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What do I plan to ‘do’ about the 'riots’?


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A tricky post this one, let alone which word to use to describe the events of last week. It aims to share some ideas of how to explore the events.  I am not going to pretend to explain why. I have no clue and I won’t pretend to have an extensive knowledge of the areas affected nor their issues.  What is interesting is that there is a lot of geography to explore.

My personal view is that these events should be explored during tutor time.  In addition, as our geography curriculum has floating topicality (I think that it’s a myth that every second of the secondary curriculum has to come from the National Curriculum, but that’s a different story). These are opportunities to explore events that matter.  One condition though is that we explore some of the geography of the events.  This controversial issue will result in a wide range of opinions and issues.  They will have also created questions in young people’s minds. 

It’s also important not to consider the events in isolation.  For example, a consideration of the events and issues would fit well within a Geography of Crime or Geography of Conflict unit of work. 

I also think that it’s important to avoid the guess work going on.  I have to admit that what follows is an initial brainstorm of what I could do as an individual.  The activities are aimed at getting young people to explore their own opinions and geographies linked to the events.  The students will have undoubtedly formed opinions already and I don’t believe that its the role of education to tell anyone what to think, but to give frameworks and to model responses and to challenge the opinions of others. 

What follows is the result of thinking out loud and I’m placing ideas here mainly to find them again and adapt after reflection.

1. Compare a range of news reports from different newspapers.  What are their opinions?

2. What do the political leaders think? We could explore the speeches of David Cameron and Ed Milliband given on the 15th August.  Pupils could spot the differences. One way to start an exploration may be to compare the key words using Wordle as a tool.  Are there any differences? Can these be explained? Are there any voices that haven’t been considered?



Created using

3. Explore thoughts and feelings

Use a slideshow from Flickr. Ask students to describe the thoughts and feelings from different points of view.  Local resident, a looter, the police, a business owner, a child, a baby, a parent, a homeowner. What would they be thinking, feeling, saying, doing, touching, smelling, hearing? This is an attempt to establish empathy between young people and the events.

What point of view does flickr represent? Who is missing?

4. Rank world headlines and news stories from last week.

Were the events in the UK the most important event happening? Cut out a variety of headlines and news stories and ask students to rank them.  Are the continued events in Libya, Sirya, Egypt, Somalia more or less important? Why is this? Is the economy a bigger story?

5. Was there a geographical pattern to the riots?

Using maps of the riots, deprivation index data from neighbourhood statistics, the number of arrests, population size etc, get students to explore the geographical pattern of the disturbances. By handling and processing data, it is then possible to pose some hard hitting questions.  Why were there no disturbances in poor rural areas? Why were there no disturbances in Wales or Scotland?  Why were there no disturbances in Portsmouth? Critical reflection and asking questions , in my view, are vital.

Riots mapped against poverty

Map showing the location of riots and those arrested in connection

6. Ask students to select an image and add a caption that defines the events.  Why?

7. Explore the use of social media for good.

Why is it that a man from Worthing, where there were no disturbances, end up helping to coordinate the clean up? Why not ask him a question?

8. How did the world view change of the UK?

Explore international newspapers, front pages and headlines.  Why did South Africa issue a travel warning?

9. Who has been arrested?

It may be worth showing students that those people convicted are in the public domain. What effect may that have on their lives?

Many of these ideas need fleshing out and more reflection, but it’s a starting point.


  1. David, thanks for posting this. As someone who was a tutor for six years and spent varying amounts of time preparing for tutorial periods (they're always the ones that get squeezed, aren't they?) I just wanted to add my voice.

    Something that really used to annoy me when I was at school, but something that I found myself doing as a teacher, was treating things in a 'school' way.

    What do I mean by that? I mean the assumption that, so close to the events, these things can be explored in a structured, logical, detached way. I'm not so sure they can.

    The answer, of course, is to explore stuff in smaller groups and not to mix (as is so often done in UK schools) procedural stuff like registration with time for reflection upon moral and social issues. But that's a wider problem.

    So, in conclusion, good on you for planning a response to the riots. We just all need to be careful that we don't deal with emotive stuff in a detached 'school' kind of way. ;-)

  2. Hi Doug,

    Thanks for your comment. I completely agree with you that schools have a habit of examining issues in a clinical way. I often see that approach in teh department from trainee teachers - effortlessly delivering a lesson on Haiti for example that is devoid of the emotive thoughts, feelings and complexitiy. That is why I've included a range of suggestions that are designed to provike thought / comment / emotion to teachers that are willing to take the risk...

    Probably more to come on this at some point..

    Best wishes

    David :-)

  3. Excellent post, David.

    With regards to Q8 about the world view of Britain, I found this post from Global Voices very interesting:

    ("Bloggers in Africa share their perspectives, some with a sense of humor.")


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