Part 2: Fieldwork Skills

  • These are skills that pupils can apply to the fieldwork activities so that they can collect the necessary data at the fieldwork site. It is important for teachers not to assume that pupils have the pre-requisite fieldwork skills as this may not be the case. Hence, teachers need to find out what skills pupils have before deciding whether these should be taught or not.

  • There are many types of fieldwork skills depending on the nature of the fieldwork activities. The ones that are commonly used in primary social studies ibF would be.

    • Field observation

    • Sketching

    • Photo-taking

    • Interviewing

    • Map reading skills

  • binoculars

    Field observations are useful as they allow pupils to receive first-hand information about human behaviours, an event or a place. However, they should not be the only data source for answering the inquiry and/or guiding questions. Rather they should be checked against other data sources such as interviewing participants for verification purpose so that an accurate and holistic picture of human action, happening or place can be obtained. The things to note for in field observation are:

    • Develop a plan of where, who, what, how and when to observe.

    • When necessary, obtain permission for observation. Introduce yourself and provide the fieldwork purposes. Explain how the information will be used and how it will be kept safely.

    • During observation, keep an open mind to avoid bias. Refrain from making judgmental assessment.

    • Pay attention and write observation notes on clipboard. Listen closely to what is heard and note your feeling during the observation.

    • Take some photographs of the place, the observed participants’ interactions with others and the place if necessary. Obtain permission to take photographs if necessary.

    • Complement the observation with other data sources like sketches and interviews to make sense of the observation.

    • Summarise the observation as soon as possible and note down your immediate learning.

    • Find time later to do a detailed write up of the observation notes after the fieldwork. It is best to do it within the week of observation as memories can fade or things can begin to blend into one another especially when more than one observation is required for the fieldwork.

  • Sketch-basic-1293977_1280

    Sketches are outline drawings or summary diagrams. They are useful as they form the “base maps” for displaying primary data from the fieldwork. Pupils do not have to be artists to sketch. Sketches should be purposefully drawn to display only things that need to be focused on as spelt out by the instructions of the fieldwork activity. Pupils need to have a soft lead pencil, eraser, paper, a clipboard for the paper and a plastic frame (optional, it is a 3 by 3 square piece of transparent plastic sheet with a cardboard frame for holding). The steps for sketching are:

    • Determine beforehand the purpose of the sketch. Decide the essential features for inclusion and how the sketch will be used for the fieldwork.
    • Choose a view for the sketch.
    • Identify a place to work on the sketch. Ensure that the view is unobstructed and the place is sheltered, safe and accessible.
    • Draw vertical and horizontal lines on the paper exactly like the plastic frame and note that the space inside the sketch frame can be identified as the background (like the sky and horizon), the middle ground and the foreground (see diagram).
    • If you intend to make a direct comparison between the sketch and an old photograph, then it is important to ensure that the framing of the sketch is similar to the old photograph in terms of the location and view (which can be the ground, aerial or oblique view).
    • Add a title at the top of the sketch frame and a north arrow inside the top right-hand corner of the frame to show orientation (to draw the north arrow, use a compass to help). Include a brief description of the sketch below the frame.
    • Commence by sketching the feature outlines in the background first before proceeding towards the foreground, adding relevant details as you go. You may hold up the plastic frame and look through it to guide you in your sketching.
    • Label and annotate the main features to reflect the purpose of the sketch.
  • MI-treasure-map-153425_1280Once pupils learn how to read maps, they are on their way to read to learn and interpret maps. This means that they will be able to visualize what the place is actually like when it is seen on the map and interpret the information on the map to make hypotheses about places and the types of human activities that take place by drawing on their knowledge and experiences of these places under study. For instance, comparing a map showing padi cultivation and a map showing the relief of Southeast Asia will make pupils realize that padi cultivation is concentrated on the lowlands of Southeast Asia, and in places with higher elevation, the land needs to be terraced to simulate flat lowland conditions for the flooding of the fields.

    Similarly, by examining the world climatic map and world natural vegetation maps, pupils can make the hypothesis that the climatic conditions influence the types of natural vegetation that exist. In tropical climate where there is high temperature and rainfall, tropical rainforest is the dominant vegetation. However, one cannot assume that pupils’ map interpretation ability develops automatically once they have acquired an understanding of the language of map reading. We still need to guide pupils to develop their interpretation skills by drawing from their existing knowledge and experience of the places and support their learning with a range of resources like photographs, maps of different types and other relevant resources. Pupils also need opportunities to practise their map reading and interpretation skills.

  • Map%20Reading_map-159714_1280Maps are tools that people use to locate places, get to places and know about places. A map tells a story of what a place looks like and the types of existing natural and human features that give the place its special identity. It informs us about the relationships between the features and the influence they have on one another. Because of the range of maps available, we need to exercise care in choosing maps for fieldwork that are appropriate to our pupils’ age and map competencies. Although maps differ, all maps generally have the following elements: a plan view, a title, a legend or key, symbols, names of places, scale, north arrow and grid lines.

    It is never too early to teach pupils map reading skills although one may question the need for teaching especially when pupils nowadays can use the Global Positioning System or GPS in their mobile phones to help them navigate from one place to another. The answer is that not all pupils have mobile phones and for those who have, they may not have subscribed to a mobile data plan which can access their GPS. And for those who do make use of their GPS for navigation, they need to first understand how to read their GPS maps to make sense of them. Furthermore, maps on paper will not disappear any sooner just because of GPS. They are still widely used in our daily lives in school and at work and home. Hence, map reading skills are fundamental life skills which pupils need to acquire. According to Wiegand (1993), pupils need to acquire the following knowledge or skills in map reading:

    • Understand that maps are views from the above, that is, the plan view.
    • Interpret symbols on maps and understand that the map information is selective, depending on the map purpose.
    • Locate places using grid lines that are expressed as numbers or/and letters on maps.
    • Tell directions using compass points.
    • Interpret the relationships between features on the maps.

    Map readings skills should be integrated into primary social studies lessons and fieldwork and be reinforced in other subjects whenever appropriate. Since the map reading skills are developmental, we need to revisit what our pupils have previously learnt about them and build upon their knowledge during teaching.


    Wiegand, P. (1993). Children and primary geography. London: Cassell.

    Map reading - PLAN VIEW

    Maps give a bird’s eye view or a plan view of the features on the ground. The plan view of a map shows how the ground features look from above. Some strategies to teach plan view are as follow and they range from simple to difficult:

    • Ask pupils to lay out their stationery on their desk tops and draw the views from above.
    • Bring various objects such as a hat, an egg tray, a comb and a toy and ask pupils to draw the plan views.
    • Design a worksheet that shows the plan views of certain objects and ask pupils what the objects are. Alternately, ask pupils to match the correct plan views with the pictures of objects.
    • Ask pupils to draw the plan views of their bedrooms, classroom or part of the school ground. Pupils can base their drawings on actual photographs, their memory or bring pupils out of their classroom to do the activity in the school ground.
    • Give pupils a map of the neighbourhood with certain places marked. Pupils can walk around the neighbourhood to locate places, take photographs and then stick them on the class notice-boards.

    Map reading - LEGEND AND SYMBOLS

    A legend or key explains the meaning of symbols that are used on a map. Symbols are signs on a map that represent the physical and human features on the Earth’s surface. Symbols can be pictorial or abstract which can take the form of linear, point or area symbols. Linear symbols represent line features such as a road or a river. Point symbols represent point like features such as a building or a bridge and area symbols represent features that occupy considerable spaces such as a lake or a padi cultivation area. Note that standard colours are used for map symbols: green for vegetation, blue for water bodies, brown for landforms and red or black for man-made features. Some strategies for teaching symbols are:

    • Match the correct symbols with their meanings.
    • Draw symbols for a list of features provided.
    • Identify symbols provided.
    • Give pupils a neighbourhood map and ask them to identify the marked features by making reference to the legend. Teacher can extend the activity by asking pupils to describe the functions of the features found in the neighbourhood or ask them to compare and contrast the different land uses as represented by the map symbols.

    Map reading - LOCATION

    All maps are marked by grid lines. These are vertical and horizontal lines that are used for locating places on maps. The grids can be marked using the alpha-numeric system such as those on a road map, the four or six-figure grid system on topographic maps or latitudes and longitudes on an atlas map or globe. For primary pupils, teach them place location using the alpha-numeric system as it is the easiest to learn. In the alpha-numeric system, the columns are usually marked by letters and the rows are marked by numbers. The columns are always read first, followed by the rows. One way to remember is ‘C’ comes before ‘R’. C stands for column and R stands for row. In the figure below, the coordinates of X are A2 and the coordinates for Y are C3.


    Some of the strategies for teaching location are:

    • Get pupils to draw a grid on the ground with numbers on one side (rows) and letters on another side (columns). One pupil can throw a stone towards the grid. The first person to shout out the correct coordinates where the stone lands, skips to the square to pick it up and hops back again. He will throw the stone and another pupil who gives the correct answer will repeat the whole process.
    • In the classroom orienteering activity, stick 10 post-it labels with letters underneath the tables, cupboards, etc. Mark the locations of the labels on the classroom plan but number each location. Ask the first pair of pupils to use the plan to locate the labels and fill up the worksheet. Teacher may wish to time pupils with a stop watch. Ask each pair who has completed the orienteering course to set a new course for the next pair, putting the labels in different locations and making a new plan. The activity can be extended outside the classroom.
    • Whenever places are mentioned or taught, teachers can point to their positions on the class wall maps or get pupils to mark the positions.
    • Teachers can also encourage pupils to look up the locations of places that are mentioned in the newspaper articles.

    Map reading - DIRECTION

    The north arrow can be used to find the direction of one place from another on the map.

     The north arrow tells us where the main or cardinal points are – north, south, west and east. These indicate general directions. For young pupils, start with the cardinal points first. An example of how to read direction using the cardinal points is shown in the diagram below. The black triangle is south of the pink square. The orange star is east of the pink square.


    For older pupils, extend their understanding by using other compass points between the cardinal points - northeast, southeast, southwest and northwest. These compass points help to state the directions more precisely. An example of how to read directions using compass points is shown in the diagram below. The green circle is northwest of the red rectangle. The blue triangle is southeast of the red rectangle.


    Some strategies for teaching directions are:

    • Label the classroom walls North, South, East and West and get pupils to practise giving directions of features with the cardinal points.
    • Get pupils to gather in pairs. A will mark any two places, X and Y on a map provided. B will then provide locations of X from Y and Y from X. A will check B’s answers. Reverse the roles. B will now mark two places on the map, P and Q, and A will provide the direction of P from Q and from Q to P. B will check A’s answers.
    • Get pupils to indicate compass directions of places in the neighbourhood map.
  • Interview-interview-2207741_1920
    Unlike surveys, interviews enable pupils to develop a deeper understanding of how interviewees think and feel about certain things. This is because interviews provide opportunities for follow-up questions to be asked so that the interviewees can clarify, explain or elaborate on their points. The tips for conducting good interviews are:

    • Decide on the interview objectives.
    • Craft interview questions by using the 5Ws1H types of questions (who, what, when, where, why and how). During the pre-fieldwork, teacher can instruct pupils in groups to brainstorm all the possible questions and write each question on a post-it note. The groups can then organize the questions in groups and select the best group of questions for their interview.
    • Ensure that open-ended questions are asked.
    • Decide on the question sequence with easy and general questions to be asked first followed by more difficult or sensitive questions. Do not ask leading questions which are phrased to suggest a particular answer or when one answer is more correct than another.
    • Determine the amount of time for the interview.
    • Choose a comfortable spot for the interview. The spot should also be free from distractions.
    • If interviews need to be recorded, get the voice recorder ready.
    • Identify the interviewees. Usually they are selected because they are what we can get. We call such selection convenience sampling.
    • At the start of the interview, greet the interviewee first before introducing yourself and state the interview purpose/s. Explain why the person is chosen and state the amount of time needed for the interview. Obtain his/her permission for the interview and ensure confidentiality.
    • Ask the interviewee for permission for recording and/or note-taking.
    • During the interview, use nods, smiles and pauses to encourage the interviewee to elaborate on his/her responses. Show interest in what is said and keep personal opinions to yourself.
    • For note-taking, do it discreetly such that it would not distract the interviewee. Jot down the words used, ideas which formed and questions to ask.
    • End the interview by asking the interviewee whether he/she has any further points to add before thanking the person for his/her time.
    • Listen closely to the recorded interview and transcribe the portions which are relevant to the inquiry and/or guiding questions for analysis.
  • Photography-photographer-1026441_1920
    Just like sketches, when relevant photographs are taken, they can provide valuable data for field investigation. To take photographs, pupils need to have a digital camera or a mobile phone. It is useful to keep a field log book to record the time, date, location, view and weather conditions if several photographs are taken over different periods of time and at different places. The steps for photo-taking are:

    • Check whether there is a need to seek permission for photo-taking.
    • Decide on the purpose of the photograph and how it will be used for the fieldwork.
    • If the photograph is used for comparison with an old photograph, then the former should be taken such that its location and view are similar to the latter.
    • Identify a place to take photographs. Ensure that the view is unobstructed and the place is safe and accessible.
    • Consider the photograph composition, that is, what is to be emphasized in the photograph which is determined by the requirements of the fieldwork activities.