1. Exploring the local area in groups

Most pupils know a lot about their local environment and may be able to map their understanding of where things are in their own way. First, it is important to develop your pupils’ abilities to observe their local environment and to make these activities meaningful for them .Explain that noticing the features in their surroundings enables them to locate places in relation to each other and to describe places clearly. Having a sense of direction helps pupils to find their way around. Once they understand their own environment, and their way around it, your pupils can begin to explore the wider world.

One way to start observing the local environment is to encourage your pupils to keep a notebook with them and to draw or write down any interesting things they see as they move around the local area. Another way is to work with your pupils to produce a class mural or picture on the classroom wall. Each day, a small number of pupils could add pictures (and words from older pupils) of things in the local environment.

In Case Study 1, one teacher shows how she organised a large class. Read this before you try Activity 1.

Case Study 1: A map of school and its surroundings

Mrs Kazimoto, a teacher at Dabanga Primary School in Tanzania, wants to develop her Grade 3 pupils’ skills at observing and identifying important features in the local area. She will then progress to drawing maps.

Mrs Kazimoto has a large class and so she divides them into eight groups of ten pupils. She knows that using group work will help her manage the class and ensure that all pupils participate. It will also develop their cooperative learning skills. (See Key Resource: Using group work in your classroom [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .)

She asks each group to list all the features of the school grounds that they see as they come to school, such as trees, buildings etc. She asks one person in each group to write down all the important information. After a few minutes, she stops the class and asks each group to read out one feature from their list, which she writes on the board. She keeps going round the class until they have read out all the features.

Next, Mrs Kazimoto hands out large pieces of paper to each group and asks them to mark in the middle a square for the school. Each pupil is then asked to place a feature on the paper in the correct place.

When each group has finished, Mrs Kazimoto sends them outside to see what they had in the right place and what they need to move or add. Their plans are modified and then displayed in the classroom.

Mrs Kazimoto sees that two groups have managed very well. The other groups have had to modify quite a few features and she plans to take these pupils out in groups to do some more simple mapping of the school ground and its features.

Activity 1: The journey to school – signs and signals

  • Ask your pupils to observe and record in their notebook or exercise book 6–10 important things they see on their way to school the next day. Younger pupils might do drawings.
  • In class, ask each pupil to arrange what they saw in the order they saw it.
  • Explain to the pupils what a physical feature is.
  • Ask the pupils to tick the physical features on their list.
  • Ask them why some of the things they observed are not physical features. Would they expect to find these on a map? Discuss why this is so e.g. some things such as dogs and cats move, as do cars, so these are not (permanent) physical features.
  • Ask the pupils from which direction they come to get to school i.e. North, South, East and West (N, S, E and W). You may have to explain about this and have a map ready for them to see or remind them about N, S, E and W.
  • Based on the directions, form four groups, each comprising pupils who come from roughly the same direction. (See Key Resource: Using group work in your classroom.) If all your pupils came to school from only one or two directions, we suggest you take your pupils on a class walk to explore the other directions.
  • Ask each group to make one joint list of the physical features found on their route home. Can they put them in the order in which they would see them on their way from school to home?
  • Display the lists, according to the direction, on the walls of the classroom.

What other activities could you do to develop your pupils’ observation skills?

Section 1: Mapping the local environment

2. Using a game to introduce maps