Teaching Geographical Concepts and Skills in Primary Social Studies, pp. 6 of 13

Once students know how to “see” pictures/photographs, teachers can proceed to help them “read” them. Reading requires students to examine them closely so that relevant details can be gathered, categorised and compared. Teachers can encourage and help students to:

  • Sort pictures/photographs and explain their sorting, for instance, sort primary activities from secondary activities, physical environments from human environments or damaged environments from improved environments.
  • Sequence collections of pictures/photographs, for example, order photographs of highlands to lowlands or the stages of padi cultivation.
  • Join or overlap successive pictures/photographs into a panorama.
  • Appreciate the size, scale and distance, for example, talk about how big, how near or how far the features are.
  • Caption pictures/photographs to capture their essence.  
  • Handle increasingly complex or unfamiliar pictures/photographs to compare and generalize.
  • Make a sketch of the photograph and label, annotate and colour specific features of the sketched landscape.  

When using pictures/photographs in teaching, it is important that students do not assume or take away images of the neighbourhood, the country of Singapore, the Southeast Asia region or the continent of Asia based on only a few pictures/photographs they see. This will help to avoid the situation whereby students form negative stereotypes of a place. Hence, it is essential for students to see a range of representative photographs that depicts the variety of life and features of a place (Catling & Willy, 2009).

The last step is to teach students to “interpret” the pictures/photographs. Photograph interpretation is influenced by students’ prior knowledge, perceptions, attitudes and experiences with the places in the photographs. Some of their perceptions are biased and need to be challenged. The teacher’s role then is to ask different types of questions to help students in their interpretation (see Figure 3 below).

Using Maps for Map Reading

Maps are tools for people to find places, get to places and know about the environment of places. A map reveals what the environment of a place is like and the existing physical and human features that give the place its special identity.  It shows the relationships between features and the influence they have on one another. It also influences our decision making and problem solving (Catling, 2005; Wiegand, 1993).

Different types of maps exist, for example, political maps, street directory maps, tourist maps, rainfall maps, temperature maps, topographic maps, relief and drainage maps and maps showing distributions of natural resources and crop cultivation. The choice of maps depends on the purpose of use. For instance, street maps are useful for road drivers and tourist maps help tourists navigate in places of attraction. It is important to expose students to different types of maps over time and these should be age and developmentally appropriate for students. Although maps differ from one another, they have common elements such as a title, a plan view, a legend or key, symbols, names of places, a north arrow and grid lines.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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