Be a geography detective
One to two hours
• Internet access
• Overhead projector
• Personal journals
• Prepared transparency of a landscape photograph
At first glance, a landscape can be beautiful, boring, colourful, disturbing. Using the skills of a geography detective, however, students
can learn more about the land and the relationships humans have with it. Students will apply the six essential elements of geography (location,
places and regions, physical systems, human systems, environment and society, and uses of geography) as they make in-depth observations and draw conclusions
about historical landscapes. They will demonstrate understanding by writing journal entries, sketching landscapes, and making mental maps.
- Identify and discuss the six essential elements of
- Use the six essential elements to interpret a landscape
- Incorporate their findings into a journal entry,
including a description, sketch, and mental map
- Acquiring Geographic Information
- Organizing Geographic Information
- Analyzing Geographic Information
Select a landscape photograph from any source. Reproduce
it onto a transparency and display it on an overhead
projector. Allow the students time to view the landscape.
Turn off the projector and ask the students to describe
in their personal journals what they saw. Ask students
to draw a picture of the landscape or create a mental
map of the scene based upon their recollection of the
visual image. Once they have completed their journal
entries and renderings, explain that they are going to
become geography detectives and learn more about this
landscape by investigating essential geography questions.
Explain to students that one aspect of geography is
understanding land, and what its uses are. Write the
names of the six essential elements of geography on the
board or a blank overhead transparency: the world in
spatial terms (location), places and regions, physical
systems, human systems, environment and society, and
uses of geography. Explain that these elements help us
understand more about our land and our relationships
with it. Ask students what they think is meant by each
of the elements. Write their responses under each element.
After they have shared their thoughts, offer the following
guided questions to clarify the elements:
Location: Where might this place be located?
Places and Regions: What is special about this
place? What makes it different from other places? How
is this place like others near or around it?
Physical Systems: What physical processes shape
the features and patterns of the place? What is the weather/climate
Human Systems: How might people, goods, and
ideas travel into and out of this place?
Environment and Society: How have people affected
this environment? How might this environment affect people?
Uses of Geography: How do physical and human
features influence historical, current, or future events?
Divide the class into six groups. Assign each group
one of the six essential elements of geography. Display
the landscape transparency again. Give each group five
minutes to brainstorm answers to the related questions
about the landscape and to record their ideas. When time
is up, allow the groups to share some of their findings.
How did this information compare with the original observations?
How would they enhance their sketches or mental maps
to incorporate what they learned through their geography
As a class, discuss the advantages of using the six
essential elements of geography as a means for interpreting
and understanding landscapes.
Suggested Student Assessment
Have students apply their geographic detective skills
to another landscape. Challenge students to recall the
six essential elements of geography and answer the related
questions given above to better understand their observations
about the land.
Extending the Lesson
Have students use geographic journaling while on a nature
walk or field trip. Students should remember to ask and
answer geographic questions about the landscape as they
Have students read stories of the expedition of Simon
Fraser or Alexander Mackenzie and prepare a journal describing
one of the landscapes they encountered. Students should
consider the six essential elements of geography as you
interpret the relationship between the pioneers and the
Be a geography detective (Adobe PDF document)