Factors that shape places: urban places

Topic: Factors that shape places
Learning Activity
Schools & Teachers
Stage 3
Geography: Year 5 and Year 6
Students investigate how people change the natural environment in Australia. Students examine ways people influence the characteristics of places.

Key inquiry question #1

How do people and environments influence one another?

Content Summary

Factors that change environments 


  • investigate the ways people change the natural environment in Australia and another country, for example:  (ACHGK026, ACHGK027)
    • examination of how people, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, have influenced each country’s environmental characteristics for example land clearing       

Background Notes for Teachers

This sequence of learning activities explores the expansion of Sydney’s urban areas and how this impacts on the natural environment. Throughout the growth of the colony from early settlement to global city, people have made substantial impacts on the natural environment. In the early colony people went in search of farming land. Areas of land from Sydney Cove to the Nepean River were considered fertile and the natural environment was altered to create farming land. Through the processes of urbanisation, migration and natural population increase, Sydney continued to expand and the need for housing saw the subdivision of farming land into residential housing blocks.

Sydney’s urban sprawl continues and with population forecasts predicting Sydney to grow by two million in the next 20 years, the geographical expansion of Sydney will continue as will the changes people make to the environment. 

The inquiry process

Students will investigate the changes that have occurred throughout this process using the Geographical Inquiry Process guided by inquiry questions behind a definition of geography put forward by Charles F. Gritzner. It uses the inquiry questions of What is? Where is? Why there? and Why care?

  • What is an urban place?
  • Where are the urban areas located in Sydney?
  • Why are the urban areas where they are in Sydney?
  • Why care? How has the expansion of Sydney’s urban areas changed the natural environment? How will this continue into the future?

Defining Geography: What is Where, Why There, and Why Care? by Charles F. Gritzner, Journal of Geography 101, No. 1 (January/February 2002), pp. 38-40. ml

Window by Jeannie Baker

Window is a rich resource that can be used to engage students in discussing changes to the natural environment and the reasons for these changes. Belonging by Jeannie Baker follows the theme and considers the inquiry question, Why care?

Virtual Fieldwork

This learning sequence takes students through virtual fieldwork of Sydney’s southwest and western growth areas. In the images by Geoff Ambler students will observe the changes that are being made to the environment in the development of new housing estates and the amenities that are required for people to live in places. The use of satellite imagery, Street View and photo galleries in Google Maps provides students with an understanding of what these places look like and allows for rich discussion in the topic.


If possible, students can also conduct fieldwork in their local area. Depending on your location, students may observe examples of urban expansion and the environmental changes that occur in the form of newly created subdivisions, residential apartment developments and business service development. These are such things as: shopping centres; office complexes; business parks or office towers; road and rail infrastructure or additional amenities such as schools and parks.

A local planning issue – Badgerys Creek

The State Library of New South Wales holds the collection of images by Geoff Ambler of Badgerys Creek 

These images, taken in 2014, allow students to conduct an investigation into the proposed second airport of Sydney. Students can investigate how people will influence Badgery’s Creek when the second airport is built, who will manage the area, the issues surrounding environmental management and sustainability and the views of each of the stakeholders. The images in the collection show the before, students will need to research and imagine the after.

Link to Stage 3 History The Australian Colonies

The introduction of rail networks in the 1880s shaped Sydney’s settlement patterns in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Students could investigate the impact of rail as a significant development on the colony of Sydney as a lead in to this geographical inquiry investigating environmental impacts of Sydney’s growing urban places.

Student Activities

Residential Developments

Students observe images of housing developments from the State Library collection to formulate questions for geographical inquiry.

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Urban places

Students use a variety of sources to define and write a description of what makes an urban place.

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Urban areas of Sydney

Students view Sydney in the colonial period, in 1943 and the present, to compare the changes and developments that have occurred.

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The expansion of Sydney from early settlement to the present

Students investigate urban areas and their expansion in Sydney from early settlement to the present, using an overlay map.

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The expansion of Sydney’s urban areas

Students use sources from the 1800s, 1943 and images from SIX Maps and Google Maps to show how land use has changed over time.

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Why are urban areas where they are in Sydney?

Students examine subdivision plans and reports from the Department of Planning and Environment to understand why the urban areas of Sydney are where they are.

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Changing the natural environment

Students examine collection items to determine how the growth of urban areas in Sydney has changed the natural environment.

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Processing geographical information

Students explore the development of the uses of  land, from the past to the present and predict what urban areas could look like in the future.

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Picture books

Window by Jeannie Baker

Belonging by Jeannie Baker

My Place by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlings



Australian Bureau of Statistics

NSW government websites outlining urban planning in Sydney

Department of Planning

Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan

Environment, Climate Change & Water - Sydney Growth Centres Strategic Assessment Program Report

Western Sydney - Airport Site and  Infrastructure

Department of Planning and Environment - Priority Growth Areas and Precincts

NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum Geography K–6

A student:

  • GE3-1 describes the diverse features and characteristics of places and environments
  • GE3-2 explains interactions and connections between people, places and environments
  • GE3-4 acquires, processes and communicates geographical information using geographical tools for inquiry

Acquiring geographical information

  • develop geographical questions to investigate and plan an inquiry (ACHGS033, ACHGS040)
  • collect and record relevant geographical data and information, using ethical protocols, from primary data and secondary information sources, for example, by observing, by interviewing, conducting surveys, or using maps, visual representations, statistical sources and reports, the media or the internet (ACHGS034, ACHGS041)

Processing geographical information

  • evaluate sources for their usefulness (ACHGS035, ACHGS042)
  • represent data in different forms, for example plans, graphs, tables, sketches and diagrams (ACHGS035, ACHGS042)
  • represent different types of geographical information by constructing maps that conform to cartographic conventions using spatial technologies as appropriate (ACHGS036, ACHGS043)
  • interpret geographical data and information, using digital and spatial technologies as appropriate, and identify spatial distributions, patterns and trends, and infer relationships to draw conclusions (ACHGS037, ACHGS044)

Communicating geographical information

  • present findings and ideas in a range of communication forms as appropriate (ACHGS038, ACHGS045)
  • reflect on their learning to propose individual and collective action in response to a contemporary geographical challenge and describe the expected effects of their proposal on different groups of people (ACHGS039, ACHGS046)
  • Place: the significance of places and what they are like (ie.characteristics of places on a global level).
  • Space: the significance of location and spatial distribution, and ways people organise and manage spaces that we live in (ie. global patterns of spatial distribution; how people organise and manage spaces in their local environment).
  • Environment: the significance of the environment in human life, and the important interrelationships between humans and the environment(ie. how the environment influences people and places; how people influence the environment; the effect of natural disasters on the environment).
  • Interconnection: no object of geographical study can be viewed in isolation (ie. how environments influence where people live; ways people influence the characteristics of their environments; diversity of cultures and peoples around the world).
  • Scale: the way that geographical phenomena and problems can be examined at different spatial levels (ie. environmental and human characteristics of places on local, regional and global scales; the effect of global events on people and places locally, regionally and globally).
  • Sustainability: the capacity of the environment to continue to support our lives and the lives of other living creatures into the future (ie.extent of environmental change; environmental management practices; sustainability initiatives).
  • Change: explaining geographical phenomena by investigating how they have developed over time(ie. changes to environmental and human characteristics of places).

Learning Across the Curriculum

  • Sustainability
  • Information and communication technology capability
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • Personal and social capability
  • Civics and citizenship
  • Difference and diversity
  • Work and enterprise