Top 10 best things to do in Iceland on a budget

In this guest blog post Rayburn Tours share some great ways to spend time in Iceland on a budget. You can follow Rayburn Tours on Twitter via @RayburnEdu. Find out more about school trips to Iceland with Rayburn Tours.

Ok, it’s unlikely that a full on adventure to Iceland is going to be a cheap getaway, but this land of spectacular natural beauty has so much to offer visitors without breaking the bank. Any adventurer will be spoilt for choice with steaming hot springs, crashing waterfalls, glistening glaciers and powerful volcanoes – all of which are low-cost options.

So we’ve put together our top 10 recommendations for a school geography trip to Iceland that’ll leave your students wowed (without blowing the budget!).

1.   Visit one of the local swimming pools
A nation of bathing lovers, Icelanders lap up swimming pools, hot tubs and natural springs. Often geothermally heated and surrounded by stunning scenery, make a splash on your adventure with a visit to a local swimming pool.

Whilst a visit to the Blue Lagoon is popular among tourists, there are plenty of cheaper alternatives. Whether you take a dip in one of Iceland’s oldest hot springs – the magical Secret Lagoon – or you dive into one of the many local pools, a swim is a must on any Iceland bucket list.

2.   Walk along the boundary of the North American & Eurasian plates at Thingvellir

Pingvellir National Park

Pingvellir National Park, home to ‘The Wall’ from Game of Thrones

As one of Iceland’s most significant historical sites and part of the country’s famous Golden Circle tour, Thingvellir National Park is not to be missed. It’s one of the few places on earth where the Mid Atlantic Ridge is visible above sea level. Here you can venture between the rifts in the earth’s crust at the boundary of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.

3.   Experience hot springs and the hot river near Hveragerdi

Iceland, Reykjadalur hot springs, Hveragerdi

The hot spring town of Hveragerði boasts an active geothermal area right in the centre of town. Whether you choose to take a dip in the hot river, or boil eggs and bake bread in the hot springs, there’s something to keep everyone entertained. Take a hike along one of the many walking trails and admire the surreal landscape, where white plumes of water vapour surge up into the sky from the surrounding hills.

4.   Witness glaciers before they disappear

Sólheimajökull Glacier

Sólheimajökull Glacier

Iceland’s glaciers are a sight to behold and with the loss of the country’s first glacier – Okjökull– earlier this year, witnessing one of the remaining rivers of ice is all the more meaningful. With approximately 11% of the country’s landscape covered by ice caps, the remaining retreating glaciers bring home the effects of climate change and the importance of preserving these rivers of ice.

Whether you witness Iceland’s largest glacier, the mighty Vatnajökull, Snæfellsjökull or Langjökull, your students are certain to be blown away by the natural beauty.

5.   Don’t Do go chasing waterfalls!

Gulfoss waterfall

If you’re wowed by water then Iceland’s numerous crashing falls are sure to impress. What’s even more thrilling is that glacial runoff is continually causing new waterfalls to form! Iceland has many striking splendours to enjoy, but some of our favourites are Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. For those looking to venture off the beaten track, the lesser known Gluggafoss, Faxafoss, Urridafoss will hit the spot.

6.   Spend time exploring Reykjavik


As the world’s most northerly capital city, artsy Reykjavik is the perfect place to take some time out to explore. Meander along the streets; taking in the colourful buildings and contrasting architecture, before looking out across the rugged hills.

Whether you join a free walking tour of the city, head up to the top of the Hallgrímskirkja for stunning city views or take a boat ride from the harbour, there’s plenty to experience in this coastal city.

7.   Behold Geysir erupting

Eruption of Strokkur Geysir, Golden circle route in Iceland

As one of the visits on the Golden Circle tour, Geysir Geothermal Area is one of Iceland’s most famous tourist attractions and it’s easy to see why. No visit to Iceland would be complete without witnessing (and maybe even taking a boomerang of) Strokkur Geysir shooting boiling water tens of metres high into the air.

Home to various other hot springs, bubbling mud pools and lively eruptions, you’ll also find the original geyser, ‘Great Geysir’. Although Great Geysir’s eruptions are rare, it can eject steam up to 80 metres in the air.

8. Find out about the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull and Iceland’s other volcanoes



Iceland is well-known for its explosive volcanoes and the Katla Centre, overlooked by Eyjafjallajokull, is the perfect place to get all fired up about these explosive formations. Focusing on the Katla volcano which sits under Mýrdalsjökull glacier, you’ll examine the different types of ash and volcanic rocks and learn about the significant impact the volcanic activity has had on the area.

9. Sample some local delicacies

Showcase of different ice cream in metal tubs, closeup

Whilst visitors to Iceland may find whale and shark a little bit fishy (in every sense), there are other local favourites that are definitely worth a try. Icelanders are particularly proud of their hot dogs and ice cream – certain to get your students vote.

10. Take the ferry to Heimaey

The view from Eldfell volcano on Heimaey island, Iceland

All aboard for a visit to Heimaey! The largest and only inhabited island of the Westman Isles is only a 35-minute ferry ride from mainland Iceland. Island life was transformed following a major fissure eruption in 1973, and nowadays visitors can appreciate the devestating impacts by walking across the recently formed lava fields and climbing the newly formed Eldfell volcano.
The interactive Eldheimar Museum, built around one of the homes uncovered from the ash, tells the story of the eruption and includes an exhibition on the Surtsey eruption – the island that emerged from the ocean in 1963.

Find out more about school trips to Iceland with Rayburn Tours


Does the GCSE Geography Curriculum need further modernisation?

Guest blogger James Pledger (@JamesPledger) argues the need for further modernisation of the GCSE Geography Curriculum. 

Two months ago, I spoke to Mohammed in his small shipping container, a part of the Katsikas refugee camp in Northern Greece. We were chatting about causes of the Syrian civil war that had forced him to flee his home in Homs and make the dangerous trip across the Aegean Sea. Following the conversation, on top of realising how utterly desperate the situation in Syria was, it occurred to me how inextricably linked to ‘geography’ the outbreak and continuation of this war were. From the drought in Syria from 2009-2011 (widely viewed as a result of climate change) that caused high rural-urban migration; to global geopolitics, population increases, globalisation, divides between young and old that manifested in the Arab Spring, as well as the introduction of social media/improved technology, it is clear that there were a huge amount of modern geographical factors at play. This got me thinking, surely it is time to modernise the GCSE curriculum further to reflect more of the issues mentioned here?

This is not to say that there have not been significant improvements in the most recent specifications from all exam boards. The environment generally receives a good deal of attention from the majority of the exam boards; there is always some mention of global ecosystems and the mechanisms of globalisation are also touched on by the three main examining bodies. However, let us go further. There are several changes which seem sensible for the geography curriculum to reflect our world in 2019.

1.) The UN categorises anthropogenic climate change as the ‘defining issue of our time’. Therefore, there should be 2/6 of the geography GCSE curriculum dedicated to it. Also, phrases such as ‘there are a number of possible causes of climate change’ preceding lessons on the natural causes of climate change should be avoided; this surely does not give an accurate impression of the situation to students. It provides the kind of ‘balanced’ argument that Nigel Lawson used to when appearing on BBC Breakfast next to a climate scientist.

2.) ‘Development and progress’ should also make up at least 1/6 of each course, but be taught slightly differently. I would use Hans Rosling’s research from the GapMinder Institute to highlight the extent of human progress over the last 100 years, avoiding the traditional Global North/South fallacy and using case studies such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in addition to traditional case studies which generally show LIC countries being exploited by TNCs.

3.) ‘Geopolitics’ should make up 1/6 of each course. This is a topic reflected in university and A-Level Geography courses but completely avoided at GCSE. Is this due to an assumption that the students will not understand, as it is an increasingly important part of geography? In the future, water, food and energy tensions will be played out geopolitically; there seems to be a great chance being missed here to make synoptic links.

4.) Globalisation and technology must be included in the specifications, again making up 1/6 of the course. Social media, automation, anti-biotic immunity, rural-urban migration; almost all of the issues that contributed to the civil war in Syria and Mohammed ending up in Greece should be touched upon within GCSE Geography in my opinion. If we do not as geographers, where else will students be getting this type of information from?

Clearly, all the changes laid out above leave only 1/6 of ‘free’ space to teach anything else! In all the current specifications, there is an adequate section on the biosphere and global ecosystems, which I believe should stay. That means that the specification is full and that in fact, what is being suggested here, is an alternative GCSE curriculum, based on the geographical challenges that will face our students when they leave the classroom.

I know that geography purists won’t like these suggestions. I fully appreciate the value of learning about tectonic plates, earthquakes and volcanoes. I understand how teaching about natural processes like meanders can be interesting and provide local knowledge. I know that the UK has been largely omitted from my suggested specification.

Currently, UK geography makes up a good portion of all the specification content across exam boards, and I know that much of that will be lost. But there is no other subject that is equipped to teach these increasingly important issues. I would argue that an awareness of the impacts of climate change, of the effects of social media on populations and of massively improved global health is much more important to equip our students with than knowledge of meanders or types of erosion. GCSE Geography should look to the future, to plan for the present.

James Pledger

What’s your view on the proposal made by James? Feel free to leave a comment below. We’re keen to encourage debate on Internet Geography, just remember to keep it polite! 

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.

Increasing ‘word consciousness’ in the geography classroom

Guest blogger Abdurrahman Pérez (@mr_perez5) discusses his strategies for increasing ‘word consciousness’ in the geography classroom.

What struck me the most while reading Alex Quigley’s (@HuntingEnglish) fantastic ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap’ (aside from the inspiring reminder of the duty we have to disadvantaged children to better their vocabulary) was the focus on explicit vocabulary teaching. He wants us to make our pupils more ‘word conscious’, and in Episode 13 of ‘The Staffroom’ podcast, he described words as possessing “layers of meaning” and teachers needing to be explicit with students about these when helping them understand specific vocabulary.

Simply put, we cannot just expect them to know, retain and use words magically. We cannot assume. We cannot leave it to anyone else. If you want your pupils to confidently breakdown dense texts, write superb answers to increasingly complex exam questions or to generally be able to understand, analyse and cogently explain (either in writing or verbally) the world around them (as good geographers do), then we need to go about teaching this deliberately. I think some teachers shy away from this – and some say they ‘do not have time to teach vocabulary, isn’t that for English teachers?’ – however, ultimately, it is obvious:
A. You are the expert in the room.
B. Your pupils deserve to be challenged.

Word consciousness

Word consciousness

That is why my department and I are focusing on keywords and command words at GCSE and A-Level. In truth, I had begun to do this before reading ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap’, but anyone who has read it will know that Alex provides you with a thousand and one brilliant practical ways to refine your approach to teaching vocabulary, many of which I’ll take up myself this coming year and use to improve this resource. Without wanting to explicitly make the activity fun – after all, any geography teacher will tell you any and all geography-related content is fun (right?) – it has become a little bit of a game, more so with GCSE actually. I am still developing my A-Level approach so I’ll actually only discuss what I do with my Year 10s and 11s.

The goal of this is that the more familiar your pupils are with key terms (or command words), the more comfortable they are with using them verbally and – most importantly – in an exam setting. Obviously, take that with a pinch of salt, I say ‘most importantly’ simply because this concerns GCSE pupils and I understand a lot of you will not see exam performance as the ‘most important’ thing. Ultimately, you are equipping them with the tools to be able to succeed as geographers – because without a robust vocabulary, they will not be able to communicate their wonderful ideas as well as you want them to.

The aim of the game is simple, identify key terms from their definitions. However, its importance to our approach to interleaving to aid long-term memory and recall, as well as the benefits it has on mock exam/exam question performance is unreal. It has variations, of course, and that’s what the printed cards are for (see Google Drive link below): I can get the whole class to complete a pack (e.g. 3.2.1 Urban Issues and Challenges) with me standing at the front giving clues before the bell rings after we’ve packed away, or I can give a pack to pupil, and they have play Articulate with their partner, or I send one pile of cards around the class and we have to get to the person at the back as quickly as possible with only 3 passes – the possibilities are endless. Two things need to stay at the forefront of your teaching whilst doing this, though:
1. Increase the challenge: if they know the words too well after a while, start asking to follow up or probing questions to embed their understanding and fluency with the vocabulary.
2. Do it often: you need to be doing this often but in a planned manner. That way, in an ideal world, your lesson began with the increasingly popular recall Do Now quizzes (e.g. Geog Your Memory, which is @Jennnnnn_x’s I believe?) or the amazing Find it and Fix it (not sure who made this one!) which focused on a variety of past and present topics, and then ends with you picking a set of key terms from the topic you did, say, last half-term and quickly testing your class.

Increase the challenge

Example of increasing the challenge

Example of increasing the challenge

I won’t patronise you – you know this is referring to dune regeneration, one of three soft engineering strategies mentioned in the AQA GCSE specification. Hopefully, in time, your pupils will become bored of the mere sight of this image and definition as they’ll know it so well. But don’t they just know the image? Aren’t they fooling me? Have some even memorised the order and blurted it out in a concerted effort to get me to stop banging on about this and let them go to break?
No… Not if you follow it up. Great stuff, Ali, you know the definition. But I am not stopping there! Please give me a cost of using sand dune regeneration? And a benefit, please? Where was our example of this being used successfully and what was one of the benefits there? Why is sand dune regeneration significant? Who might disagree with its use? Now Ali does not just remember the image or the definition (although you’ve definitely seared that into his mind!), he remembers the rest. If this appears in the exam or if it could be used in the exam, you’ve helped to equip this pupil with the requisite knowledge of the word to be able to successfully ‘apply’ it (the key element of Assessment Objective 3). You will no doubt have got Ali to use this in a practice exam question but having used it verbally with some confidence (after several attempts, if needed – that is fine), he is slowly becoming an expert of this word. Excellent… one down, hundreds to go!

Do it often
I don’t want to launch into an analysis of the evidence behind interleaving, daily/weekly/monthly reviews or cognitive load theory (partly because it is so widespread nowadays), so I will keep this simple: It is well-known that (good) practice makes perfect, so do not use this sparingly. I see my Year 10s twice a week, so I used it twice a week – simple. It’s mostly at the end of the lesson (although, like I said I can and do mix it up) so there’s a little bit of a routine now, mostly because of my consistent use. As I said, I do not just use this – in fact, I think being too rigid will be counter-productive, bore you, bore the kids and not lead to great results. I mix it up with the Keyword of the Day and something a colleague of mine (@watts_education) introduced me to – the A to Z summariser.

What I do repeat, however, is the focus on making the pupils ‘word experts’ and ultimately more ‘word conscious’; by questioning pupils and discussing words/phrases, especially ones like ‘nutrient cycle’, ‘irrigation’ or ‘agribusiness’ which they won’t hear outside your classroom, they will eventually grow more confident. I remember one of my pupils launching into an explanation of orbital eccentricity and the Milankovitch cycle – 5 months after I’d taught it – when another had responded to a question of mine with a puzzled look. I’ll be honest; whatever you think about the quality of your teaching, the first time this vocabulary-focused approach ‘does this’ to one of your pupils, you too will wear a puzzled look.

Hopefully, this technique, along with the necessary probing questioning, which must accompany it, combined with its repeated use, will help your pupils become just a little bit more ‘word conscious’.

Abdurrahman Pérez (@mr_perez5)
August 2019

The AQA GCSE Geography keywords cards are here:
The AQA A-Level vocabulary is here:
The keyword of the day (adapted Frayer Model):
A to Z summariser:

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.

Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat, West Indies