Updated: Aug 3, 2020
When teaching young students about places and spaces it can be difficult to discuss the features of these places without students becoming confused.
Take the park for example. Looking at natural or built features of a park, students will often list features such as swings, roundabouts, slides, trees, bushes, basketball hoops and more. Sometimes they will start to list features that don't necessarily fit into, what you might call, the traditional features of a park such as dogs, cats, birds etc..
I have taught early years Geography for many years and I can assure you, it doesn't matter if students begin to list movable features that are non-park specific. The point of Geography at this stage is to work within the student's known world and learn how to respond and write about geography features. For early years students, this is enough.
WORK FROM THE STUDENTS' KNOWN WORLD
When thinking about geographic locations that students can write about, you want to stick with spaces and places they are familiar with such as the park, their school playground, their classroom, the beach, their playroom and such. Spend time brainstorming features with students on a large sheet of paper and keep this handy to pull out each time you start your geography lesson. Have a whole-class discussion about the features they might find in this place. Focus on 'what features would you find in this place?' approach.
Primary HASS is all about moving from the child's known world towards the unknown. In Foundation and Year 1, you are aiming to name and label places and their features and discuss what makes them special.
DEVELOP WORD LISTS SO STUDENTS CAN WRITE FREELY
Nothing slows an early years student down faster than not knowing what to write about or how to spell it. Create vocabulary cards, these come pre-prepared from the Park Writing Pack or you can create your own, laminate and punch a hole in the top, then bind with a ring binder. Let students pass the cards around in small groups and use the suggestions to get their writing flowing.
INTEGRATE YOUR GEOGRAPHY WRITING WITHIN YOUR ENGLISH UNIT
Let's look at this piece of writing from a Grade 1 student.
"On my trip to the park I climb a rock and went on the monkey bars and went down the slide but I loved playing basketball there."
Now the student has named the features they found at the park (rock, monkey bars, slide and basketball court), they can work on creating two sentences here instead of one long sentence.
Verb usage - we have the present tense of 'climb' instead of climbed and 'playing' instead of played so this will tell you that this particular student will need to develop their verb tenses.
Positional language - 'went on the monkey bars' and 'went down the slide' indicate that this student has a limited vocabulary for positional language, something that goes hand in hand with geography lessons. A revision of positional language would be necessary, you can find a useful resource here.
KEEP IT PURPOSEFUL AND FUN
Let your students know at the start of the lesson, the reason to explore these features and write about them. I always like to start off where I want students to end up. So I would start a lesson such as this by telling students we are going to discuss a place that is special to them and then they will be writing about it so it can be placed on the wall. Students love displaying their writing on the classroom wall and these little flipbooks are super cute to let students show their work (available in the same Park Writing Pack). You could also use some fancy writing paper to encourage students to write a final neat copy. Remember to always model how the written response should look by using a similar location.
Keep your lessons student-centred, work with what they CAN DO and what they DO KNOW and you'll be able to build on this foundation for a successful Geography lesson.