Choosing Geography Case Studies Carefully

Following on  from his blog "Things to consider when designing your primary geography curriculum, following the Ofsted Research Review" Rising Stars Geography author Anthony Barlow takes us through hwo to choose your case studies carefully.  

In geography, case study choices should be justified in any curriculum overview and what’s vital is the connections between locations chosen. Change where you study and don’t be wedded to locations you know nothing about or that do not provoke “curiosity and fascination” (N.C, 2014) and which might lead to “spurring them into action, and is fun” (Ofsted, 2021). This justification should be discussed and be explicit, especially to teachers who are below or above the year groups you are teaching in. When you hand over your class do you discuss their disciplinary learning in all subjects, and not just the core?

Consider if you were teaching a local area study. If the next unit of study was a small area of a non European country. You might consider, as Ofsted suggest, how “pupils build an effective schema when they further embed previously learned knowledge…through recall and review…[they should] increase both the quantity and complexity of content”. What is the transferable knowledge between your small town and a town in South America? Probably lots but you need to make these connections.
Put more plainly, you need to ensure they have a clear understanding of how this location connects to that.

  • What is the difference in distance and scale/size of region, continent? Where’s the nearest river, sea/ocean?
  • What connections are there between locations (how do you get there or get about?).
  • What contrasts are there in place knowledge?
  • What are the significant environments (biomes, seascape) or culture/s there (people and how they live)?

See an example of local area planning from Rising Stars Geography to support teaching in Year 1. Overview ; Lesson 1 ‘ Local Area Experts’ ; Lesson 2 ‘What is near and what is far?’

It is through a focus on the ‘high-level’ concepts (Ofsted, 2021) that teachers need to work harder at. In their sample of outstanding schools almost “half of the schools did not meet the scope or ambition of the national curriculum. In most cases, the most significant gaps were in key stage 2.” (Ofsted, 2021) This can sound scary and might mean you feel you need to do more; often in practice it can mean do fewer locations in more depth. 

So, once you have a successful overview ‘map’ for staff you will be able to justify and remember quickly what happens where.

Further questions you might ask yourself

Is any curriculum map more than a list of snappy titles? Is it more than a collection of sentences copied direct from the National Curriculum?
The challenge with documents such as this is that they can sugget you are unsure of the progression of high-level concepts and may have sacrificed depth for coverage.


Are you able to chunk the components and processes within these high-level concepts? This allows pupils to “gain a more abstract appreciation of the subject” (Ofsted, 2021)
A human geography example could be the idea of very large settlement (eg. world city like London).
How do pupils’ understandings of where they live, where is near to them and region, their proximity to the U.K capital and how this compares with other world cities like New York, Sydney, Jakarta, or Beijing? 

Greenwich, London Image: Author

A physical geography example could be “climate zones, biomes and vegetation belts”. Ofsted say that the knowledge pupils learn should be well organised “with clear connections between components, which means they are more likely to remember it in the long term…” (Ofsted, 2021)
So, these processes should be an integral part of all units in KS2, not just a one-off study.   
These “processes…are driven by the…the weather… So, pupils first need to secure an understanding of components such as air pressure, the water cycle and longitude. With this knowledge, pupils have a strong basis to understand why certain biomes exist and also how they are changing(Ofsted, 2021)


Beijing, China. Image: Author



Anthony Barlow is the author of Rising Stars Geography, KS1.


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