Using Images in Geography #3 Thinking like a geographer

Increasingly students are being expected to ‘think like a geographer’ by applying skills, knowledge and understanding to unfamiliar contexts.

The use of photographs and question stems is a useful way of encouraging students to ‘think like a geographer’. After all, students have to learn how to ask questions to be able to apply themselves to unfamiliar contexts.

Before this can be done, students need to have a basic understanding of what geography is, and this post is based on the premise that they have an awareness of the main geographical concepts your curriculum is based on.

The first step in achieving this might be to introduce the concept of using images to think like a geographer. Modelling how a geographer might use a photograph to consider the geography of a particular location to demonstrate the process through thinking aloud would provide cognitive strategies that students could adopt. Thinking aloud by the teacher will provide students with a way to witness expert thinking, usually hidden from them.

The next step in encouraging students to think like a geographer could be to provide scaffolding and model geographical questions using images.

General question stems, applicable to most geographical photographs,  could be introduced to less experienced students of geography. Examples could include:

  • What are the main geographic features shown in the picture?
  • What are the human features of _____________?
  • What are the physical features of ___________?
  • How are the physical and human features of __________ linked?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of _______________?
  • How does ________________ affect ________________?
  • How does ________________ link to ________________?
  • How does the location compare to __________________?
  • What processes cause ________________________?
  • How would changing ____________________ affect ____________________?
  • How is this _________ interdepedent?
  • What issues relating to sustainability affect ____________?
  • How does __________________ link to what you have studied in geography in the past?
  • What do you not understand about _______________________?
  • In what way is _____________ related to _______________?

Alternatively, you could use more concrete prompts to encourage students to think like a geographer. Examples include:

  • Identify the geographical concepts evident in this image
  • Write a sentence/paragraph to reflect what is shown in this image
  • Use these words as a prompt to figure out the main geographical issues evident in this image.
  • Select two details that elaborate on the main geographical issues in this area and are important to remember
  • How might changes in this area have a positive/negative impact?
  • Describe and explain the issues of sustainability in this image.
  • Explain the potential impact of climate change on this area.
  • What are the human and physical processes in this area and how do they interact?

As students become more experienced asking geographical questions, the teacher could then move onto providing students with prompts such as who, what, when where, why and how before removing the scaffolding completely. Of course, this can be done at any time that is appropriate for individual students.

As students are analysing the photograph it is a good opportunity for the teacher to circulate and check and challenge student thinking. Providing hints, prompts, suggestions, and feedback when students encounter difficulties is encouraged at this stage.

Following this, targetted questioning is a useful way to check understanding and address misconceptions that students might have.

Anthony Bennett

Related posts: 

Using Images in Geography #1 Identify, classify, rank and justify

Using Images in Geography #2 Scroll it

Further reading

The Use of Scaffolds for Teaching Higher-Level Cognitive Strategies

Withernsea DME resources

Withernsea DME resources

The resources below have been developed to support teacher and students using the Internet Geography Coastal Management DME for AQA GCSE Geography paper 3.

An application has been made to secure funding to extend the coastal defences at Withernsea on the Holderness Coast.  The resources below support students investigating the Withernsea Coastal Defences decision-making exercise.

The map below provides an overview of the proposed location of the coastal defences along with information on the existing coastal defences and the impact of coastal erosion in this area.

The image above shows the coastal defences to the south of Withernsea. These include a sea wall, wooden groyne and rock armour.

The image above shows the coastal defences to the south of Withernsea. These include a seawall, wooden groyne and rock armour.

The image below shows the coastal defences at Withernsea and their down-drift impact.

Withernsea - Terminal Groyne Effect

Withernsea – Terminal Groyne Effect

Below is a 360 image captured at Golden Sands Holiday Park.

Golden Sands Holiday Park, Withernsea


This image shows the leisure park to the south of Withernsea. The application for funding will protect this area of coastline.

Coasts Concept Map

Joe Edgar has kindly shared a coastal processes and management concept map based on our collection here on Internet Geography.

Questions that unlock thinking in Geography

Re-write it

Plate Tectonics Concept Map

A concept map exploring aspects of plate tectonics including tectonic processes, the structure of the Earth and plate margins.

Concept Mapping – Tropical Rainforest

Tropical rainforest concept map that covers the structure of the rainforest, processes and human interactions.

Concept Mapping – Deserts

A desert ecosystem concept map covering the characteristics of the vegetation, processes and the advantages and disadvantages of the desert ecosystem.

Four of a kind – Ecosystems

Four of a kind – Natural Hazards