Writing & study skills

1. Introduction

The longer answers to Geography exam questions require a “mini-essay” and it is important to develop skills in crafting your writing to explain, describe or analyse the subject presented to you by the examiner. This applies to longer answers in GCSE Geography but is particularly important in GCE A-level Geography where very detailed essay responses are needed, bringing case study material to bear on the question.

This section of the GeogBlogCostaBlanca is designed to help you improve your general writing skills but is particularly geared to exploring vocabulary and English language structures that are useful to this subject. Apart from the key words that you must learn for the topics you study (e.g. “push” and “pull” factors in migration; “infiltration” and “aquifers” in hydrology; etc.) you are encouraged to improve your English skills to build up a useful set of stock words and phrases for geography which will help to frame your responses to exam questions.

In addition to improving your writing skills, it is essential to build up your understanding of the way that geography questions are phrased. Particular command words need a focused and thoughtful response. So, if you were asked to compare internal migration in LEDCs and MEDCs you would be largely looking for similarities, and might explore patterns of rural to urban movement; but if you were asked to contrast the effects of flooding in MEDCs and LEDCs you would be looking for differences, and you may argue that the effects involve damage to property in MEDCs but can bring huge loss of life in LEDCs.

2. Resources

Here are some resources to help you to focus on planning, writing techniques and study skills for geography. This page is being developed and more resources will be added to accompany lessons in December 2015 in preparation for Year 12 and 13 mock exams.

Essay-Writing-1—Stages-of-Writing-an-Essay An excellent and detailed booklet on planning, structuring and writing an essay.

Feedback and Easter homework Year 12  (This was written for a particular class of AS Geography students in 2013 but it contains some general points that may be useful to all.)

3. Graphic organisers

One way of making thinking processes more visible is to use cognitive or graphic organisers, which are also scaffolds. There are many possible ways of visualising ideas (timelines, Venn diagrams, tree diagrams, mind maps, flow charts). These
types of organisers are particularly useful for bilingual learners, as they help learners organise information into more manageable chunks, and they demonstrate relationships between ideas visually, so that language is less of a barrier to understanding. Cognitive organisers can be used to help learners understand information. Have a look at this website, http://www.graphic.org/ or Google “graphic organisers” for more ideas about this way of presenting information.

4. Harvard referencing

There are a number of different systems for citing references in an academic essay, but the Harvard system is very widely used throughout the world and I recommend it for my A-level students. I usually run a session on Harvard referencing at some point in the two-year A-level Geography course but I have been a little slack recently on insisting that students’ work is properly and thoroughly referenced.

There are numerous explanations of the Harvard system online. My session on this is based on my own experience of using the Harvard system in postgraduate work at London and in the Pontifical Beda College in Rome, where all academic work had to be referenced meticulously.

Your printed hand-out is based on the good tutorial on the Harvard system produced by Cardiff University which sets everything out very clearly.

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