As you study geography, you will use the following geographical tools throughout the inquiry process:

Geographical tools icons including maps, fieldwork, graphs and statistics, spatial technologies and visual representations

The K–10 geographical tools continuum lists tools that are appropriate for each stage of learning.

Explore each of the tools below for examples, definitions and applications in geography K–10.


maps icon

Maps are one of the geographer’s main tools. They show the location of places and features, and spatial patterns and distribution.

Use a variety of types of maps to acquire, represent and communicate geographical information.

Click on each of the following map types to view more information.

cadastral map
Department of Lands Sydney, public domain

A cadastral map shows property boundaries. Cadastral maps from varying time periods can be analysed for changing land uses and settlement patterns.

The State Library of NSW has an extensive maps collection, including a comprehensive collection of subdivision plans.

choropleth map showing Australian vegetation
Griensteidl, CC BY-SA 3.0

A choropleth map is a thematic map that uses colours or shading to represent areas with the same characteristics such as land use, vegetation types, climate zones or population density.

flowline map showing telecommunication traffic flows in Europe
Amber Case, CC BY-NC 2.0

A flowline map uses arrows to show the flows of people, goods, information or ideas between places. The thickness of the line represents the volume of flow.

isoline map

An isoline map has continuous lines (called isolines) that join points of the same value, such as rainfall and elevation.

Other examples of maps that use isolines are synoptic charts (such as the one shown here) and topographic maps.

physical map of China
Alanmak Alan Mak, CC BY-SA 3.0

Physical maps illustrate the physical features and landforms of an area such as lakes, mountains, rivers and coasts.

Pictorial map
Savgraf, Shutterstock.com

A pictorial map uses illustrations to represent information. They are often used for tourist maps and represent either an oblique or bird’s-eye view.

political map of Australia
Volina, Shutterstock.com

Political maps illustrate state and national boundaries, capital cities and major cities.

precis map of vegetation types
Field of Mars EEC

A précis map is a simple sketch map drawn from a photograph or topographic map. It usually focuses on one feature, for example, vegetation cover.

relief map of Java, Indonesia
Sadalmelik, public domain

A relief map is either a 2D or 3D map representing terrain and landforms, such as the shape of the land.

road map of NSW highways
Bidgee, CC BY 3.0

A road map shows roads and transport links at large scale (such as a street directory) or small scale (such as state highways).

Sketch map of Lane Cove River, East Ryde
Field of Mars EEC

A sketch map is a drawing of the study area from a bird’s-eye view. It can be estimated or to scale. A sketch map provides a simple visual description of an area and maps the main natural and human features. It should include a border, title and a legend.

synoptic map

Synoptic charts are weather maps. They are isoline maps that show the atmospheric conditions of a location at a particular time including rainfall, air pressure (atmospheric pressure), wind speed and wind direction.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology website has four-day forecast synoptic charts. See GeogSpace: Weather Maps for information about how to read a weather map.

thematic map showing Australia's political boundaries
Maria Margarla, Shutterstock.com

Thematic maps are based on a particular theme or topic, such as distribution of resources, weather or vegetation type.

topographic map
Lippisches Landesmuseum, CC By-SA 3.0

Topographic maps are large scale maps which show a small area in large detail.

They use contour lines to show the shape of the land as well as important natural and human features such as landforms, vegetation and roads.

Maps show the Earth’s surface in varying amounts of detail, depending on their scale.

Large scale maps

large scale map of Legian, Bali, Indonesia
Burmesedays, CC BY 3.0

Large scale maps show a small area in large detail. Examples of large scale maps include topographic maps, school site maps, national park maps and tourist information maps. On a large scale map 1 centimetre might represent 500 metres (1:50 000).

Small scale maps

small scale map of Bali, Indonesia
Burmesedays, CC BY-SA 3.0

Small scale maps show a large area in small detail. Examples include maps of the world and maps of states and countries. On a small scale map 1 centimetre might represent 1000 kilometres (1:100 000 000).

In learning to use and construct maps, follow standard cartographic conventions.

map with BOLTS
Field of Mars EEC

Every good map should have a:

  • Border

  • Orientation (north point)

  • Legend (key)

  • Title

  • Scale.

Kraska, Shutterstock.com

The following phrase for the acronym NESW (North, East, South, West) can be used to remember compass points:

  • Never

  • Eat

  • Soggy

  • Weetbix.

globes showing how longitude lines run in the same direction to earth's access and latitude lines run perpindicular to earth's axis
Latitude and longitude linesVectortatu, Shutterstock.com

Lines of latitude and longitude are imaginary lines that allow us to find locations on small scale maps.

Lines of latitude (think ‘flat’):

  • run horizontally

  • run parallel to each other

  • are measured in degrees north or south of the equator

  • begin from the Equator at 0o

  • are quoted first.

Lines of longitude (think ‘long’):

  • run vertically

  • run from the North Pole to the South Pole

  • are known as meridians

  • are measured in degrees east or west of the Prime Meridian (Greenwich) at 0o

  • are quoted second.

grid and area references

Grid lines are used to locate a feature on a map.

  • Vertical grid lines are ‘eastings’ because they increase in number value as we look to the east.

  • Horizontal grid lines are ‘northings’ because they increase in number value as we look to the north.

  • Eastings are quoted before northings. (Think ‘E’ comes before ‘N’ in the alphabet.)

Area references

These have four digits and are used to find the area containing a feature. The first two digits are the easting. For example, the area reference for Little Plumpton is 6901 – an easting of 69 and a northing of 01. The area reference always refers to the bottom left hand corner of the grid square.

Grid references

These have six digits and are used to pinpoint the exact location of a feature. The first three digits are the easting.

For example, the grid reference for the church in Little Plumpton is 696017. The numbers that make up this grid reference are formed in the following way:

  • 69 is the easting

  • 6 is obtained from dividing the area reference square into a 10x10 grid and giving the easting number from 1-10 which refers to the line to be followed

  • 01 is the northing

  • 7 is obtained from dividing the area reference square into a 10x10 grid and giving the northing number from 1-10 which refers to the line to be followed.


fieldwork icon

Fieldwork is integral and essential to the study of geography. It is mandatory for all students K–10.

Fieldwork involves working outside the classroom to observe, measure, collect and record geographical information.

The experience should be fun, engaging and age appropriate.

Students undertaking fieldwork on a rock platform
Students investigating a rock platform, Botany Bay EEC

During fieldwork you will:

  • be immersed in a variety of real-world environments

  • be actively engaged in geographical inquiry

  • investigate geographical phenomena in an authentic learning context

  • learn through a variety of teaching and learning approaches

  • use a wide range of geographical tools

  • explore geographical processes within environments

  • locate, collect and record primary data and information

  • explore varying perspectives on geographical issues.

Students must undertake and participate in fieldwork in each stage of learning.
BOSTES, 2015, Geography K–10 Syllabus - Geographical Tools

Fieldwork sites

Students completing fieldwork in school grounds
Fieldwork in the school grounds, Royal National Park EEC

Fieldwork can be undertaken at school, in the local area or at more distant places. Experiences can range from a part of a lesson, to an overseas cultural study tour.

Fieldwork sites can include:

  • school grounds

  • local neighbourhood

  • local natural areas

  • national parks or reserves

  • beaches, estuaries, wetlands

  • agricultural areas

  • towns and cities.

Environmental and zoo education centres

There are 25 DoE Environmental and Zoo Education Centres (EZEC) in NSW providing geography fieldwork experiences. The centres have specialist measuring and recording equipment and teachers with expertise in fieldwork skills, tools and techniques.

Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander sites

When proposing fieldwork for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander sites, consult with local communities and your local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG). Students, teachers and accompanying parents and carers need to be familiar with protocols for visiting the site and working with Aboriginal communities.

Fieldwork tools and techniques

Students testing water pH levels
Students testing water pH, Wambangalang EEC

Fieldwork activities and the tools used should be carefully planned to maximise understandings achieved through direct observation, measurements and recording. The tools and techniques should be stage appropriate and enjoyable.

Activities can include:

  • recording observations through sketches and photographs

  • measuring distances, temperature, humidity, wind speed, gradient

  • testing soil pH, water quality, turbidity

  • counting plants using quadrats and along a transect

  • collecting aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates as bioindicators

  • estimating cloud cover, vegetation type, canopy cover

  • plotting location, natural and human features on maps

  • calculating bearings, direction and aspect using a compass

  • interviewing family, community, stakeholders for varying perspectives

  • surveying people to obtain quantitative data.

Graphs and statistics

graphs and statistics icon

Geographers use graphs to visualise and summarise quantitative data about places. Examples include tally charts, pictographs, column graphs, line graphs, pie graphs and climate graphs. Always include the unit of measurement when reading data from graphs – for example, temperature in degrees Celsius or rainfall in millilitres.

climate chart
Climate chart of Canberra, AustraliaMysid, public domain

For a particular location, a climate graph combines:

  • a line graph showing the average monthly temperature

  • a column graph showing the average monthly precipitation (rainfall).

Teachers: Refer to GeogSpace: Climate graphs for information on using and analysing climate graphs and statistics.

example of graph showing temperature data
Graph showing temperature dataBidgee, public domain

Geographers use statistics to collate, organise and summarise geographical data and information. In particular, climate and demographic statistics are useful data. Geographers analyse statistics for patterns, relationships and trends.

Teachers: Refer to GeogSpace: Comparative data for an example of a comparative data table.

Useful sources of statistical data include:

Spatial technologies

spatial technologies icon

Geographers use spatial technologies to visualise, manipulate, analyse, display and record spatial data. Examples include virtual maps, satellite imagery, remote sensing, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Global Information Systems (GIS) and Augmented Reality (AR).

example of a virtual map
Maksim, public domain

Virtual maps are online maps. They provide large scale and small scale maps for acquiring geographical information for students in all stages. They can be annotated using in-built tools or by using a screenshot as the base map. Interactive virtual maps usually contain a map view and a satellite view.

View an example of how Google My Maps is used to locate and describe the Illawarra EEC fieldwork sites. Also view an example of a précis map created in My Maps for a Field of Mars EEC fieldwork program.

Useful virtual maps and tools:

Layers of spatial information
Diane Quick, CC BY-SA 3.0

Basic GPS and GIS are now a familiar part of life. Think of using a phone or car navigation device, tracking a food or parcel delivery or locating a lost mobile phone.

Useful GIS maps and tools:

GPS is a navigational system that relies on satellite signals to provide location and time information. GPS technology is integrated into mobile phones, car navigation and handheld GPS devices. Each GPS device collects spatial data and plots it onto a base map. The digital plotting of spatial data to create visual images is a GIS (Global Information System).

Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt that requires a GPS enabled device to locate hidden items. Geocaching can provide an engaging method for undertaking geographical fieldwork. For example, each geocache could contain geographical questions to answer and data to collect.

A GIS stores, manages, analyses and portrays spatial data. Sophisticated GIS maps have multiple layers of information generated by computer programs.

GIS maps are a valuable tool for geographers, as they:

  • are a source of geographical information. For example, landforms, vegetation, land use

  • can be used for analysing spatial data. For example, transposing mapping layers, measuring distances

  • can communicate spatial data. For example, plotting fieldwork data, creating a tour.

Remote sensing includes the use of satellites, drones, aircraft and radars to collect geographical information remotely (that is, from a different location to the information itself). Satellite images are created through remote sensing.

mobile phone showing an example of an augmented reality map on screen
Augmented Reality mapGlogger, CC BY-SA 3.0

Augmented Reality (AR) is a computer-generated virtual view superimposed on to a physical real world environment. Sound, video, graphics or GPS data are added to augment (supplement) the experience.

Augmented Reality in geography includes using a GPS device to scan environmental features and trigger supplementary information received in the form of images, video or text.

Visual representations

visual representations icon

Geographers use visual representations in all steps of the geographical inquiry process. Examples include diagrams, paintings, illustrations, symbols, models, collages, cartoons, multimedia and mindmaps.

Example of infographic image which represents data pictorially
Infographic (click on image to enlarge)GDS Infographics, CC BY 2.0

Geographers can use graphic organisers to represent, organise, evaluate and analyse information in the processing step of a geographical inquiry.

Examples of graphic organisers:

  • KWL chart (know, want to know/wonder, learnt), PMI chart (plus, minus, interesting), PNQ chart (positive, negative, question)

  • consequences chart

  • development compass rose

  • diamond and fishbone ranking

  • flowchart

  • futures line and wheel

  • placement proforma

  • T and Y chart

  • Venn diagram

  • Infographic - a tool that explains data in visual form by combining a large amount of information clearly in visual mode. Infographics can be used both to acquire and communicate information.

Templates of graphic organisers are available on the Global Education Templates page.

Photographs, field sketches and photo sketches enable geographers to record and label observations of features of places. They are valuable tools in describing geographical characteristics.

students taking photographs
Students taking photographs in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Gibberagong EEC

Photographs can be used for different purposes and are one of the most useful tools for geographers.

Photographs can:

  • record observations during fieldwork

  • provide information varying from ground details to land-use patterns over large areas

  • be annotated with labels and descriptions

  • be categorised and collated into annotated collages

  • add a visual element to tables, flowcharts and other graphic organisers

  • be sequenced into simple slideshows with narration

  • be embedded into multimodal texts and presentations.

labelled sketch of a landscape
Example of a field sketchLiskus, Shutterstock.com

A field sketch is a labelled line drawing of an environment that records features observed during fieldwork activities. Apps are available to annotate photographs taken in the field, however completing a hand-drawn field sketch sharpens the viewer’s observational skills.

Refer to Field sketching: Teacher notes from GeogSpace for instructions or view an example sketch in Photo sketching: Teacher notes.

A photo sketch is made from a photograph. It can also be called a line drawing. Photo sketching is a useful tool for virtual fieldwork.

Read Photo sketching: Teacher notes for instructions and examples of photo sketches.

Tip: Google Street View can provide virtual fieldwork. Street view screenshots can be used for photo sketches.

children looking at picture books
Picture books are a geographical tool.bikeriderlondon, Shutterstock.com

Picture books are a useful geographical tool, as they:

  • engage students in the learning

  • introduce geographical concepts and contexts

  • provide visual images of people and places

  • use narrative to breathe life into places

  • illustrate interconnections between people and places

  • explore complex cultural issues

  • provide a variety of perspectives.

Download Picture books to support the teaching of geography K–10 (.docx 39kB).