Improving Key Stage 3: Decisions, decisions, decisions!

Dunn's River Falls, Jamaica

As we begin the second year of new specifications, it feels as though the attention of many geography departments is once again focused on Key Stage 3, reflecting upon the change required here in order to best prepare our students for what we now know lies ahead. One of the biggest challenges I have found with the Key Stage 3 to 4 transition is helping students to adjust to the huge amount of new terminology and content that is inevitable when you begin a new GCSE topic.

In order to overcome this, at the end of last year we have tried something new in the department: a Scheme of Work based entirely around an old Decision Making Exercise (DME) resource booklet from a previous specification. Whilst many departments build a DME into each Scheme of Work, we decided to plan an entire 6-week scheme around a resource booklet and build up to making and justifying a decision once students were fully informed about the topic.

I found that this served as a fantastic bridge between Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 geography. As a synoptic unit, it drew together key concepts from all the physical and human geography topics our students study throughout Years 8 and 9, with a heavy focus on making links and understanding the wider geographical context, which is  often missing in younger years.

Our resource booklet was about Jamaica, and students were given a copy of the document at the start of Lesson 1. The following overview of the lessons will hopefully provide an insight into the value of this approach. I will certainly be building another one into Key Stage 3!

Lesson 1: Introduction to Jamaica

These activities aimed to provide an overview of Jamaica whilst introducing students to the concept of a DME paper and how it would work in their GCSE exams. We started by completing a choropleth map of the island before students were required to synthesize the sources they’d be given to conclude whether or not Jamaica was a developing country.

Key concepts covered Skills
Physical landscapes

Physical geography features

What is development?

Chloropleth mapping

Synthesizing information

Extended writing

Lesson 2: Jamaica’s development

In order to focus in more detail on the development of Jamaica, we reintroduced students to population pyramids. These are a vital skill for GCSE geography and facilitated in-depth discussion about key demographic changes to countries as they develop. Students were introduced to the new ideas of remittances and brain drain at this stage, having used the population pyramids to contextualise the issues in Jamaica.

Key concepts covered Skills
What is development?

Different reasons for migration

Population pyramids

Lesson 3: Jamaica’s economy

As in the previous lesson, students were reintroduced to a key concept that they’d studied in a prior Key Stage 3 topic, this time the Clark-Fisher model. They gained experience of applying their knowledge to the relatively unknown context of Jamaica – an increasingly important skill in the new GCSE specifications. A highlight for me was the construction of a spider-diagram about why it is beneficial that subsistence farming is decreasing in Jamaica. This is just one of  many opportunities for students to make synoptic links, and the results were impressive! As this photo of a student’s work shows, we were able to discuss and link increasing HDI, better healthcare, attraction of TNCs, increased FDI, and reduced brain drain through one simple question.

Example of student's work


Key concepts covered Skills
The Clark-Fisher model

Rural-urban migration

Subsistence farming

Sketching and interpreting diagrams accurately

Lessons 4 & 5: Environmental impacts

As we neared the mid-point of the Scheme of Work, the focus began to shift towards the different options available to Jamaica for improving its economy (according to this particular information booklet).

These lessons saw the students consider the environmental, economic and social impacts of two of the stated options: expanding the tourism industry or expanding the bauxite mining industry. Again, students were encouraged to use their booklet of sources to help them consider the advantages and disadvantages.

Key concepts covered Skills
Tourism and its impacts Line graph construction

Justification of ideas / opinions

Categorizing of statements into Economic, Social and Environmental

Lesson 6: Other options for Jamaica

This penultimate lesson saw students introduced to a new concept, eco-tourism, and an opportunity to apply their conceptual understanding of sustainability. Of course, it is impossible to sit a geographical decision-making exam paper and score highly without consideration and understanding of this fundamental geographical concept.  This lesson therefore required students to consider the extent to which eco-tourism could be the best option to improve Jamaica’s economy.

Key concepts covered Skills
Sustainability Extended writing

Lesson 7: The decision

In the final lesson in this sequence, students had to use their learning and application of concepts in order to decide which option they think is best. Although the DME GCSE exam paper requires students to write this as a formal essay, we wanted to finish the year with a creative and enjoyable piece of work – so the students presented their arguments on A3 paper. Plenty of time was given for the completion of the work and minimal guidance was given about how it had to be presented. The result? Colourful and advanced work, which clearly showed how complex their synoptic geographical understanding could be following a rigorous Key Stage 3!

Note to self: next year, take photos of their work!

Please let me know if you’d like a link to my resources for this Scheme of Work.

Kate Stockings Kate Stockings completed her PGCE at the University of Cambridge 2014-2015. She joined Roding Valley High School as an NQT in September 2015 and took over as Head of Department in June 2016. Follow Kate on Twitter.

2 thoughts on “Improving Key Stage 3: Decisions, decisions, decisions!

  1. Stephen Schwab says:

    V.interesting Kate, what gcse board are you teaching? would love a link to the resources pls.

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