Illustration 2: Using Google Earth to investigate landscapes and landforms

Curriculum overview

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

  • The different types of landscapes and their distinctive landform features
  • The geomorphic processes that produce landforms, including a case study of at least one landform

Learning goals

The illustration-specific learning goals are:

  • locating, observing and describing world famous landform features using Google Earth
  • identifying the principal geomorphic processes that produced the landforms located.

Geographical understanding and context

This illustration focuses on the Year 8 content area of landforms and landscapes. In doing so, it uses a readily accessible spatial technology (Google Earth) to facilitate student observation of some of the world's most famous landform features.
The term 'landscape' is used to describe:

  • visible features of our surroundings, including natural elements (such as mountains, valleys and coastlines) and water bodies (such as oceans, seas, lakes and rivers)
  • living elements of land cover (including vegetation and wildlife) and the human elements (including different forms of land use, buildings and structures)
  • changeable elements (such as weather conditions and the intensity and angle of light).
  • 'Landform' is the term typically applied to the natural physical features of the earth's surface, for example:
  • valleys
  • plateaus
  • mountains
  • cliffs
  • plains
  • hills
  • dunes
  • glaciers.

For the most part, landscapes combine natural features with a 'cultural overlay' of human activity. In some instances this cultural overlay has accumulated over thousands of years. This overlay is often easily identified, as in the case of the human elements of managed and constructed environments. Sometimes, however, the cultural overlay is more difficult to distinguish. Geographers often seek to strip back this cultural overlay to study how places have changed over time.

Landscapes are, in short, the product of the interaction of people and place. They play an important role in creating what geographers refer to as 'sense of place' – the qualities that distinguish one place from another.

In this illustration we focus on locating, observing and describing some of the world's most famous landform features. Students are required to apply their knowledge and understanding of geomorphological processes to identify the principal agents responsible for the formation of the landform features.

Teaching approaches

To implement the activities featured in this illustration you will need access to computers loaded with Google Earth software. If the computers don't have the software required you can download Google Earth from the Internet and install the program.

On launching the Google Earth software a screen will appear that is split into two parts. On the left side is the navigation panel. On the right side is the main image window.

Activities you can undertake with your students are described below.

  • Introducing Google Earth

If your students are not already familiar with Google Earth, introduce them to its basic functions. Google Earth's Navigating on the Earth provides a web-based introduction to the basic Google Earth functions.

  • Locating landforms

Working in small groups or individually, ask your students to locate each of the world famous landforms found at the coordinates listed on the Global landform explorer (PDF) worksheet using the Google Earth search facility. The easiest way to do this is to 'copy' the coordinates from the worksheet and 'paste' them into the search bar.

As each site is located students should: 

  • identify the country in which the landform is located
  • provide a written description of each of the landforms
  • identify the principal geomorphic, erosional or biotic process responsible for the landform feature located – wind, ice, running water, wave action, tectonic uplift, volcanism, coral-reef building.
  • Extension activity

Working in small groups or individually, ask your students to select a landform from those that have been located that they find interesting. Direct them to undertake research into the processes responsible for its formation. Students are to prepare an oral report, supported by a PowerPoint presentation, to communicate their findings to the class. 

What you need

Computer loaded with Google Earth software.
Access to the Internet.
Global landform explorer (PDF) worksheet.
Time allocation: 2–3 lessons.


All resources required for this illustration are listed in the 'What you need' section above.