Whisper it – Might knowledge organisers be helpful for teachers?

As we launch a series of knowledge organisers for Rising Stars Geography, author Anthony Barlow suggests that these might not just be useful for pupils.

Think of the game ‘Secret Whispers’ where you whisper a sentence round a group sat in a circle. Will the message get passed on accurately? Or will words be substituted and the meaning changed as it goes round? While the consequences of the game can be hilarious and unintended, the consequences applied to pupil learning – think: ‘Curriculum Whispers’ – is perhaps all too obvious.

Is there a ‘whispered curriculum’ from class to class if progression in knowledge is unclear and unknown? You know as the teacher what you think has been taught and you may try – through scrutiny of medium-term plans, baseline assessment or patient elicitation – to work this out. But what did the previous teachers actually teach them? What was the key knowledge?

Curriculum gaps – where KOs can help

There is always a gap between any intended curriculum (the curriculum as seen on the curriculum documents) and the implemented curriculum (what the teacher actually did). To aid your planning, what you need to know is what was achieved and might have been assessed against (what the pupils did and now know). It is from this that you can build and connect to their prior knowledge.

Learning always builds on learning. As Daniel Willingham argues, abstraction to big ideas or concepts is the goal of schooling and learners find this hard: ‘The mind seems to prefer the concrete…We understand new things in the context of what we already know, and most of what we know is concrete’ (2021, p96).

While we accept that learning remains a complex and context-specific process, these new Knowledge Organisers for Rising Stars Geography might help with the Progression Framework to give you confidence that you are both covering and connecting to the wider National Curriculum requirements.

Whisper on and whisper off

Coverage is a prerequisite for learning but ‘simply having covered a part of the curriculum does not in itself indicate that pupils know or remember more’ (Ofsted, 2019). We need to make sure we return to previously covered material, something that we can find hard in our half-termly Geography teaching cycles. Hence the importance of reviewing, refreshing and re-engaging pupils in their geographical knowledge and using the Knowledge Organisers to help.

Try using them to quiz pupils or get them to write their own quizzes. Writing their own questions is a skill in itself. Maybe try blanking off parts of the KOs and using them as a quick cloze procedure assessment.

Just remember as we embark on a new six week ‘topic’ that we should never brand the learning as new. More that we are not ‘moving on’, but building on, the threads of what came before.

Big ideas: Organising principles

As Willingham suggests, always try to think about the abstract in our teaching – the composite understanding or conceptual level.

Can you say how a unit titled ‘seasons’, links to one on ‘food’ or links to ‘our wonderful world’ (all units in Rising Stars Geography Year 2)? This is where the KOs might help as there will be links to learning about the continents in each of these examples and learning can be reinforced.

Try not seeing the units as a linear route – ‘this, then that’ – but more as a jigsaw of pieces that gradually reveal a view of the world and its environments over time. Think about the old phrase: ‘Can you see what it is yet?’ Think about the higher attaining pupils: are the pupils more able to think like a geographer now? I’d recommend if you want to know more, to read some of Peter Jackson’s work on this (Jackson, 2006).

Threads and ‘sticky knowledge’

Research shows that we remember things more efficiently when we know the ‘bigger picture’ and can see the way that composite ideas can be built from components of substantive knowledge within that subject area link, forming schemata.

The aim of the KOs is, ultimately, to improve the links that you make in your teaching. Connection is so important and, it is said, helps information to move into our long-term memory. As Ofsted’s Sean Harford remarked, this knowledge becomes ‘sticky’ – the more you know, the more you learn – which helps children to gain deeper understanding over time.

As Harford says: ‘we asked ourselves what progress really is, and acknowledged that both knowing more and remembering more, are central to it. We discussed the idea that knowledge is ‘sticky’ – which, for schools, means that the more children know, the more they can learn...For the most disadvantaged, school is often the only place where they have the opportunity to gain knowledge of the concepts and vocabulary that will enable them to learn effectively alongside their peers and succeed in the long term. Indeed, research from both the US and UK has highlighted the growing gap that emerges if schools do not do this well.’ (Ofsted, 2018)

Do let us know what you think and if the KOs help with this!

Anthony Barlow, Hodder Education author.

Please note: When creating the Knowledge Organisers, we updated some of the quantitative data included in Rising Stars Geography to keep the planning as up to date as possible.


Jackson P. (2006) Thinking geographically. Geography, 91(3), 199-204. https://geography.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/GEOG-Aut-06-Jackson.pdf


Ofsted (2018) https://educationinspection.blog.gov.uk/2018/04/24/ofsteds-spring-conferences/

Ofsted (2021) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/research-review-series-geography/research-review-series-geography

Rising Stars Progression Framework https://www.risingstars-uk.com/series/progression-framework

Willingham, D. (2021) Willingham, D. T. (2021) Why don't students like school? : a cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom. Second edn. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.s


Foundation Subjects, Geography, History and Geography

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