Elaboration, elaboration, elaboration…

We’re really pleased that guest blogger, Abdurrahman Pérez (@mr_perez5), is back discussing his strategies for encouraging students to develop their answers to geographical questions further. 

My biggest takeaway having finished my second year in the classroom was how often I was finding students were leaving arguments/points half-done, undeveloped and leaving me asking “so?”, “and?” or “why?”. I was writing these three questions on student work so often I thought I had to do something about it. So much was it a worry for me that when I finally put up the display on it (which I’ll get back to later), I began every lesson introducing it, telling all my classes where the display was, why I had made it and how they could use it. My thoughts on being honest with pupils are perhaps for another time, but I cannot overstate its importance – why let them be mind-readers? Tell them what you want from, why you do what you, why you’re approaching a lesson a certain way, etc… Anyway, that’s for another time!

The AQA mark schemes want “developed” responses, so does Edexcel (as well as “logical connections”) and Eduqas call them “chains of reasoning”, a much better way of thinking about it, but my thoughts on why Eduqas is infinitely better than AQA and all the rest deserve a whole book, so I’ll leave it there!). Below you can see some AQA examples, which I decided to keep out of the final display as they are unnecessary and made it far less student-friendly. The urge to address this was further compounded when I recalled some of my Year 11s scripts from the summer exams and noticed how ‘highly-rated’ the approach of elaborating and explaining themselves my pupils had used to good effect was. (This would later be confirmed when I did some exam marking over the summer and noticed how successful candidates who properly developed their answers were.

Paper 1 Living with the physical environment

Paper 1 Living with the physical environment

Paper 3 Geographical Applications

Paper 3 Geographical Applications

In my department, we start everything from KS3, not in the exam-factory sense, but more in a bid to get the right skills embedded by the time students get to Year 10 when we start our two-year GCSE. This means I wanted everyone to be elaborating and developing their points, from 7 set 5 to my Year 13s. In my opinion, this approach is totally applicable to all ages and abilities – in fact, my explanation of the display was no different with 17-year-olds than it was with 12-year-olds…

I call it “don’t put them full stop too early” – I want my pupils to elaborate on their evidence, explain their arguments or develop their points. This concept is at the heart of acronyms such as PEEL, PEDaL, etc, so chances are you are aiming for it too. I don’t want: “heavy rainfall leads to flooding as it saturates the soil around a river” – I want “heavy rainfall leads to flooding as it saturates the soil around a river. This means that the soil is less likely to able to allow infiltration and as a result of this, surface runoff will increase and lead to flooding as river discharge increases beyond channel capacity.” Yes, the sentence is longer but now I know that the pupil knows their stuff and I expect this from Year 7s, mind. I tell my pupils that I know and trust they know their stuff (most of them at least!), they just need to prove it because I won’t assume anything when I’m marking their work or questioning them in class; for the older ones, I tell them to prove it to an examiner who has never met them. To help them do this, my pupils are presented with a number of stems.

Wall display to support elaboration

Wall display to support elaboration


Explain yourself or elaborate

Explain yourself or elaborate

Writing cues

Writing cues

The display:

I am not interested in wading into the whole “what is the point of displays?” ‘debate’ that has cropped up on Twitter an annoying amount of times. Am I covering exactly 44.56% of my walls? I don’t know. Am I complying with fire-safety rules? I’m not sure…(?). Am I distracting pupils? I sure hope not…

What matters is that this display works with for me and I use it very often for the benefit of my pupils. That is all that does and will ever matter in the display debate. I am often directing students to its use and I encourage students to look at it whilst completing in-class extended writing (we call them Big Writes) and I even get them to use them whilst stretching their verbal responses to my question. For example, if a pupil has given me an answer and I want more from them, I will challenge them to turn around and use one of the stems to extend their answer. Or I might get another pupil to do this for them.

This led to some good results here and there – this year 9 pupil you can see is in the process of grasping it:

Example of response

Example of response

However, this is still a developing approach and is by no means embedded. I need to model it for pupils more often and maybe even the fact that the display is at the back of my class makes its use impractical. This is partly the reason why I have created laminated cards. Inspired by @missgeog92, these will be placed into the boxes I have on my desks which currently house the glues, scissors and dictionary, held together using some cheap binding rings from Amazon.

And this means that

And this means that…

This results in

This results in

Writing cues and examples

Writing cues and examples

What matters really is how much I push them. I, and you if you decide to use them, cannot just hope pupils will diligently pick them up during a lesson and just use them. After all, how many of them use those nice laminated matts you put out every so often? Pupils need training and modelling, so that’s my task in September. Hopefully, if I do it often enough it’ll stick! It’s easy to want rapid results but you and I know that’s not how teaching works – it’s not how children (and their brains) work! To ‘convince’ them I have often used lots of written and verbal examples, I praise its use pupils and I often refer to the actual display in lessons, getting the whole class to turn and face it – much to the chagrin of moody teenagers! However, what I think really struck a chord with some – and to return to my point of being honest with students – is when I explained why they should use the display.

I told/tell them elaboration can mean: (1) explaining yourself – your point or your argument; (2) adding more detail (e.g. an impact of an event) or (3) giving an example. I tell them it can help to analyse (the A-Level lot love this) or a way to link back to the question (and the GCSE classes lap this up!). I ask them to ask themselves the very same questions I am left asking when I’ve read their work: So? And? Why? That’s when a lot of them ‘get it’.

I think we’re all trying to do this in some sort way – in fact, I initially thought this might be a good blog post because I saw @Geoisamazing’s brilliant “This means that…” resource recently on Twitter and it reminded me of what I had done/was planning to do. It is definitely a case of ‘slowly, slowly catchy monkey’ (very slowly with some pupils or classes), but it’s certainly worth sticking with. You’ll notice differences in oral responses as well written answers in time and that will mean you will have equipped your pupils with the tools to produce work you – but more importantly, they – can be very proud of!

Abdurrahman Pérez (@mr_perez5)
August 2019

You can find the elaboration display here and I will post the laminated ring cards on my Twitter account when they’re finished: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1_ufOduWmtrdd-zxwKw3RBWg-DimRU4CL?usp=sharing

Internet Geography is offering a platform for guest bloggers for this academic year. Got a teaching strategy, interest or anything geographical you’d like to share? Please contact us. We’re unable to offer a financial award but we’ll send you a little treat in the post.

Acronyms in geography to improve writing

Acronyms are a great way of supporting students when writing like a geographer. They provide a simple framework for students to follow when answering different types of geographical questions. If embedded throughout key stage 3 and 4 they are powerful tools for learners to draw on in the tension-thick exam hall.

Having reached out to Twitter for acronym suggestions, we’ve pulled together a range of strategies that may be useful to you and your students. Many thanks to everyone who contributed!

We do not recommend teaching students all of the techniques below. It is more useful to cherry-pick a small number to try. Also, while acronyms provide support and structure to students there is a risk that answers can become too formulaic. Students need to be taught how to use these acronyms effectively – knowing when and how to confidently apply or deviate from them.

If we’ve missed out a useful acronym please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. If you have any resources you’re prepared to share based on these strategies please send a copy to [email protected].

Acronyms for thinking synoptically

STEEP – Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental & Political (includes Historical)
Why use it?
A useful way of encouraging students to make connections.

The image below, provided by @geojosie, provides a structure for using STEEP.

STEEP - encouraging learners to think synoptically

STEEP – encouraging learners to think synoptically

Acronyms for answering geographical questions

SEE – State, explain, example
Why use it?
Provides a simple structure when answering questions. Students will give an answer (state), explain it and back it up with an example.

PEE – Point, explain, example
Why use it?
Provides a simple structure when answering questions. Students will give a point, explain it and back it up with an example.

The video below, by Kit Rackley of GeogRamblings, explains the technique in a geographical context.

PEEEL – Point, explain example, evaluation and link
Why use it?
Further development on the PEE acronym.

PEDaL – Point, evidence/explain, develop, link
Why use it?
Useful for explaining answers and making links back to the question.

PETAL – Point, evidence, this means that, as a result, link.
Why use it?
A development of PEDaL that provides further structure to explanations and considers impacts.

PELE – Point, explain, link, evidence
Why use it?
Legendary footballer!

SHEEP 🐑 Social, historical, economic, environmental, political
Why use it?
Supports development of answers, particularly for high tariff questions.

Acronyms for geographical distribution/patterns/locations

CLOCCK – Continent, latitude/longitude, ocean/sea, country, compass, kilometre
Why use it?
A technique for describing geographical locations on a map.

GSE Generally, specifically and exception
Why use it? 
Useful for distribution/location questions

Acronyms for graphs/data

TEA – Trend, example, anomaly
Why use it?
Useful for analysing graphs.

TREE – Trend, rate of change, examples/evidence, exceptions
Why use it?
Useful for analysing graphs, this structure ensures students cover all possibilities when analysing data.

TEAL – Trend, example, anomaly, links
Why use it?
Useful for analysing graphs.

PALMS – Pattern, anomaly, least, most, stats
Why use it?
Useful for analysing graphs and maps.

PADL – Patterns, anomalies, data, links to topic(s).
Why use it?
Ideal for resource-based questions.

PDA – Patterns, data, anomalies
Why use it?
Ideal for ensuring students include data in descriptions.

FART – Figures, anomalies, rate and trend.
Why use it?
The students will remember it! Useful to remind them of rates and trends in data.

GEE it’s a graph! Generally, examples include, exceptions include…
Why use it?
Particularly useful for sentence starters.

TRASH – Trend, range, anomalies, smallest, highest
Why use it?
A comprehensive range of areas to cover when investigating data.

Acronyms for factors affecting climate

WORLD – Wind direction, ocean currents, relief, latitude, distance from the sea
Why use it?
Simple structure for explaining factors that affect climate.

Acronyms for exam technique – reading the question

GAMES – Geography (what knowledge will I apply?), ask (what is the question asking me to do with that knowledge?), marks (how many is it worth and how will I get top marks?), extra (do I need to use resources, maps, graphs etc.)
Why use it?
A great way to encourage students to consider what the question is asking them to do.

BUG – BOX the command word, UNDERLINE the key term/topic, GLANCE back at the question regularly.
Why use it?
Sometimes students can be guilty of regurgitating their geographical knowledge in an exam without actually answering the question. BUG the question is a great technique for students to deconstruct exam questions and increase their chances of picking up marks by writing an answer appropriate to the question.

Acronyms for decision making

MADASS – My choice, advantages, disadvantages, alternatives (compare to), sustainability, sum up.
Why use it?
A great way to encourage students to consider balance when completing decision-making activities.

If you are an Internet Geography Plus subscriber you have free access to the new resources we’re developing to support students in the use of acronyms to improve their answers to geographical questions. Click the image below to access. Get a low-cost subscription here.

PETAL Geography

Scaffolding to tackle alien questions

Having recently read Mark Esner’s post on the TES on Scaffolding: are you using it properly? it reminded me about a scaffolding strategy I’ve used in the past to tack alien ‘questions’.

You’ve crafted and delivered a fantastic set of lessons where students have soaked up knowledge and developed their understanding around a particular topic only to crash and burn when faced with an extended exam question.

Sound familiar?

Then you’ve experienced the scourge of the classroom – the alien question. Alien questions are usually greeted with blank expressions, quickly followed by the looks of pure panic. Despite having developed incredible subject knowledge, applying this to an exam question that students don’t understand is a near impossibility.

Having experienced the curse of the alien question in the classroom, I quickly realised students need to dissect exam questions to apply their skills, knowledge and understanding. This led to the development of a resource that provides students with scaffolding in completing alien questions. Enter DISSECT to Alien Questions. DISSECT is a simple acronym to help students remember how to attempt an alien question:

  1. Decipher the question
  2. Identify facts
  3. Sensible Structure
  4. Examples
  5. Command words
  6. The conclusion
DISSECT the exam question

DISSECT the exam question template

The modelling starts with working out what the exam question is asking. This is followed by identifying examples, such as case studies, that will be included in the answer. Next, the key facts that will be included in the response are recorded. A simple structure is then be planned. Finally, a brief plan for a clear and concise conclusion is recorded. Of course, the model is flexible in terms of the order taken to prepare an answer. For example, planning the conclusion may come before planning the structure.

Below is an example of scaffolding for an alien question that has been live modelled with students.

Example DISSECT the exam question

Example DISSECT the exam question

Eventually, the scaffolding needs to be removed in order for students to be able to tackle alien questions independently. After all, they can’t take the framework into the exam with them. So, how might this be achieved? Below are a series of steps that could be taken to help achieve this:

  1. The teacher models the thinking process they would go through in completing the alien exam question using the template;
  2. Repeat this several times with different exam questions;
  3. Students work in small groups using the template to plan an answer to an alien question. They then rotate around the class looking at other group’s plans and add annotations;
  4. Students complete the template in pairs, then share with other couples to get feedback;
  5. Students use the model independently;

This would occur over an extended period as students will need several experiences using this approach until it is embedded.

Download the template and example below:

DISSECT template

DISSECT earthquake example

If you model any examples using this technique please send a copy over to share via [email protected]

Anthony Bennett



The Grade 9 Handbook

Exam Question Modelling – AO1 and AO2

Exam Question Modelling – AO1, AO3 and AO4