Kato Cruwys Harris explains how teachers can make geography more relevant to society and young people by incorporating lessons on citizenship

Modern geography teaching presents an ideal opportunity for delivering citizenship at KS3 through studies of personal geographies and national identity. This article considers the role that geography can play in enabling pupils to learn about citizenship, first by assessing the ability of the geography curriculum to incorporate new objectives for citizenship learning, and then by outlining practical lesson activities through which these objectives can be met.

A role for geography?

Nationally, geography is in decline. Subject uptake is falling at KS4 and KS5 as geography is increasingly seen as old-fashioned and irrelevant by pupils, parents and the popular media. The subject’s well-known studies of processes and landforms date from the 1960s and many observers joke about oxbow lakes and ‘colouring-in’ as though that’s all the subject has to offer. Newer subjects, such as politics and media studies, are gaining a foothold: pupils see these as the subjects that will underpin 21st century civilisation.

However, geography doesn’t have to be the ugly sister of the humanities family. A timely makeover can lend the subject a new lease of life in the secondary curriculum and the national curriculum for citizenship offers a golden opportunity for modernisation. At KS3 in citizenship, pupils are expected to know about diversity and identity, to learn problem-solving skills and to understand their role in the global community (see www.nc.uk.net). Geography is ideally placed to help pupils achieve these citizenship objectives. Teachers who are interested in undertaking further reading about the combination of geography and citizenship will find several informative articles in David Lambert and Paul Machon’s anthology, dating from the launch of the national curriculum for citizenship (Lambert and Machon, 2001).

Suggested lesson activities

Two lesson activities are outlined here. They do not offer an exhaustive scheme of work but represent a small-scale sample of possible learning tasks, which can act as starting points for any geography teacher seeking to introduce citizenship at KS3. The topics of the lessons are personal geographies and national identity. Each lesson is of the author’s own devising and has been experienced by Year 7 and Year 8 classes in the author’s school, the City of London School (www.clsb.org.uk). Further learning tasks are suggested by Margaret Roberts in her book for the Geographical Association (Roberts, 2003).

Lesson one: personal geographies

The learning objective was to consider how we see places as belonging to us. Specifically, the lesson’s enquiry identified pupils’ direct and indirect knowledge of their home region. Pupils were given an outline map of the United Kingdom. First, they were asked to identify locations they had visited (‘direct knowledges’). Second, they labelled locations of which they had some awareness (‘indirect experiences’). Third, they depicted activities that take place in different parts of the country. The collective direct knowledges, indirect experiences and depicted activities were assembled on a composite map.

There were three particular trends: a familiarity with a wide array of places within a hundred-mile radius of London, a focusing of familiarity with places in south-west England, and a focusing of familiarity with places in the north of England. The pupils were able to identify these patterns on the composite map, and suggest reasons for them. Some areas were largely omitted from pupils’ personal geographies. Not one pupil named a location in Northern Ireland or Wales; only four pupils identified places in Scotland. The only activity labelled in any of these countries was ‘crime’, which was placed in Northern Ireland by four pupils. This is typical of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ construction of personal geographies. Pupils were invited to confront this discrimination, not only to discover how it is produced and maintained but also how it is open to challenge.

Lesson two: national identity

The learning objective was to consider how we see ourselves as belonging to places. The pupils were asked to name six London tourist sites that they felt were important in establishing the identity of the UK. There were two criteria: sites had to be the sort of places that tourists would want to see, and sites needed to portray London’s culture as it ‘really is’. This exercise was followed by a discussion in which the pupils explained the selections they had made. The follow-up task required the pupils to prepare a three-day itinerary for a holiday marketed under the name ‘Real London’. The aim of the trip was to provide tourists with an accurate portrayal of London culture. This lesson’s enquiry focused on pupils’ direct knowledge of the home region which was compared to more ‘official’ versions. The pupils were able to re-script the UK’s national identity to include their own values and cultures, along with those that they perceived as important to other groups.

Mapping the future

There has never been a more appropriate time to introduce social understanding into the geography curriculum. Narrow conceptions of national identity still have a much greater influence on the geography curriculum than peace studies and intercultural education. This needs to be reversed, and the marriage of geography and citizenship presents a method of doing so while simultaneously ‘updating’ secondary school geography.

Perhaps there is more at stake here than citizenship delivery and geography uptake. Our local communities experience social exclusion in many forms, and our global community is torn by sectariansim and conflict. Geography teachers should not only aim to teach about social exclusion: they should seek to end it.


Lambert, D and Machon, P, eds (2001) Citizenship Through Secondary Geography. London: RoutledgeFalmer

Roberts, M (2003) Learning Through Enquiry: Making Sense of Geography in  the Key Stage 3 Classroom. Sheffield: Geographical Association

Kato Cruwys Harris teachers geography at the City of London School. he is studying for an MA Geography in Education at the Institute of Education, University of London.

Category: ,