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National Curriculum

Developing personal, learning and thinking skills in geography


What are we trying to achieve?

The new secondary curriculum focuses on developing the skills and qualities that learners need to succeed in school and the broader community. The development of personal, learning and thinking skills (PLTS) is essential to meeting the three national curriculum aims of becoming successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens.

The individual subjects, which make up the curriculum, provide the essential range of activities, learning opportunities and contexts essential for the effective development of these skills (PLTS).

The framework comprises of six PLTS:

  • independent enquirers

  • creative thinkers

  • team workers

  • self-managers

  • effective participators

  • reflective learners.

PLTS underpin the whole curriculum and can transform young people’s engagement with learning. They support learners’ understanding of themselves as well as their relationship with others and the world around them. Effective development of PLTS can raise achievement and make a considerable impact on learners’ ability to succeed, both now and in adult life.

How do we develop PLTS?

The geography programme of study provides a rich and exciting range of opportunities to develop PLTS as an integral part of subject teaching and learning. Explicit and implicit opportunities are present in the key concepts, key processes, range and content, and curriculum opportunities.

Independent enquirers

Learners can develop as independent enquirers when they are provided with opportunities in geography to:

  • structure their own geographical investigations, researching answers to different kinds of questions, issues or problems that they have identified for themselves

  • explore issues from different and personal perspectives by gathering, analysing and evaluating evidence to reach their own, well-reasoned decisions and conclusions

  • apply what they have learned to new and more challenging contexts, investigating, with increasing independence, issues at different scales and of greater conceptual complexity.

Creative thinkers

Learners can develop as creative thinkers when they are provided with opportunities in geography to:

  • explore geographical imaginations and alternative futures for places, people and for themselves

  • try out new ways of applying and adapting knowledge and skills to different contexts to deepen and extend their understanding

  • question their own and others’ ideas of the key concepts of environmental interaction, sustainable development, cultural understanding and diversity to find imaginative solutions to issues or problems

  • develop their confidence to challenge assumptions and reach outcomes of value.

Team workers

Learners can develop as team workers when they are provided with opportunities in geography to:

  • experience the benefits of working collaboratively to complete tasks in the classroom and in fieldwork, for example in conducting a large-scale land use survey

  • recognise their own strengths and those of others by allocating roles and tasks, and taking responsibility for their own contribution, for example in planning for a presentation or a debate

  • extend their work with others to improve their understanding of different people and places, for example by using modern communications systems to work with different schools, regions and countries

  • provide and respond to constructive feedback, taking account of different views and developing the confidence to resolve issues and achieve their identified goals.


Learners can develop as self-managers when they are provided with opportunities in geography to:

  • take personal responsibility for organising their time and resources, prioritising actions and managing risks to carry out and successfully complete a task, for example a fieldwork investigation carried out over several weeks

  • address challenging tasks that require application of perseverance, initiative and creativity, for example applying skills or concepts to a new or unfamiliar context

  • respond positively to new or changing priorities, for example actively embracing the challenges of investigating new places, ideas or issues.

Effective participators

Learners can develop as effective participators when they are provided with opportunities in geography to:

  • explore and question their own values and responsibilities to other people, to the environment and to the sustainability of resources to develop their own views about their place and role as global citizens

  • engage personally with issues of concern relevant to their own lives locally, nationally and globally

  • participate in responsible action in relation to issues that affect them and those around them using well-reasoned decisions and judgements

  • review alternatives, negotiating and balancing diverse views to understand how workable solutions to geographical issues might be achieved.

Reflective learners

Learners can develop as reflective learners when they are provided with opportunities in geography to:

  • invite and reflect on feedback from others to monitor and improve on their own performance

  • identify and plan for their own realistic goals, recognising how adapting and refining their ideas as work progresses can make for enhanced outcomes

  • communicate their understanding of processes and concepts, selecting ways appropriate to different audiences, for example through maps, graphs and geographical information systems (GIS)

  • continuously monitor their own progress, identifying criteria for success and making changes to further their learning.


How do we plan for PLTS?

Effective planning for PLTS in geography needs to ensure that they are embedded into sequences of work, teaching approaches and learning outcomes. When this is done well, it will enrich the experiences of learners and support their progress in geography while increasing coherence across the curriculum.

The following are some questions we might ask to support the development of PLTS through geography.

  • Are there planned opportunities for learning and teaching, where the six PLTS can be taught, practised and reinforced in a range of contexts?

  • Are planned experiences sufficiently ‘open’ for learners to draw on personal experiences and set themselves personal challenges?

  • Do activities encourage learners to explore a range of settings, for example collaborative work, individual work, in the classroom, the school and events in the community?

  • Are learners encouraged to communicate in a variety of ways?

  • Are there opportunities to make coherent links to learning in other curriculum areas to effectively connect and enhance learners’ experiences?

  • Are e-technologies used effectively to enable and support such learning?


The teacher plans for the class to investigate the impacts of climate change, and also to develop team-working and reflective skills through this context. Learners will work over several lessons to a timeframe and will conclude by making a presentation of their findings to the whole class.

It is important for the learners to develop the skills to become increasingly independent, to make decisions and take responsibility about the direction and format of their work.

They work in groups taking on various roles and responsibilities that both challenge and draw on individual strengths, ensuring that each group member contributes effectively. They are taught ways of enquiring, which they develop and use appropriately for the specific area of investigation they have set themselves.

This activity involves learners in:

  • selecting and agreeing on the focus, priorities and timetable for their investigation, and the allocation of roles (team workers, self-managers)

  • identifying questions about the impacts of climate change and planning and researching answers to those questions (independent enquirers)

  • asking questions about the impacts at different scales and questioning assumptions about climate change (creative thinking)

  • discussing ways of presenting information for maximum effect and taking responsibility for preparing and delivering the presentation (team workers, self-managers, creative thinkers)

  • evaluating their own performance against criteria, providing and receiving feedback, and identifying targets for improvement (effective participators, reflective learners)

  • showing perseverance in completing the project on time (team workers, self-managers).


Are we achieving our aims?

In planning for progression, it is important to develop a clear picture of how learners demonstrate PLTS in the context of teaching and learning in geography and how those skills can raise achievement in this subject. For example, learners may demonstrate that they are:

  • making personal choices about their learning and finding ways to improve their work, for example by identifying their own questions and planning their own enquiries

  • transferring and extending understanding, for example of a process from the context of one place or scale to another, or from another subject

  • increasingly drawing on their experiences and making connections with key geographical concepts, for example considering the links between their decision to buy a cheap T-shirt and interdependence.

Quick links

How geography links to

See also

Here are some useful related resources:

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