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GCSE Toolkit: Life on the Edge? A study of extreme environments
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GCSE Toolkit: Life on the Edge? A study of extreme environments

Jane Ferretti and Ruth Totterdell

Series Editor: Ruth Totterdell and Justin Woolliscroft

Key Stage: Key Stage 4

Pages: 36

ISBN: 978-1-84377-266-8

Published: 2011


£17.99 / £12.99 GA Members*

As geographers we constantly ask questions about places from the local to the distant. Extreme environments are perhaps the most distant, both spatially and experientially, from the everyday lives of GCSE students. So, why should young people be interested in places that are so remote they are neither likely to nor (when they discover how extreme the climate is) will want to visit them? As this unit shows, it is this remoteness, this difference that makes extreme environments fascinating – they engender a sense of awe and wonder.

This series of lessons uses a range of teaching strategies and a series of case studies to engage students in exploring extremely hot, dry and very cold environments. Through the local, they make connections with the global: students solve a mystery on why a village in Alaska has relocated and discover that it is due to the impact of climate change. In a Dragons’ Den-style role play students explore a range of strategies for tackling human-induced desertification and through an enquiry into a Nenets reindeer herder’s life on the tundra, students discover that their traditional way of life is now threatened by the discovery of gas in Siberia. They also discover how modern technology has enabled the transformation of the desert of Dubai into a modern city with artificial offshore islands.

Throughout the unit students are required to form their own opinions and views about the challenges facing these extreme environments and the people who live there and to consider the future for the people and animals that inhabit these places.

Ruth Totterdell is Publications and Journals Manager at the Geographical Association. Previously she was Head of Geography at King Edward VII School, Sheffield.

Jane Ferretti is course tutor for PCSE geography at the University of Sheffield.



Teaching about extreme environments
Living Geography and GCSE
GCSE examination skills
Medium term plan
Lesson plans

  • Lesson 1: What is an extreme environment?
  • Lesson 2: Why are deserts hot and dry?
  • Lesson 3: Why build a city in the desert?
  • Lesson 4: Going to extremes – why are desert environments spreading?
  • Lesson 5: How can desert people live sustainably?
  • Lesson 6: How do animals and plants survive in the Arctic tundra?
  • Lesson 7: What are the challenges to living in the Arctic?
  • Lesson 8: Why do humans exploit extremely cold environments?
  • Lesson 9: How is climate change changing the Arctic?
  • Lesson 10: Is there a sustainable future for the Arctic?

Quick guide to lesson resources
Further teaching ideas
Sources and weblinks
Exam skills coverage

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