Teaching literacy in geography

Introduction

In this illustration of practice, the process of reading written texts in Year 8 geography classrooms is examined in relation to a causal explanation using the newspaper text 'Greenland melts before NASA's eyes' and two narrative extracts 'Geography through art' and 'City immigrants'. 

The processes of reading and writing are examined through analyses of student writing tasks set in the 1999 NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) English Language and Literacy Assessment (ELLA) and the feedback provided by the School Assessment and Reporting Unit and Curriculum Support Directorate, Literacy 1999 Linking ELLA to geography. 

Classroom application

The substance and nature of questions and the analysis of writing tasks are intended to model literacy practices in Year 8 geography classrooms. When literacy practices from English are meaningfully applied to other learning areas, learning becomes more relevant and understanding deepens.

 

The relationship between the learning areas is also reciprocal … emphasise(s) skills in English literacy as well as students' capacity to communicate coherently to a range of audiences. Each learning area draws upon what is taught in the language and literacy strands of English and incorporates subject-specific language knowledge as required.

Based on Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) materials. 

 

The newspaper text 'Greenland melts before NASA's eyes'

Examine the newspaper extract Greenland melts before NASA's eyes (PDF, 409 KB).

1. Explaining story structure

Explain to students the structure of typical newspaper stories: 

  • a headline, often using emotive language 
  • a lead, which synthesises what the news story is about giving more detail than the headline but less detail than the story
  • detailed information, which supports the lead, and contains discrete chunks of information that can be rearranged through 'cut and paste' operations (these sections do not usually build upon one another but rather support the lead). 

2. Listing subheadings

Ask students to provide subheadings to identify these discrete sections contained in the news story Greenland melts before NASA's eyes (PDF, 409 KB). 

3. Imagining a film script

Invite students to imagine that this story is the basis for a film script, and identify the exposition of the lead, the montage sequence of film footage, the 'voice-overs' and interview segments that would support this news story. Have your students consider the following questions: 

  • Is the information credible?  
  • Is there evidence of bias? 

Introduce the idea that another influential Australian journalist has argued that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are wrong about global warming. Have your students consider the following questions:

  • Is Karl Braganza from the Bureau of Meteorology a better-informed source? 
  • Should environmental reporter, Ben Cubby, have included the views of a climate change 'sceptic'?

4. Exploring views

Consider the views of the Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency on the views of one such climate change 'sceptic'. Access the website: Responses to Professor Ian Plimer's 101 climate questions.

5. Exploring terminology

Refer to the website Climate literacy: The essential principles of climate science, a guide for individuals and communities developed and endorsed by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Science Foundation (NSF) and a distinguished group of scientists and educators. 

Identify and explain to students the meanings of the following technical words and literary language featured in the news story Greenland melts before NASA's eyes: 

  • 'heat dome'
  • data error
  • Manhattan
  • without precedent
  • vicious cycle
  • feedback
  • CO2 emissions
  • Pliocene period
  • atmospheric chemistry
  • spiked
  • the metaphor 'NASA's eyes' referring to the satellite eye in the sky
  • the imagery conveyed in the simile 'giant chunk of ice'
  • the emotive language 'Greenland melts before NASA's eyes'
  • the personification 'NASA's eyes'

6. Exploring fact and opinion

Refer to the National Geographic Explorer Is that a fact worksheet on Viking voyages and Strategy 6: Fact or opinion (PDF, 262 KB). Ask students to consider the following questions:

  • How effectively does the writer convey meaning, particularly in distinguishing fact from opinion? 
  • Does the writer assert things that are known to be true, that have really happened; conditions that actually exist and are substantiated by statistics or quantitative data?
  • Does the writer present a personal point of view, or is this the view of another person (especially when it is based solely on personal judgment)?
  • To what extent does it matter whether the opinion presented emanates from an authoritative source?

7. Thinking about how layout influences perception

View the NASA images Greenland melt and Petermann Glacier and ask your students to consider the following questions about the main article Greenland melts before NASA's eyes: 

  • What is the writer's point of view?
  • How does the inclusion of satellite imagery and aerial photography support the writer's assertions? 
  • Does it matter whether the images are placed to the left, to the right, above or below the written text? 
  • What effect does the position of the images have on the reader?

The narrative 'Geography through art'

1. Exploring a text

Have your students examine the book extract Geography through art (PDF, 173 KB) and ask them to respond to the following questions:

  • What is this text about? 
  • Who is the audience for this text? 
  • What purpose would the audience have for reading this text? 
  • How are children portrayed as geographers? 
  • What special skills, world views and values does this geography teacher have?  How do we know? 

2. Reflecting on structures and features

Ask your students to reflect on the structures and features of the text and then answer the following questions:

  • What is the literary genre (classification of writing such as comedy, drama, romance) or text type (descriptive, narrative, expository or argumentative) for this extract?
  • What do the images and words suggest about the place the children 'loved'? 
  • What features of language are being used in the text? Consider the sentence structure, tense, adjectives, adverbs, metaphorical language, perspectives or points of view.

3. Considering language

Ask students to consider the following:

  • How would you explain the phrases 'Victorian indulgence and opulence', 'brittle light of spring' and 'strength and maleness of Georgian buildings contrasted with the delicate and feminine Regency styles'?
  • To what extent is the phrase 'mists and ploughed fields of autumn' reminiscent of John Keats' poem To Autumn
  • Which Australian poems do you think evoke seasonal changes in place?

4. Exploring aesthetics

Ask students to explore online examples of Georgian, Regency, Victorian and Art Deco architectural styles in Australian places. Ask them the question:

  • How could an appreciation of the aesthetics of the built environment allow us to 'love the place'? 

5. Exploring other techniques

Ask students to read the extract Australian residential architecture styles (PDF, 2,147 KB) then write a poem in haiku (a simple three-line poem of 17 syllables) to evoke their experience of a place they love.

Ask them to construct semantic differentials and Likert scales (survey techniques using pairs of words such as 'good-bad' or rating scales) in relation to their fieldwork experiences. Students could write about the kinds of feelings and attitudes suggested by these research methods of presentation. See Keys to fieldwork (PDF, 735 KB) to help you prepare.

The narrative 'City immigrants'

1. Exploring a text

Ask students to examine the book extract City immigrants (PDF, 227 KB) and then answer the following questions:

  • How can the code of this text be 'cracked'? 
  • Which words are interesting, difficult or likely to confuse? 
  • Which words need further explanation? 
  • In what ways would voice and gesture enhance this extract as a spoken text? 

2. Imagining another scenario

Pose the proposition that the text in City immigrants (PDF, 227 KB) be used as an idea for an Australian Government television commercial about immigration. Ask students to consider and discuss: 

  • Which locations, images, characters and musical sequences might be most appropriate? 
  • Why?

3. Personal reflections

Ask students to reflect on their own feelings: 

  • When you read this text, what feelings are evoked about your personal experiences or something that has been experienced by other people that you know? 
  • Explain in your own words what the extract is about. You can predict what might happen to the person sitting alone in an Inner West Sydney suburban backyard.

Ask them to also reflect on the kinds of images of Inner West Sydney that come to the fore in the crime fiction of Peter Corris, in the working class heritage of some inner-city residents, and in the spread of high-density living along the major transport arteries. You can access information about the works of this author on the Peter Corris website.

4. Conducting research

Have your students research and complete the following questions:

  • What kind of writer is Amanda Lohrey? 
  • Where was she born? 
  • How old was she when she wrote Camille's bread
  • What is suggested in the description of migration waves 'entwined in a ceaseless tangle'? 
  • Who is the audience for the text? 
  • What point of view is the author trying to convey? 
  • How do you feel about her views? 
  • Would you like to live in this part of Sydney? Give reasons for your opinion.

5. Extension activity

Ask students to imagine the City immigrants (PDF, 227 KB) text presented as a web page, and answer the questions:

  • How would it be different from the printed page? 
  • How might the 'dense tangle of leaf' and the 'smell of frangipani and gasoline' be represented on the screen? 
  • Which immigrants would best represent the fig tree, lemon, grapevine, blue gum, banana palm, white frangipani, climbing red rose, scarlet hibiscus, and tomato? Be careful of stereotypical or racial generalisations when you consider this question.
  • How could you avoid presenting stereotypical views of these people?

The reading task: Letter to the editor


Ask students to read Con Mavros' letter to the editor (PDF, 1,032 KB) and ELLA language stimulus: Letter to the editor (PDF, 1,040 KB), and complete the questions posed on each page. 

Literacy, 1999: Linking ELLA to geography (PDF, 1,338 KB) provides introductory information to the ELLA activities above.

You may wish to develop other activities or questions around these extracts.

The writing task: A set of instructions 

Ask students to read Part one - writing (PDF, 2,801 KB) and Writing Task 1: Instructions for hikers (PDF, 1,078 KB) and complete the questions posed on each page.

Literacy, 1999: Linking ELLA to geography (PDF, 1,338 KB) provides introductory information to the ELLA activities above.

You may wish to develop other activities or questions around these extracts.

Resources

Books and articles:

Brough, E. (1983) Geography through art. In J. Huckle (Ed.). Geographical education: Reflection and action. Oxford: OUP, p. 62.

Department of Education and Training, NSW. (1999). Literacy 1999: Linking ELLA to geography. ELLA.

Kleeman, G. (Ed.). (2008). Australian residential architectural styles. Keys to fieldwork: Essential tools and skills. South Yarra: Macmillan Education Australia, pp. 14-15, 88-94.

Leat, D. (1997). Cognitive acceleration in geographical education. In D. Tilbury & M. Williams (Eds.). Teaching and learning geography London: Routledge.

Leat, D. (2001). Thinking through geography (2nd edit.), Cambridge: Chris Kington Publishing, pp. 97-112.

Lohrey, A. (1996) Camille's Bread, Sydney: Harper Collins, p. 91. 

Nichols, A. & Kinninment, D. (2001). (Eds.). More thinking through geography. Cambridge: Chris Kington Publishing.

van der Schee, J., Vankan, L. & Leat, D. (2003). The international challenge of more thinking through geography. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education 12(4), p. 330-343.

Websites:

Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). Australian Curriculum: Geography. Retrieved May 2013, from: www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Geography/Rationale

Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). English: Links to other learning areas. Retrieved August 2012, from: http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/English/Links-to-the-other-learning-areas

Australian Government. Department of Climate and Energy. (2010). Responses to Professor Ian Plimer's 101 climate questions. Retrieved August 2012, from: http://www.climatechange.gov.au/en/climate-change/understanding-climate-change/response-to-prof-plimer.aspx.

Climate Literacy Network. Climate literacy: The essential principles of climate science. A guide for individuals and communities. Retrieved August 2012, from: http://cleanet.org/cln/climateliteracy.html.

Geoworld. Thinking through geography. Retrieved August 2012, from: http://www.geoworld.co.uk/pupilresources.htm.

NASA websites. Greenland melt and Petermann Glacier. Retrieved August 2012, from: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/greenland-melt.html and http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_2310.html.

National Geographic. Explorer. This is a very engaging website that often has materials relating to literature or the arts and their relationships with geography. Its section Education beta has a wealth of interactive information. Retrieved August 2012, from: http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngexplorer/0511/ax/teachers_guide_0511.pdf andhttp://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/?ar_a=1.

Stafforshire learning net: Geography. Thinking through geography. Retrieved August 2012, from: http://www.sln.org.uk/geography/thinking_through_geography.htm.

Other relevant resources are contained in the sections above.