Reading the Landscape: The Four Cardinal Directions

Pre-Visit Activity


To become familiar with looking at and using maps, including the use of the four cardinal directions and the four secondary directions. 



1.  What is a map?  What are its major characteristics?  Establish a simple definition.  Name or show some of the different types of common maps, such as a map of your classroom, school, town, or a topographic map.  Establish the need for a map legend; it is the "language" of the map and must be learned before the map can be read.

2.  Discuss the four cardinal directions (N, S, E, W) then introduce the four secondary directions (NE, SE, NW, SW)

3.  Give each student a copy of the Nature Center map.  Point out the compass rose.  Have students practice locating objects on the map given basic directions such as "What is the pond north of the Visitor Center?  What is the street to the south of the Nature Center?  What pond is west of Avocet Pond?"

4.  Take an imaginary "hike" on the Nature Center map.  For example, "Let's start at the Sundial, visit the Mews, and then take the Habitat Trail to Blackbird Pond...How would we get there?"  Encourage students to use the cardinal directions.  You would walk north to the Visitor Center, turn east at the first junction, walk past the mews, etc.  Let your students describe the directions, as well as what they are likely to see on the hike.  Next, let a student describe a hike while the others trace the route on the map with a pencil as it is being described.

5.  Orienting the Map:  To "orient" a map means to turn it in such a way that north on the map fits north in the landscape so terrain features shown on the map (such as roads and fence lines) are lined up with features in the field.  You inspect the map and your surroundings, then twist the map until they match.  This makes it easy to tell if you should turn left or right to reach your destination.  Have your students practice this in the classroom using the Nature Center map.  Present them with problems, such as, "Imagine you are standing in the parking lot facing 12th Street (encourage them to orient their maps by turning them upside down).  Is the closest fence on your left or right?  (Right)  Is the Visitor Center to your left or right?  (Left)  Describe an imaginary journey to your students to follow and have them orient their maps accordingly as you describe the route (tell them to turn the map each time you describe a change in direction).  Describe a loop that will require them to turn the map 360 degrees to get back to the start.

6.  Miniature Orienteering Course:  Using a map of the building or schoolyard, set up a small orienteering course involving six to eight stops which may be represented by pieces of symbols on the map.  This is an aid in learning and understanding map symbols.  As students find each stop (by way of a map with a marked course that you have given them:  they copy down a code letter, and at the end, with all the code letters they have collected they spell out a word or phrase relevant to the day's activities, i.e., "I can use a map."