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Using a geographical sketch in the study of a landscape

The term “geographical sketch” appears in the Techniques section of the new secondary school geography program (page 288). The purpose of this file is to provide you with a few concepts and examples of sketches that could be used in your classroom. This file also contains suggestions for the use of technology tools to develop the cross-curricular competency “Uses information and communications technologies.”

What is a geographical sketch?

A geographical sketch is a freehand schematic drawing of the main elements that make up a landscape. It supports the interpretation (deconstruction) of an actual landscape or photo of a landscape based on the geographical realities of that landscape: buildings, landforms, major rivers and highways, etc.

The sketch can also be used as a diagram illustrating one’s ideas in order to understand the organization of a territory or interpret a territorial issue.

In the program

The following are the steps to follow to prepare a geographical sketch according to the program:

  • Identify the elements to be represented: buildings, landforms, major rivers and highways, vegetation, etc.
  • Order the elements according to the purpose (select the essential elements and define the three planes: foreground, middle ground and background)
  • Make a simplified representation
  • Provide a title that expresses the purpose
  • Create a legend

Rules of geographical sketches

  • The sketch must have a purpose (its purpose is to demonstrate a principle not merely to represent an image of the landscape). The title introduces an issue related to the type of territory studied.
  • Do not try to represent everything. A drawing containing too many elements can only lead to confusion. Include only what is useful or relevant to the purpose or issue.
  • You must generalize and therefore sacrifice precise positional accuracy.

Examples of the study of a landscape using a sketch

Image source:

Use the following questions to help students deconstruct the landscape and identify an issue:

1) What does this photo represent?

2) Can you locate this city on a map?

3) What do you observe in the middle ground on the right-hand side of the image?

4) Two distinct inhabited spaces can be observed in this image. What are they?

5) What surrounds and delineates the city of Montréal?

Use maps to illustrate the issue:

Click on the images to enlarge them

Map source: Ville de Montréal

Use images to illustrate the issue:

Click on the images to enlarge them

Image source: Le Québec en images

A few statistics: Montréal in numbers

Observe a photo and formulate questions about it:

  • Identify its location, era, author and purpose
  • Estimate the scale
  • Identify the various planes (foreground, middle ground and background)
  • Identify the various elements that make up the landscape
  • Identify an issue for analysis



Organize (The creations of a geographical sketch)

  • Create symbols of identification
  • Use certain conventional signs (e.g., watercourses in blue)
  • Trace the frame of the photo
  • Draw the horizon line
  • Use the various planes
  • Place the various elements
  • Provide the sketch with a meaningful title (related to the issue)

Example of a sketch created with OpenOffice Draw:


Another example of a sketch:

Pinatubo (Philippines) created using MS Paint

Original photo Sketch

Click on the images to enlarge them

Texts to help students draw their sketches

Translated excerpt from the book Grandir à Manille

Excerpt from An Overview of Disaster Management, one of the training modules in the United Nations Disaster Management Training Program (DMTP)

Draw a sketch illustrating the consequences of Pinatubo’s volcanic eruption on the population (using Word).

Click on the images to enlarge them

Download the entire Pinatubo task in Word format


During this step, students must develop an argument related to the issue they have chosen by finding other sources of information that support their research hypotheses (e.g., to confirm that transportation is a public policy issue on the Island of Montréal). They must then suggest and assess possible solutions (public transit [French only] for example). They can also compare Montréal to other metropolises (such as London for example).

Finally, the students can present their results using a schematic map produce a report or poster, engage in a debate, etc.
Click here to find out more about schematic maps.
French version here),

Examples of images that could be used in the study of a landscape

Click on the images to enlarge them

New York

Understands the organization of a territory: Manhattan, the bridges, Central Park, the port, the Hudson River, etc.


Understands the organization of a territory: Economic centre vs. shantytowns, precarious dwellings built on piles, etc.

Interprets a territorial issue and constructs his/her consciousness of global citizenship: What explains the inhabitants’ decision to live along the coast in a country that experiences torrential downpours and typhoons?


Understands the organization of a territory: The Grand Canal, St. Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace, the Adriatic, etc.


Interprets a territorial issue: Heritage sites vs. urban expansion in Beijing. Also use news items from Google News.


Understands the organization of a territory: Strips of trees around waterways, forest roads, etc.

Constructs his/her consciousness of global citizenship: Clearcutting, the consequences of large-scale exploitation in Témiscamingue, etc.

Where to find images

To find image sites that could be used in the analysis of landscapes,
visit the section “ Tools / Images” of the web site of the Service national du RÉCIT de l’univers social: (French site) Also consider searching their two other collections and here: Images of Québec and Canada and here Images of the rest of the world

Another good collection of images of Quebec is Le Québec en images here http://www.ccdmd.qc.ca/quebec/

And of course verify Wikipedia's growing access points to various public domain image resources here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Public_domain_image_resources

Step-by-step technology guides

These guides will introduce you to the computer tools mentioned.

How to copy and save images from the Internet:


How to use drawing tools in Word:



How to use StarOffice Draw or OpenOffice Draw:



How to use drawing tools in AppleWorks:


How to use MS Paint (available with Windows)


Presentation or training documents

These are documents provided by the Service national du RÉCIT de l’univers social to train teachers on how to draw geographical sketches in the study of landscapes. This document is in French, but the graphic presentation is self-explanatory.

Training document for secondary schools (PowerPoint document).

How to draw sketches and study a landscape

About sketches

An example of a geographical sketch originally from this site http://www.ncaction.org.uk/subjects/geog/ can be viewed directly here

same: http://www.ncaction.org.uk/images/subject/geog/sketch_big.jpg

In theory:



Study of a landscape

Studying the landscape (pedagogical guide):


Integration of ICT and Social Sciences work methodology

Geographical sketches represent a significant learning opportunity when the students draw them on their own. They must also be used within the context of a complex task that is meaningful to the students, such as a problem situation or project. For an example of a methodological framework in Social Sciences that integrates technology tools click here.

This file was created by Steve Quirion. Many thanks to those who were consulted in order to validate certain approaches.