Using photographs as a visual aid in the classroom is an obvious and vital technique for a geography teacher but also one that can often be overlooked. Talking about cities, countries, landforms and even people is all well and good, but actually seeing what they look like is crucial to cement students’ understanding of a topic.
The problem arises when trying to use photos successfully, so that students are engaged with a picture and not just bored by a slideshow of Google images or your holiday snaps. As a lesson starter I like to use ‘The Drawing Game’ as a simple yet effective way to get the students to really focus on the image that you’re showing them.
- First split all the students into pairs and give out one blank piece of paper to each pair.
- Have the students in each pair assign themselves as Number 1 or 2. The ‘Number 1’s stay facing forward while ‘Number 2’s take the paper and face in the opposite direction.
- Then project your chosen image onto the whiteboard. The ‘Number 1’s are then instructed to study the picture and describe what they see to the ‘Number 2’s, who in turn must attempt to draw what they are being told. The object of the exercise is for the students to attempt to accurately recreate the picture by the art of their partner’s instructions.
- Give the class 3 minutes or so to complete their drawings, counting down as you go, and when the time is up, take your picture off the board and invite the students to come and stick their version up at the front.
- Then it’s the big reveal – project the original photograph back up on the board. This is my favourite part as at this point the ‘Number 2’s still have no idea what they have drawn and this should prompt a discussion of the complex details of the image and what features their partner picked out to describe. What I find particularly useful is using a picture the students have never seen before as you can start to question them about what they think it is, where it’s from or how it was formed so that they are fully engaged and want to know what they have drawn.
I have used this exercise with Year 8s looking at Brazilian cities, Year 10s looking at coastal features and even with Year 12s studying periglacial landforms. I usually like to announce a winner at the end of the lesson to add a competitive element and give a reward to the pair with the drawing which best resembles the original projection, (although be warned – even giving prizes or merits to the winners will probably not quell the after-lesson debate of whose drawing was best!)
Simon Reed, Geography Teacher, Sheffield