How to Speak Like a Volcanologist

Monday, 3rd September 2018

Jo Coles

iceland eyjafjalljokull volcanic eruption lava rth

In order to be able to participate in geographic conversation, whether that means students talking with teachers or peers, or simply reading around the subject, or keeping up with the news, etc., it is important to be able to ‘speak like a geographer’. Many geography teachers have been sharing their ‘speak like a geographer’ display boards, encouraging students with ‘heavenly words’ or discouraging them from using ‘banned words’ – see some excellent examples here from @jennnnnn_x or @geographykes for inspiration.

A broad and complex vocabulary has always been essential, but it is even more so in the current exam specifications. Even at Key Stage 3, a more sophisticated use of language is critical, as the curriculum orders state that our students must be able to “communicate geographical information in a variety of ways, including…writing at length.

Visit any primary school and I guarantee you will be blown away by the quality of written work that students in the juniors are producing, with high standard grammatical skills being a basic expectation as well as both factual and creative writing foci. Yet when students come to secondary, there is far too often a drop in progress in literacy.

Teacher and students white board

As a senior leader in school, I sadly often witnessed (either in class or in department conversations) teachers commenting that ‘we can’t assume they know that’ or ‘we have to teach it again, in case it wasn’t done properly at primary’! There is a lack of confidence not just for student abilities, but for our primary school colleagues who – I promise you – are having a much tougher time raising the standards not just in literacy but in numeracy to meet ever growing expectations on young children.

I think that at secondary we should be expecting high quality oral and written literacy skills – and providing opportunities to demonstrate this, develop this, and progress this. At the very least we should be raising the bar and having high expectations for geographical literacy through key word usage (whether written or oral). This should be not just because a final exam requires this but also because we shouldn’t ‘dumb down’ and assume students cannot cope. Students usually rise to the challenge and who knows, maybe one day they might just have that term hidden away that will help them win an obscure round of Pointless!

The new specifications and content are an opportunity for this, not a threat, and allow us to develop deeper knowledge through accurate language use.

So, whether your students are in Year 7 or 13, throw in some specific terminology, and get ready to feel proud of the quality young geographers growing in front of you.

Try Our Matching Exercise

We’ve created two sets of key words and descriptions; Conversational Volcano (less challenging) and Professional Volcano (more challenging).

Download, print, cut and match the correct word to its description.

Your students will be speaking ‘volcano’ in no time.

  Matching Exercise Conversational Volcano (Less Challenging)

  Matching Exercise Answer Sheet

  Matching Exercise Professional Volcano (More Challenging)

Matching Exercise Label

More Suggested Teacher Activities

  • Play key word bingo
  • Talking heads: have students quiz each other on meaning and spelling
  • Re-define: students read the definitions aloud to each other, then put it into their own words to write their own definition. Then move to a different partner and read your own definition – can they tell what it is? If not, redefine again. If they do, the new partner can see if they can improve the definition or simplify it.
  • Play key word Jenga (see )
  • Have students complete a piece of extended writing, for example to answer a case study or exam question such as “Describe and explain the primary and secondary impacts of a volcanic eruption you have studied”. Upon completion, students can self or peer assess to highlight how many key words they have successfully included and whether the definitions are correct.
  • For extended writing, you could also use learning grids completed with the different key words for students to include (see )

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