There has been a long-standing tradition of employing the 'four aces' (literacy, numeracy, oracy and graphicacy) in the geography classroom, thus enhancing the more accepted and traditional 'three Rs'. In the Australian Curriculum: English, both literacy and oracy are referred to in reading, writing, speaking, viewing and listening effectively in a range of contexts. It also alludes to graphicacy in the expanded set of capabilities in the use and production of new communications technologies. 

Spatial information is conveyed through cartography, computer graphics, photographs and graphic arts, and the basic skill of communicating through visual images. In both mathematics and geography, graphicacy is used to interpret, understand and construct graphs and charts, but geographers have frequently used the term in a more particular sense to describe the skills required to read and understand maps.

Geographic multiliteracies take a number of forms. See, for example:

On its website, the Geographical Association (UK) has an informative article Think piece - geography and literacy that focuses on literacy in the geography classroom based on recent research into primary postgraduate teacher education courses. 

Multiliteracies in the classroom

Much of the work in geography classrooms will be centred on written texts in both print and digital/online forms. However, many geographical texts are multimodal, communicated as a combination of printed text, maps, aerial photographs, remotely sensed images; texts with embedded photography, film, soundtracks and other recorded sounds. 

Multiliterate geography students must be proficient users of these texts and technologies. They must make sense of a socially, culturally and linguistically diverse world, and increasingly, understand how multimodal texts are constructed and the ways in which they can be used. In short, they should be able to use traditional texts as well as new and increasingly sophisticated communication and multimodal technologies to demonstrate deep understanding of geography's foundational concepts. The following online resources could support you to clarify your thinking:

Literacy learning practices

There is any number of literacy learning practices that can be employed in the geography classroom. View, for example, Wordle literacy strategies.

The Australian Department of Education, Science and Training's My Read website has links to a number of guides that assist English teachers to develop some of the skills and understandings needed for middle years students to be successful readers. 

The NSW Department of Education and Training resource Continuity of literacy development in Years 5-8 (PDF, 3.70 MB) focuses on literacy in the middle years of schooling. Its booklet Planning to teach geography in Year 7 for students who need additional support in literacy (PDF, 233.32 KB) contains a number of classroom activities.

The Board of Studies New South Wales resource Human society & its environment K-6: Units of work (PDF, 4.16 MB) lists a number of useful teaching strategies and practices. 

The UK Department for Education and Skills manual Literacy in geography (PDF, 1.24 MB) supports the teaching and learning of geography with 11 to 14 year-old students. It is a useful source for Australian geography teachers. 

More textbooks, less text

The geography textbook is an evermore sophisticated teaching and learning resource. However, the written text is tending to disappear as the textbook has been transformed into an illustrated workbook using a combination of texts and activities spread out over a succession of double-page spreads. To some extent, authors are catering to a widening repertoire of student multiliteracies. At the same time, teachers and students have come to realise that there is no longer one sole source of authoritative information, and they consequently no longer require extended written texts. Further, the geography textbook has adopted a series of inquiry approaches to learning. 

Textbooks, at best, should be an adjunct to other multimodal sources. They should not be regarded as repositories of a full range of literacy learning practices. They are a first step, a springboard to stimulate curiosity about place, space and environment. More importantly, they cannot provide a substitute for geographical inquiry and accompanying fieldwork experiences. Inquiry should be centred on the questions that the students want to ask about their world. It is here that textbooks can complement geographical inquiry, exemplify geographical concepts and inspire a quest for knowledge. All too often textbooks detract from geographical inquiry through bulleted summaries and a conclusive presentation of key ideas rather than encouraging students to examine the ideas thoroughly and critically use data presented in the text as the basis for inquiry.

One text that encourages geographical inquiry is Keys to fieldwork: Essential skills and tools. (Kleeman, Ed. 2008). The book stimulates a need to know about topics as varied as intertidal wetlands, representation of spatial patterns and shopping malls. 

Texts that explain inquiry approaches in geography include Learning through enquiry: Making sense of geography in the key stage 3 classroom (Roberts 2003) and Geographic inquiry (Kriewaldt & Boon 2012).

The four resources of the successful reader

The Four Literacy Resources model (first introduced by Luke and Freebody in 1990) has undergone a number of modifications. The model, as presented here, offers a framework for geography students to develop the necessary literacy practices required to understand, use and analyse both written and multimodal texts.

Recommended reading:

  • The Four Literacy Resources model, which organises literacy capabilities into four key literacy resources (code-breaking, meaning-making, text-using and text-analysing) can be found in An introduction to quality literacy teaching (PDF, 1.36 MB) on pp. 18-20.
  • The Australian Government's Department of Education, Science and Training website My Read uses the Four Literacy Resources model to explore four roles/resources and what successful readers know and do.

Critical literacy

Students build their identities and personal geographies in relation to the written and multimodal texts they encounter. In geography, critical literacy is sometimes viewed as a particular way of reading the world where social practices are addressed, politics and power structure interrogated. In English, critical literacy has a number of different aspects centred on examinations of authenticity and authority in relation to texts.

The UK Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) website looks at Critical literacy, independent thinking, global citizenship, global issues and perspectives

Academic geographer JB Harley offers further perspectives on cartographic critical literacy in his chapter 'Maps, knowledge, and power', from The iconography of landscape: Essays on the symbolic representation, design and use of past environments (1998), where such considerations as the power structures that underpin mapping, the silence on maps, ideology and representation are examined.

About the illustrations

Illustration 1: Teaching literacy in geography Year 8 examines the processes of reading and writing using a variety of texts and resources. A range of additional resources is also provided. 

Illustration 2: Vocabulary and spelling will help you develop required knowledge and understandings about the use of geographic vocabulary and the wider skills associated with words, their meanings and spelling. Questions for teacher discussion are provided as well as a range of resources. 


Books and articles:

Anstey, M. & Bull, G. (2006). Teaching and learning multiliteracies: Changing times, changing literacies. Kensington Gardens SA: Australian Literacy Educators Association.

Gerber, R. (1985). Designing graphics for effective learning, in Geographical Education, 5(1), pp. 27-33. 

Harley, J. (1988). Maps, knowledge and power. In D. Cosgrove & S. Daniels. The iconography of landscape: Essays on the symbolic representation, design and use of past environments. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. 

Kleeman, G. (Ed.). (2008). Keys to fieldwork: Essential skills and tools. South Yarra: Macmillan Education. 

Kriewaldt, J. & Boon, D. (2012). Geographic inquiry. In T. Taylor, C. Fahey, J. Kriewaldt & D. Boon Place and time: Explorations in teaching geography and history. Frenchs Forest: Pearson Australia, pp. 129-146.

Mackintosh, M. (2005). Images in geography: using photographs, sketches and diagrams. In S. Scoffham (Ed.). Primary geography handbook. Sheffield: Geographical Association, pp. 121-133.

Roberts, M. (2003). Learning through enquiry: Making sense of geography in the key Stage 3 classroom. Sheffield: Geographical Association.

Widdowson, J. & Lambert, D. (2006). Using geography textbooks. In D. Balderstone. Senior geography handbook. Sheffield: Geographical Association, pp. 146-159. 

Wilmot, P. (1999). Graphicacy as a form of communication (PDF 558.51 KB). South African Geographical Journal (Special Issue, June) 81(2), pp. 91-95. Retrieved August 2012 from: http://eprints.ru.ac.za/548/1/Graphicacy.pdf


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

Other relevant resources are contained in the sections above.