More ideas for Initial Stimulus Material

Image of rainforest

If you were intrigued by the concept of using Initial Stimulus Material in your teaching (as outlined in my previous post), then read on. I would like to share some more practical applications of the strategy, which have all been successful in stimulating curiosity and interest in my lessons.


In a ‘pens down’ (no writing!) lesson introducing the topic of development, I used ten images of countries at different stages of development as the stimulus material. The task involved ordering them from ‘most developed’ to ‘least developed’. I chose images that did not obviously show the level of development and portrayed a view that would not normally be associated with that country, for example, a luxury hotel in Niger and a polluted river in Italy. An image of the recent migrant crisis at a railway station in Germany was an excellent way to show an alternative view of an MEDC. As predicted, they took the images at face value and ordered them incorrectly. Once I revealed the correct order, the discussion allowed pupils to form overarching learning aims for the topic: why are countries at different stages of development and what can be done to solve development issues? Also, it successfully opened pupils’ eyes to alternative views of countries and to get them to question accepted stereotypes or single perceptions of places.

An imagined email

Another option for stimulus material is an imagined email, where you create a character that portrays a particular opinion or issue. For an ISM starter on migration, I created an email address for ‘Dominik Bernard’ from Poland and wrote an email to students. The email outlined the Dominik’s dilemma about whether to move to the UK. He spoke about his friends who had been successful with their migration and also those who had encountered issues integrating. The task asked pupils to use the contents of the email to create questions for a reply to Dominik. This led pupils to question the events in the email and discuss push and pull factors surrounding migration. From this, we were able to form two enquiry questions::  why do people want to leave their country of origin and what issues do they encounter in their destination country? A reply to Dominik’s email outlining pupils’ opinions on migration was used for summative assessment. The email stimulated curiosity in the pupils as they tried to imagine what Dominik’s life was like and they formed sophisticated enquiry questions for the next series of lessons.


Finally, if you are short of preparation time and want an ISM that is quick and easy, the use of music as the stimulus material is a failsafe option. The strategy is replicable across any topic, providing you can find a good soundtrack to stimulate the pupils’ minds. I have used music at the beginning of a rainforest topic. Pupils were asked to listen and note down what they could hear, how they felt and any questions they may have. The use of sounds of the rainforest (an example can be heard on YouTube) and guided discussion enabled the pupils themselves to outline the following sub-topics: climate, animals and threats to the rainforest. This can also be done for coasts (soothing sounds of the sea), volcanoes (an audio of a volcanic eruption), and urbanisation (a busy city centre audio).

So, over to you: it’s time to experiment with different types of ISM and reap the benefit of stimulating curiosity in your pupils. Let them create their own learning aims, let them ask enquiring questions and let them explore tangible stimulus material. It has enhanced my lessons and I hope that it will enliven yours too.

Rebecca Priest photo

Rebecca 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. 

2 thoughts on “More ideas for Initial Stimulus Material

  1. Sonia King says:

    This was quite informative and adds to the things I am already doing with my students. Great job

  2. Rebecca Priest says:

    Thanks Sonia, what sort of ISM activities have worked best for you?

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