“If the world were good for nothing else, it is a fine subject for speculation” William Hazlitt (1823)

Coastal landform photo

Asking pupils to speculate on facts, formations or processes at the beginning of a lesson can spark curiosity and is a technique that can be used within an ISM starter (a strategy outlined in my previous blog posts). A relatively easy technique to implement into any lesson, Roberts (2013) discusses the power of speculation at length in her chapter on ‘creating a need to know’.

When you are up against a seemingly uninspiring topic, or when you have that mental block on a Sunday evening, I have found that ‘speculation’ is a useful technique to have up your sleeve. It simply requires asking your pupils to guess, or ‘speculate’ the answer to a question, which could be about a geographical fact, a formation or a process.

Speculation on formation and processes

A speculation activity does not have to be reserved solely for starters; I have most recently used it as the basis of an entire lesson on coastal landforms. With the GCSE specification in front of me and the list of the eight coastal erosional and depositional landforms that I needed to teach, I decided to devote an entire lesson to ‘speculation’. In small groups, pupils were given a photograph of one of the coastal features and were asked to speculate on its formation. The different theories were discussed at length, ensuring the correct terminology we had previously learnt was put to good use. This is one of the advantages of speculation – it asks pupils to draw on existing knowledge to solve a new puzzle. This strategy can be replicated across all physical geography topics. Asking ‘how is this formed?’ and showing an image as a stimulus is also an engaging way to start a lesson.

Speculation on facts

I find this technique particularly useful when facts and figures need to be delivered to pupils. I have used it successfully for lessons where I have asked students to speculate on these subjects, amongst many others:

  • Housing issues in MEDCs –the number of homeless people in the UK
  • Human Development Index –the highest and lowest scoring countries in terms of their HDI
  • Water crisis – the domestic activity which uses the most water in a day
  • Population density –the most densely populated country
  • National Parks –the most popular UK National Park
  • Globalisation –the wage (in dollars) paid to a sweatshop worker in Vietnam

Encouraging pupils to exchange their ideas and challenge each other’s responses can reveal misconceptions and can also foster an environment where pupils are not afraid to be wrong. It can lead to pupil-led discussions and the formation of their own enquiry questions.

Think of a lesson you are teaching tomorrow. I am sure it will not take you long to think of a question that asks pupils to speculate the answer. Within seconds you have a starter that not only introduces the key concept of the lesson, but also raises questions, sparks curiosity and engages pupils. Why not leave a comment to let me know how it goes?

Rebecca Priest photoRebecca Priest is a Geography Teacher at King Edward VI High School for Girls in Birmingham. She is currently studying for a MA in Geography Education at the Institute of Education and presented a session on ISM at the GA’s 2015 Annual Conference. 

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