Illustration 1: Developing an inquiry in Years 9-10 Geography

Curriculum overview

The inquiry approach is fundamental to teaching and engaging in geography learning and practice. The Australian Curriculum: Geography (and its various HASS-based iterations) stages of an investigation are:

Observing, questioning and planning: Identifying an issue or problem and developing geographical questions to investigate the issue or find an answer to the problem.

Collecting, recording, evaluating and representing: Collecting information from primary and/or secondary sources, recording the information, evaluating it for reliability and bias and representing it in a variety of forms.

Interpreting analysing and concluding: Making sense of information gathered by identifying order, diversity, trends, patterns, anomalies, generalisations and cause and effect relationships, using quantitative and qualitative methods appropriate to the type of inquiry. Interpreting the results of this analysis and developing conclusions.

Communicating: Communicating the results of investigations using combinations of methods (written, oral, audio, graphical, visual and mapping) appropriate to the subject matter, purpose and audience.

Reflecting and responding: Reflecting on the findings of the investigation, what has been learned, the process and effectiveness of the inquiry and proposing actions that consider environmental, economic and social factors.


Learning goals

The illustration-specific learning goals are:

  • planning an investigation
  • collecting, manipulating and representing data in order to gain new insights into an area of study
  • analysing data in the context of an area of study in order to develop insights into the issue
  • communicating findings in a number of ways, including using a range of digital tools
  • reflecting on a geographical inquiry
  • taking action as a result of an inquiry.

Geographical understanding and context

When using the geographical inquiry approach across Years 9 and 10 it is most crucial that your students understand why you are using a geographical inquiry and how a geographical inquiry works and is structured. Depending on the group, it may be beneficial to spend some time teaching about the geographical inquiry approach before you begin teaching with a geographical inquiry approach.

The inquiry approach in geography. This article by David McCauley gives a very good overview of the geographical inquiry approach and discusses the structure of a geographical inquiry. Examples from secondary level are also presented to help you begin.

Teaching approaches

  • Observing, questioning and planning

This stage of the inquiry is about planning your investigation. Students need to focus on developing a structure for their investigation that will allow them to thoroughly investigate their issue while giving them flexibility to adjust the focus of their investigation should new information arise.

Students are not expected to be experts in their area of study, but it does help to have some background knowledge to assist in the planning stage. For instance, in Year 10 you may develop an investigation into human wellbeing. If students do not have a basic understanding of population or demographic statistics they will not be able to explore the issue at an appropriate level. When students develop their inquiry and focus questions they should be encouraged to remain open minded as new information can often change the focus of their investigation and they may need to develop further, deeper focus questions.

A geographical inquiry uses a logical sequence of more and more specific questions to investigate an issue. There is a recognised structure that is built around four key questions:

  • What and where are the issues being studied?
  • How and why does this issue work?
  • What are the economic, social and political impacts of this issue on relevant stakeholders?
  • What is being done and should be done to mitigate negative impacts and provide good outcomes?

Focus questions are then generated under each key question. They help students gather relevant data and information, and consider impacts and potential solutions. There is no limit to the amount of focus questions that can be generated, and students should be encouraged to constantly consider additional focus questions based on their research and findings as they undertake their geographical inquiry.

  • Collecting, recording, evaluating and representing

In this stage, students are essentially collecting, manipulating and representing data in order to gain new insights into their area of study. Traditionally, representing data in geography meant graphing or mapping, but now there are many different methods of data representation that go far beyond these two.

Students in Years 9 and 10 should be given support to gather and represent their information in appropriate ways. Illustration 2: Data visualisationin this website's Support unit called ICTs in geography has more information on newer methods of data representation.

  • Analysing and concluding

Once students have collected the relevant data and information, they need to analyse it in the context of their area of study in order to develop insights into the issue. When analysing, students are looking for trends, patterns, relationships, and evidence of cause and effect'. A range of strategies can be used to assist students to effectively analyse their information.

When students analyse visual, graphical, spatial or tabular information, encourage them to write down their observations. Ask them to do the following activities:

  • Describe any patterns or relationships that are observed in the information. Here students should simply describe what they see in the data or information (they should not make inferences as to the cause or effect of different aspects of the issue). If analysing several pieces of information, they should consider any patterns or relationships that exist between different pieces of data.
  • Explain these patterns or relationships drawing on deeper knowledge of the issue. Here students should draw on patterns and trends they have observed and their broader knowledge of the issue to begin to examine why the data or pattern exists as it does.
  • Communicating

Students can communicate their findings in a number of ways. Traditionally, students might write a structured report or present their findings orally to the class group. With the range of digital tools available to students now, there are many different opportunities for students to present their findings in innovative and creative ways while still maintaining geographic and academic rigour. For example, students could create video or audio files and present these via the Internet. They could even create an online map to present findings (if they can be presented spatially).

  • Reflecting and responding

When students reflect on a geographical inquiry they should consider a number of things: 

  • what their investigation has found
  • what they have learned
  • the effectiveness of their inquiry's key and focus questions
  • what action should be undertaken.

Responding, in this sense, refers to the action that students ultimately undertake as a result of their inquiry. Students' response will depend on the scale of their inquiry and the available time and resources.

What you need

The inquiry approach in geography. This article by David McCauley on the Scribd website provides a basic outline of the geographical inquiry model in geography. Most suitable for beginning geography teachers.

Data visualisation provides more information, ideas and tools that can be used for representing data.