Vocabulary and spelling


Geography students should be given every opportunity to read, write, speak and listen to the vocabulary of geography. As their teacher, you will be aware of the more effective classroom practices used in teaching spelling and a number of these practices are included for Years F-10. A primary focus in Years 7-10 is on the development of geographical vocabulary. Investigating the derivation of words will assist students to read, understand the meaning of, and spell the wider vocabulary of geography, including technical terms. 

A number of reading, writing and thinking activities are provided in this Illustration of practice to encourage the use of geographical vocabulary and the wider skills associated with words, their meanings and spelling.

Classroom application

There are a number of established curriculum-based spelling requirements or standards that will support your planning in the classroom. Details and references to access these are provided below, and a variety of other support materials are also provided.

The NSW Department of Education and Training's (DET) Teaching spelling K-6 (PDF, 2.29 MB) contains a number of effective classroom practices that reinforce four forms of spelling knowledge: phonological, visual, morphemic and etymological (see Chapter 6, p. 92). 

DET's Focus on literacy: spelling (PDF, 234.47 KB) tells us that 'knowing about what words mean, and how words sound, how words look, how words change form, and where words come from forms the basis of the strategies which writers use when working out how to spell words' (1998, p. 13). 

South Australia's Department of Education and Children's Services' Spelling: From beginnings to proficiency (PDF, 3.88 MB) contains a number of teaching and learning activities related to spelling on pages 53-78.

Australian Curriculum: English describes requirements for spelling in its content descriptions for most years, for example, in Year 7 students are expected to: 

Understand how to use spelling rules and word origins, for example Greek and Latin roots, base words, suffixes, prefixes, spelling patterns and generalisations to learn new words and how to spell them (ACELA1539).

In Year 10 they:

Understand how to use knowledge of the spelling system to spell unusual and technical words accurately, for example those based on uncommon Greek and Latin roots (ACELA1573). 

Source: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

The National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) sets out the Minimum standards - spelling expected by Year 3, Year 5, Year 7 and Year 9.

As far as vocabulary is concerned, Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) Australian Curriculum: English document provides 'Language English scope and sequence' for Years Foundation to 10. It specifies, for example, that in Year 5, students:

Understand the use of vocabulary to express greater precision of meaning, and know that words can have different meanings in different contexts. 

In Year 7, they:

Investigate vocabulary typical of extended and more academic texts and the role of abstract nouns, classification, description and generalisation in building specialised knowledge through language.

In Year 10, they:

Refine vocabulary choices to discriminate between shades of meaning, with deliberate attention to the effect on audiences. 

Source: Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

Geography's technical language 

Investigating the derivation of words helps students to read, understand meanings, spell technical terms and explore the wider vocabulary of geography. See Derivation of words (PDF, 411 KB), which provides some examples of Latin and Greek word derivations, importing words from other places and Aboriginal place names.

Using geography's vocabulary

1. Writing an effective paragraph

Ask your students to brainstorm words or phrases that relate to an aspect of the current topic you are studying from the Australian Curriculum: Geography. Once there are around 10 points written up, direct students to prioritise these points from one to 10 in terms of their importance to the topic. Discard any that do not directly relate to the aspect being considered. The remaining points will be the points that they will use to construct their paragraph.

Provide the class with the topic sentence, which each student will use to create their own paragraph. Direct your students to work individually to combine most of the listed points into three or four independent sentences. They should then arrange their sentences to follow the topic sentence and make necessary adjustments so that the sentences flow. Finally, they need to write a sentence that summarises and finishes off the paragraph.

Once the students have completed their paragraph, organise the class into groups of four. Within these groups the students will read each paragraph and edit each other's work. Provide students with guidelines for editing and advise them to look for issues such as continuity of ideas, correct sentence structures and spelling.

2. Definition bingo

Write 20 geography terms on the board and ask students to copy 10 of these words into their books. Explain that you will randomly define each word and if the students have the matching word they are to cross it out. The first student to cross out all of the words wins.

3. Concept mapping

Concept maps improve understanding of geographical vocabulary and help to reveal misconceptions. 

Give your students sets of cards consisting of a series of geographical terms. Have them set aside those terms that they do not understand. They can then lay out the remaining cards on a sheet of butcher's paper and arrange them in a way that makes sense to them.

Ask them to discuss the possible links between the terms. Those with many similar links should be placed close together. Paste the cards to the paper and draw lines between the terms that seem to be connected.

Direct students to write a short explanation of the link on the line. Have them use arrows to show which way the link goes (arrows can go both ways).

Students can write any missing terms on blank cards and add them onto the map, with links.

Review any cards with terms the students did not understand and suggest how they might be added to the concept map.

Concept map (PDF, 315 KB) shows a group of mixed-ability Year 8 students' first attempt at constructing a concept map of a rainforest ecosystem.

4. Improving spelling and punctuation

Give your students a piece of geographical writing (related to the topic they are studying) that has spelling and punctuation errors. Ask students to use a coloured pen to circle the spelling and punctuation mistakes. They should then rewrite the passage correctly. The passage could contain a clue box to assist the students to correct the errors. For example: 


You need to change:

  • 8 capital letters
  • 8 missing full stops
  • 15 spelling mistakes
  • 1 missed comma.

5. Cloze activity

Prior to working with your students, prepare a cloze activity on a selected topic, leaving out vocabulary words and technical language. Place these terms in a box at the end of the cloze passage. 

Working with the class, brainstorm information about the topic to support their understanding of it.

Ask students to complete the cloze activity using the words from the box to fill in the blanks.

6. Word mats

Brainstorm information on a selected topic with the class.

Show the students examples of 'word mats'. Direct them to develop word mats using ICT (information and communications technology). From a spelling mat to word mats provides a more detailed explanation of this strategy. 

Questions for discussion

  1.  How might classroom displays flood the room with geographical vocabulary? How often should such displays be changed?
  2. Are there sufficient opportunities for students to hear, speak, read and write new vocabulary during geographical inquiry?
  3. Who are the proficient users of geographical vocabulary? Consider 'think pieces' by academic geographers, GIS specialists, foreign correspondents, documentary makers and meteorologists.
  4. In what ways can geography teachers assist with etymological spelling knowledge?
  5. To what extent is the professional development section on the DEST website My Read (which supports underperforming students in Years 4-9) useful for geography teachers in their search for teaching strategies? 


Books and articles:

Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). (2011). Australian Curriculum: English. This document provides information on 'Language English scope and sequence' for Foundation to Year 6 and Year 6 to Year 10. Retrieved August 2012, from: http://www.decd.sa.gov.au/literacy/files/links/English_Scope_and_Sequence.pdf.

Department of Education and Children's Services, SA. (2011). Spelling: From beginnings to proficiency. Adelaide: Department of Education and Children's Services, pp. 53-78. Retrieved August 2012, from:http://www.decd.sa.gov.au/literacy/files/pages/Programs%20and%20Resources/Spelling_resource_FINAL.pdf.

Department of Education and Training, NSW. (1998). Focus on literacy: Spelling. Sydney: Curriculum Support Directorate.

Department of Education and Training, NSW. (1998). Teaching spelling K-6. NSW: Department of Education and Training, pp. 92-102. This resource features a number of 'effective classroom practices'. Retrieved August 2012, from:http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/literacy/assets/pdf/sl_strategies/spellk6_whole.pdf.

Department of Education and Training, NSW. (2002). Student assessment and reporting. Literacy 2002: Linking ELLA to geography. Sydney: Student assessment and reporting.

Department of Education and Training, NSW. (2003). Student assessment and reporting. Literacy 2003: Linking ELLA to geography. Sydney: Student assessment and reporting.

Leat, D. & Chandler, S. (1996). Using concept mapping in geography teaching. In Teaching Geography 21(3), p. 110.


Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). Australian Curriculum: English. Foundation to Year 10 curriculum. Retrieved August 2012, from: http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/English/Curriculum/F-10.

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

Department of Education Science and Training. (2002). My Read. Retrieved August 2012, from: http://www.myread.org/development.htm.

National Assessment Program (NAPLAN). Minimum standards - spelling. This document describes the minimum standards expected by Year 3, Year 5, Year 7 and Year 9. Retrieved August 2012, from: http://www.nap.edu.au/NAPLAN/About_each_domain/Language_Conventions/Minimum_standards_-_spelling/index.html.

Staffordshire Learning Net: Geography. From a spelling mat to word mats. Retrieved August 2012, from: http://www.sln.org.uk/geography/spellingmat.htm.

Other relevant resources are contained in the sections above.