverty.

Global Express - wealth of materials dealing with global issues for Key Stage 2.

GA Global Dimension - outlines the role of geography in developing the global dimension.

Global Dimension - includes database of teaching and learning resources for all subjects at all Key Stages.

Global Eye - brings the world into the classroom, has a strong geographic element and is a good primary resource.

Global Footprints - suitable for Key Stage 2 with lots of information on sustainable development. Includes quiz to stimulate pupils' thinking about their 'global footprint'.

Global Gang - pupils site with games and enables communication with children around the world.

Global Gateway - includes a partner linking facility, links to international education websites and useful teacher information.

Oxfam Education - resources and ideas for teaching the global dimension in the classroom, has separate pupils and teachers areas.

Tide~ global learning - resources and projects to support the development of the global dimension.

UNICEF Tagd - focusing on children's rights.

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Course Menu

Course Introduction

Course Introduction

Getting Started
Getting Started
Planning for Sustainability
Planning for Sustainability
Everyday Sustainability
Everyday Sustainability
Sustainable Energy and the Local Community
Sustainable Energy
and the Local Community
Learning to Take Risks
Learning to Take Risks
Where I Live
Where I Live
Pedagogy and Thinking
Pedagogy and Thinking
Plenary and Conclusion
Plenary and Conclusion

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