How to improve your students' understanding of Geographic places

early years, prep, foundation year, year 1, grade 1, first grade, geography, social studies, mapping, features, curriculum

I've enjoyed teaching Geography to Preps (Kinder) for many years and thought I'd share some ideas I use teaching Geographic features of special places from the Foundation Year Curriculum.

What is a feature?

A feature is something that is distinctive to a person, place or thing. 

For example: your eyes are a feature of your face, a desk is a feature of a classroom, a runway is a feature of an airport.

As with all teaching, start with what the students know. Get students to draw their face, then label and record their features. Explore the features of the classroom (chairs, tables, windows), the features of their library (books, tables, seats) and the features of other places such as supermarkets (trolleys, checkouts, food).

Practice observing, recording and labelling these features over and over again and the students will start to understand the term 'features' plus they will get some practice observing, recording and labelling (a process that is used in nearly every subject from Science to Maths). 

What is a special place?

early years, prep, foundation year, year 1, grade 1, first grade, geography, social studies, mapping, features, curriculum

A special place is a place that is special to a person or group of people because they might have special memories there or it might hold religious or cultural significance (this term 'significance' is used over and over again throughout the HASS curriculum from Prep to Year 6 so you may as well start to use it with the students and get them familiar with it!).

Bring in a photograph of your favourite place and discuss why it is special to you. Make a comparison between an 'everyday place' like the supermarket and your 'special place'. 

Discuss culturally significant places such as Uluru or religious places such as churches. What makes these places special to some people or groups of people? Brainstorm the answers with students so you eventually have a list of what makes a place special. You can keep referring back to this anchor chart when you ask students '... what makes this place special?'. By the way, I am terrible at making anchor charts by hand so have created this free download for you, should you want to use it in your classroom!

Encourage students to bring in photographs of their special places and create a wall display in your classroom. This also fits in nicely to the History curriculum with regards to events that are special to families (such as holidays). 

Now what?

Now the fun part! Now you can take students exploring! 

Ask students where a special place might be in the school (they will undoubtedly say the playground) and run it through the test of 'what makes a place special?' before you decide to go there. 

Pair students up and give each pair a piece of paper and a clipboard. Tell the students that Person A must describe the features of the special place and Person B must draw them on a map. After a while students can swap roles. This encourages 'think, pair, share', keeps students focused (hurray for 'allowed talking time'!) and stops students from going off track. Of course, you'll want to pair your high and low students together but both will get an opportunity to write/draw and give oral descriptions. 

Once you have finished your observation  of your special place, return to the classroom and pull up each example the students have created. Let each pair discuss the features they found. The added oral element will encourage students to be accountable for their work and will help build their conceptual understanding of the key vocabulary used.

Where to next? Prepositional language!

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