Illustration 1: Using geography thought provokers

Curriculum overview

The Australian Curriculum: Geography (and its various HASS-based iterations) content descriptions addressed in the illustration are:

  • Significant events that connect people and places throughout the world
  • The various connections Australia has with other countries and how these connections change people and places
  • The effect that people's connections with and proximity to places throughout the world, have on shaping their awareness and opinion of those places

Learning goals

This activity is designed to support students to think critically about what is relevant when answering a question or looking at an issue.
The illustration-specific learning goals include:

  • understanding relevance and non-relevance as distinct from correct or incorrect 
  • understanding the ways that events and characteristics of other places impact on Australia
  • developing critical thinking skills
  • developing group decision-making techniques.

Geographical understanding and context

The Geography thought-provokers (PDF) included in this illustration provides a number of stimulating questions that focus on interconnections between Australia and other nations. They encourage students to think about interconnections including migration, tourism, trade and aid. They show just a few of the links between Australia and China, Indonesia, South-West Asia, and Papua New Guinea.

As well as developing thinking skills and knowledge about our neighbouring countries, these 'geography thought-provokers' relate to values-based issues. Students are confronted with issues which may challenge their values and assumptions and help them to reflect on and redefine their values.

Some prior discussion of context is necessary in each of the activities. The location of the place, the discovery of some of the key facts about it, and certainly the relationship of it to Australia on a world map or globe is essential.

Teaching approaches

In this illustration, Geography thought-provokers (PDF) provides a number of examples of thought-provoking questions and statements for students to consider. These are also known as 'geography mysteries'. Some of the thought-provokers will be better suited to particular groups of students dependent on their prior experiences and learning. You should choose the most appropriate ones to use for your students.

Each one of these thought-provokers starts with a question followed by a series of statements that are related to the question and factually correct but have varying relevance. This is important, because the point of the activity is not whether the statement is a 'correct' or 'incorrect' fact, but what is 'relevant' or 'irrelevant' to the question.

This is best done in small groups so that each student can have their say. Provide each group with a different thought-provoker to discuss and asses.Geography thought-provokers (PDF) provides several thought-provokers you may use, or you may create others. The statements can be supplied as a list on a sheet of paper, on separate strips of paper, or in an electronic form.

  • Small group work – discussion

Working in their groups, students read carefully each of the statements related to their question, and then select those that are relevant to the question. An important part of the activity is the argument between different class members as to what is relevant and what is not.

  • Small group work – order analysis

When the group has agreed (or agreed to differ) on those statements which are relevant, the next task is to arrange them in a logical order. This order might be an order of hierarchical importance, chronological order, or a 'diamond shape' order of importance (where there are a few most important, many of medium importance and a few of little importance).

  • Individual work – writing a prose

The ultimate task for each student, working as an individual, is to write an answer to the question, based on the statements they have chosen. It must be written in correct prose style, with a variety of sentence structures and a clear and logical progression of the answer to the question.

  • Extension activities

Some students could find out more about the particular issue and develop more factual statements.
Further activities could include similar 'thought-provokers' on other issues relevant to the aims, developed by you or by groups within the class. 

What you need

Geography thought-provokers (PDF) that provides the questions:

  • Why did Sandy and Chris go to Bali for their holiday?
  • Why are many of my clothes made in China?
  • Why does Australia send aid to Papua New Guinea?
  • Why do refugees come as 'boat people' to Australia?
  • Why were Jo's wooden souvenirs confiscated by Australian customs at Sydney airport?
  • Why have Xuan and Li Ling from China decided to holiday in Australia?

Preparation: Copying of the question and statements for each group (and cutting if desired).

Time allocation: A question could occupy about 15–20 minutes of discussion, followed by about 20–30 minutes for writing a prose version of the answer.

Curriculum connections

This illustration links with the content descriptions of the following Phase 1 Australian Curriculum. 


  • Plan, rehearse and deliver presentations, selecting and sequencing appropriate content and multimodal elements for defined audiences and purposes, making appropriate choices for modality and emphasis
  • Create literary texts that adapt or combine aspects of texts students have experienced in innovative ways
  • Investigate how complex sentences can be used in a variety of ways to elaborate, extend and explain ideas


  • Develop texts, particularly narratives and descriptions, which incorporate source materials
  • Use a range of communication forms (oral, graphic, written) and digital technologies


Leat, D. & Nichols, A. (2003). Theory into practice. Mysteries make you think. UK: The Geographical Association. This is the best (and possibly the only) book to explain the learning theory behind this classroom technique, and to give guidance in setting up this kind of learning experience.

Geographical Association, Staffordshire learning net. Mysteries provides an explanation of the process of creating and managing mysteries in the Geography classroom. Retrieved September 2019, from: