Bringing the benefits of Let’s Think to Primary Geography Part 1

Written by Stuart Twiss

What is our claim, as the Let’s Think Forum?  It is that we can design materials and a pedagogic approach that can accelerate the cognitive development of children. We also claim that this acceleration can persist and affect broad domains of achievement, particularly if our approach is used during periods of development when children are especially susceptible to interventions because their cognitive architecture is undergoing change.

These are big claims and there is good and growing evidence to support them but the claims are conditional, of course, on some very important factors.

  • Duration: our materials and the approach must be applied for a period of two years.
  • Intensity: The children should experience a ‘thinking lesson’ at least once a fortnight.
  • Teaching Quality: The teacher implementing the approach needs to be trained, needs to practise the approach and needs to have their development coached by an accomplished tutor. They need, for example to become accomplished at establishing a climate of enquiry, become skilled at listening, as well as questioning and understand how they will support group development and discussion
  • Curriculum Quality: The lesson materials need to have been carefully designed and shown to have the desired engagement and level of challenge through trials in a number of classrooms.
  • Lesson quality. Each lesson needs to have these essential components designed into it:
    • A developmentally appropriate level of challenge based on the Piagetian classification and aimed at challenging all, but a few of the more developed children, at that age.
    • An engaging and open start in which the context for the challenge can be understood and some common terms established within the class, often through a hands on experience and through a shared language made visible or evident.
    • A moment when, through discussion, or from an astute question, a challenge is set but is clearly difficult for the majority in the class to resolve.
    • Periods of shared construction within the lesson where children, and teacher establish new understanding, and importantly, the new reasoning that is needed to do this.
    • An opportunity to recognise that what has been constructed, originated in the thinking and activity of the group and that the processes that achieved this may also have meaning and be worthy of study because they could be valuable in the future.
    • An opportunity to notice that what has been considered, although an isolated or special circumstance, may well be applicable in other, related situations.

Establishing our claims in a new area of the curriculum, primary Geography.

When we set out, as we did with Lets Think Primary Geography, to develop Lets Think in a new subject we were taking on the task of establishing these conditions in order to promote cognitive acceleration.

Immediately, it is reasonable for a critic to say that we have not met the first two conditions.  They would be right!  We developed 6 lessons, not the 30 we might need, and we presented them to children over a year, not the two years we might need.  We are therefore in no position yet to claim that we have an intervention that could bring about the profound cognitive development seen in CASE and CAME.

Fortunately, in this pilot project, that was not our aim. We were mainly aiming to fulfil the last condition, lesson quality.

However, we could not establish lesson quality without teaching and curriculum quality.  For the project we therefore chose three schools that had been using other Let’s Think materials and where the teaching of Let’s Think had been developed over time with the support of an experienced tutor. This cluster of Junior schools in Hampshire had been working with Leah Crawford for over 4 years.  The teachers were accomplished at establishing classrooms in which Let’s Think could thrive. They showed over the project that they could help children find the sweet spot where challenge and motivation to take action would take hold.

Let’s Think Primary Geography outcomes:


So do we have Primary Geography lessons that engage, challenge, bring children together to arrive at new thinking, prompt reflection and direct children’s thinking to new contexts for challenges. Did we create Let’s Think Primary Geography lessons?  We think we did.

Our project was blessed with having an insightful and objective participant, someone who knows Geography and the primary curriculum.  In Dr. Verity Jones, Associate Professor, School of Education and Childhood, University of the West of England, Bristol we had a researcher keen to understand the nature of Let’s Think and its relevance to geography.  Her initial report on the development of the 6 lessons says this.

3.7 Learners and teachers found Let’s Think Primary Geography lessons interesting and relevant. All participants identified this as being the result of links made to the Sustainable Development Goals.

3.8 Moments of cognitive conflict and behaviour change were frequently referred to positively in focus groups with children.


This is a brief but compelling summary of what we set out to achieve with the lessons. Very, very reassuring and pleasing even!

The texture to these broad findings is given in the pupils’ personal statements about the lessons.

  • “Well, the difference between geography and Let’s Think geography and let’s think you actually have to think.”
  • “Different between geography and Let’s Think is that we discuss more rather than that and just like writing it down and we come back to our ideas and like adding on, we do like adding and challenging if we like think that. A different idea. More than that, and like building, which is building on to that idea.”
  • “It was fun because it was really interesting and we learnt a lot.”
  • “If you didn’t tell me it was Geography I would know it was anyway.”
  • “It felt like a Let’s Think lesson.”
  • “I liked it because you slowed the learning down and we talked about it and thought lots.”
  • “But when you learn about it and you think really deeply about those little things that you don’t usually think about. That’s big in real life”
  • “I think it helps us understand anything to do with how to look after the planet and sustainability.”


A Let’s Think primary Geography lesson: ‘Naming Places’

The following abbreviated lesson example is based on Piaget’s research into nominal realism.

Although this looks to be a lesson about names and naming places, which is a great link between human and physical Geography, it is, in a reasoning sense, about the child’s view of the world and whether it has yet separated into a clear awareness of the internal aspects of the world of the child  (consciousness) and the external aspects (the real world).  This too was the focus of Piaget’s research and like him and his partner Inhelder, you will use naming to get an insight into that.

It was a good introductory lesson to check out, for our children, whether they have become wholly aware of the clear distinction between their experiences of the world and the world itself, between the uniqueness of their consciousness and the world that is not self aware and experiencing in a similar way. In young children they may not have yet made this distinction.

The challenge in episode 1:

·         What are the names of the things in these picture cards? (sheep, very young baby, house, moon, tree, lap top computer, bicycle, dog, book, cartoon character)

·         Do any of the things in the pictures know their names?

The challenge in episode 2:

·         Can a place change its name?

·         Can we decide that London is now called something else?


The challenge in episode 3:

Context: A city has displayed the statue of a man, Joe Blogg,  for over 50 years.  Blogg was born there and made significant wealth through trading.  He donated large amounts of money to the city and set up schools and charities for those less fortunate than himself.  As the city grew, Blogg Avenue, Blogg Street,  The great Blogg Concert Hall,  Blogg Primary and Blogg Academy were all named after him.

Knowledge of the man’s history emerges more clearly over time.  It becomes known that his trading practices involved cruelty and discrimination.


·         Should Blogg’s statue be taken down by the city council?


The statue is eventually taken down by citizens during a public protest and the city council decide not to put it back.


·         Should the many schools, street names and public buildings that carry the same name as the statue now change their name?


What was especially striking was the emotional impact that these lessons had on the children, investing them not only with new, more powerful thinking but a motivation and sense of agency to do something with it.   I think that this in part came from teaching which was not about a safe risk taking environment, but rather somewhere where offering an idea is not risk taking at all, just part of what one does.

This sequence from an observation of the lesson, ‘Trees’ demonstrates that ideas were explored, rather than accepted and this allowed new ideas to emerge with greater power, an underlying this there is a progression in the nature of the reasoning.


“Trees are there to give us stuff.”

“We give them carbon dioxide and they give us oxygen so they need us as much as we need them.”

“But they don’t know they do it, they are just natural. It’s like us breathing we don’t do it in purpose.”

“I don’t really think trees are for anything.”




“Trees don’t actually have brains, but they have to have some sort of thought process, because when its winter the trees drop their leaves and when they grow their roots feel things underground and they communicate through their roots.”

“I think we would pay more attention to trees if they had more human features, like eyes and a mouth and stuff. I guess that would be like chopping down a wooden version of a human.”


Engagement for our pupils came from stimulating their curiosity and interest about trees, names, rainfall, the origin and destination of a T shirt…..and ensuring they felt safe exploring these.  The materials offered that opportunity, and these LT trained teachers capitalised on it.  We also realised that we, and the teachers, were on a learning curve along with pupils, but it was not just the structure of LT lessons we had to take on board, we also looked at our relationship with learners and what matters to them.



Our next blog will look at how the development of the lessons had an impact on The Let’s Think Forum, the teachers and the schools.