Core units: F-4 — Inquiry and Skills

Illustration 2: Field and Photo Sketching – Years 1–4

Curriculum overview

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

  • The natural, managed and constructed features of places, their location, how they change and how they can be cared for
  • The ways the activities located in a place create its distinctive features


Present findings in a range of communication forms, for example, written, oral, digital and visual, and describe the direction and location of places, using terms such as north, south, opposite, near, far.

Learning goals

The illustration-specific learning goals are:

  • distinguishing between natural, managed and constructed elements of environments and places
  • developing skills in recording and communicating information using field and photo sketches
  • applying inquiry questions to places observed either in the field or in photographs and pictures.

Geographical understanding and context

In Year 1 students build on the concept of 'place' that they were introduced to in Year F. The term 'environment' is introduced, and students develop the ability to distinguish between the natural, managed and constructed features of places. They learn that places range from those that are dominated by natural features (such as an area of bushland) to those with largely managed or constructed features (such as the centre of an urban area). They also explore the concept of change when they identify recent changes in the features of their place, and when they recognise that managed and constructed features represent an alteration to a previous natural environment.

The term 'place' is central to the study of geography. A 'sense of place' emerges as people recognise the uniqueness of places (their special character and identity) as well as the similarities between them. The factors shaping the characteristics of places include:

  • population
  • climate
  • economy
  • landforms
  • infrastructure
  • soils and vegetation
  • communities
  • water resources
  • cultures
  • minerals
  • landscape
  • recreational and scenic quality.

In geography, the term 'environment' is used to describe our total surroundings. This includes the living and non-living features of the earth's surface and atmosphere as well as those features altered or created by people. The Australian Curriculum: Geography divides environments into three kinds – natural, managed and constructed.

Natural environments are those dominated by natural features such as landforms and vegetation. This includes the earth's soil, water, air, sunlight and all living things. These are often referred to as the elements of the natural environment. It is important to note that there are no truly 'natural' environments. All environments have, to some extent, been altered by the activities of people.

Managed environments include those human-altered landscapes dominated by elements of the natural environment. Examples include crop and grazing lands, plantations and planted forests.

Constructed environments include all the features of the environment created by people. This includes all those features normally associated with settlements, industries and agriculture. Features of constructed environments include buildings and transport infrastructure (for example, roads, railways and airports). Constructed environments are sometimes referred to as 'built' environments.

When children look at a place, either when out in the field or observing photographs, they ask questions to better understand what they see, and to find out why it looks the way it does. These questions can form the basis of a simple geographical inquiry.

In this illustration, students develop their capacity to distinguish between natural, managed and constructed elements of environments and places through the skills of field and photo sketching – skills commonly used in geography to record and present information.

Teaching approaches

This illustration of practice involves a series of sequential, skill-based learning experiences, each one providing a foundation for the next. Steps you can take are shown below. Use sourced images to promote discussion to enhance understanding and explore differences between environments.

1. Comparing natural and constructed environments
Show your class a series of images depicting natural environments (for example, a forest, mountains, a desert and a coastline coral reef). Ask students to identify the elements of the natural environment that are evident in each image. Repeat the activity using images of constructed environments (for example, a cityscape and industrial landscape).

2. Comparing constructed and managed environments
Show your class images that include a mix of human-altered and constructed environments. Encourage your students to distinguish between the two. Develop lists of natural and constructed elements on the whiteboard as the discussion progresses.

Alternatively, you could use suitable images drawn from the picture books being read in the class. One excellent resource you could use is Jeannie Barker's Window – a wordless, visually appealing look at our changing environment. At the beginning of the book a mother and baby look through a window at a view of wilderness and sky as far as the eye can see. With each double-page spread, the boy grows and the landscape changes. In a clear patch of forest, a single house appears. A few years pass and there is a village in the distance. By the time the boy is 20, the village has developed into a city. The young man gets married, has a child of his own and moves to the country, where father and child look through the window of their new home at the undeveloped wilderness outside.

Introduce your students to the concept of 'managed' environments. Show them images of farmlands (for example, cropping and grazing, terraced paddy fields and plantations). Explain that these environments use natural elements (for example, plants) to meet the needs of people (principally for food and fibres).

3. Introducing field and photo sketching
At this point students should have a developing understanding of the diverse nature of places, and be able to distinguish between the natural, managed and constructed elements of the environment. It is now time to introduce them to field and photo sketching. A field sketch is a simple drawing used to capture the immediate environment of the observer from his or her perspective or viewing point. They are used to capture the prominent features of a place for later study and reflection. The stages involved in constructing a field sketch are shown in Field sketching: Teacher notes (PDF).

Photo sketching applies essentially the same process. The key difference is that the place being drawn is portrayed in a photographic image rather than being observed in the field. The stages involved in constructing a photo sketch are shown in Photo sketching: Teacher notes (PDF).

4. Developing an inquiry
The landscapes observed in the field or the photographic images used in the photo sketching activity can also form the basis of a geographical inquiry – the process of finding out answers to questions. The questions you might like to pose include:

  • What is the place like?
  • Why is the place like it is?
  • How is this place connected or linked to other places?
  • How is this place changing?
  • How would it feel to live in the place?

5. Extension activity
You can introduce a variation to students' paper and pencil sketching of digital images. You can support them to transform their images into photo sketches using photo sketching software. The software allows the user to create digital photo pencil sketches. All you need to do is upload a picture and the software will do the rest. You can then print them out for your students to annotate and paint.

What you need

  • A selection of images depicting natural, managed and constructed environments, or a picture book with suitable images.
  • White paper suitable for drawing.
  • Clipboards (to be used by students constructing sketches in the field).
  • Soft lead pencils, ruler and eraser.
  • Coloured pencils.
  • Access to computer and photo sketching software (for extension activity).
  • Field sketching: Teacher notes (PDF).
  • Photo sketching: Teacher notes (PDF).


Baker, Jeannie. (2002). Window. London: Walker Books Ltd.