Peter G Knight

1. The "What is Geography?" (musical) icebreaker exercise.

Gets students talking to each other, gives them confidence by letting them talk about Geography indirectly through a subject they already feel confident in, opens the way to a discussion of alternative ways of seeing Geography, helps tutor to get to know something about students' non-Geography interests...


Do this in class or as an online chat.   Do it in ten minutes or spread it over a whole term. If you just launch right in at the first tutorial and expect new students who don't know much about you, each other, or Geography to have a lively open discussion on the theme of "what is Geography" you might be disappointed. But that's an important discussion to have early on in the course, so this exercise gets students who lack confidence to come at it from an angle where they may feel more comfortable and more self-confident, thinking that they are talking about something they know: their favourite music. Instead of asking them to tell you what they think Geography is, ask them to talk to each other about what music they think best represents Geography: if Geography were music, what music would it be?

If Geography was music, what music would it be? I use this as a first-tutorial ice breaker, putting the students into buzz groups of three or four and telling them they have just 5 minutes to introduce each other, to each put forward an idea for music that would do the job, and to argue within their buzz group to identify their "best" suggestion. Normally I then walk out of the room while they start, or busy myself with some task that seems to take my attention, as they're not going to strike up conversation while I'm watching. Being thrown such an unexpected question gives them a starting point to talk to each other while they think you aren't listening: "What's he on? This is weird. What do you think?"

When the five minutes is up (or sooner if things go quiet!) it's normally enough to say "so, who's got some good music?" and volunteers will pipe up. If not, then "OK Jack/Jill, what was your group's favourite idea?" should get something started. Usually what comes out is a list of the students' favourite music, not necessarily tied in any clear way to Geography, but that's just the start of the conversation. It's easy to start focusing the students with discussion-steers such as:

- Is it just the lyrics that have a Geography content or does the music "feel" like Geography?"
- So is all that crashing supposed to sound like an earthquake or something?
- So it's not specifically what's in the music that matters, it's how it makes you feel?
- Does the music remind you of a specific place, or of a type of environment?

...and from there, in my experience, it's always been easy to steer the conversation in a direction that leaves students needing to think more clearly about what geography is so that they can convince each other that their particular type of music is the best Geography music! Putting students in a position where they think they need to think clearly about Geography is always a good thing.

If things go slowly, try suggesting your own choice and make sure it's something they'll hate. I always use Mahler, and suggest that the classical symphony, which draws together many elements into a whole, is a really good analogy for Geography. If things get really bad, play them Mahler.

You can extend the class discussion into a first exploration of WebCT discussion boards by asking them to post onto the discussion boards links to YouTube videos of their favourite artists performing their most Geographically inspiring tracks... such as these: from The Geography of Light. from the end of Mahler 9. emotional landscape from Bjork.

...and to link the whole discussion into their other modules you can start by mentioning that the highest mark so far awarded for a piece of geg-30014 coursework was for a student's sense-of-place music video set around Keele!

Some Geography references to throw into the discussion:

W.G.Hoskins (1955) wrote in “The Making of the English Landscape” that:

“One may liken the English Landscape, especially in a wide view, to a symphony, which it is possible to enjoy as an architectural mass of sound… …but if instead of hearing merely a symphonic mass of sound we isolate the themes as they enter, to see how one by one they are intricately woven together… the total effect is immeasurably enhanced. So it is with landscapes of the historic depth and physical variety that England shows almost everywhere.”

Austin Miller (1955), in his book “The Skin of the Earth” wrote:

“The landscape has been compared to a symphony whose various elements, subtly interwoven, combine to assault the senses with a pleasure of fine sound... If this is so then a map is to the landscape as the printed score is to the symphony. To enjoy the interplay of harmonies and rhythm most of us must hear the symphony played by a full orchestra; to appreciate the blending of its elements we must go out and view the landscape”

The composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) wrote:

“The symphony should be like the world: it must embrace everything."


What some 1st-year students have written on the Discussion Boards

"For me, some of Kate Bush's work reflects geography. Her ideas and her music are so unique and different, and use many different elements, beats, genres, instruments. In some ways this could reflect geography as many processes create the landscapes we see."

"Wintersun - 'Death and the Healing'. The lyrical theme of this song conveys the ever-continuing cycle of 'death' and 'healing' throughout time, which is comparable to the ever changing landscape, landforms being created, destroyed, and recreated... and indeed to the ever-changing climate. Essentially, the song conveys a feeling that although there is destruction/change for the worse, there is also subsequent creation/change for the better and that time is the master of all. "

"After playing a game, Eternal Sonata for the Xbox 360, I was introduced to the Polish composer, Frédéric Chopin... My favourite composition is Fantaisie Impromptu... I can always picture the music superimposed across a story board for the creation of the earth, so I expect its feeling for Geology, to me, is also carried across to the processes of Geomorphology and Geography."

"I would fit the opening music from Pirates of the Caribbean to the oceans. It is a powerful rolling and majestic piece of music which really relfects the movement of the oceans. Another piece of music which I love is from yet another film, this time the new pride and prejudice. The opening tune is very quiet and I think reflects the quieter expanses of the world."

OK... take the discussion from there...