Read a compass

Students can:

  • read a compass
  • locate a position by following directions
  • locate a position using coordinates

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1

Students can gain experience in locating position using a grid, if the classroom desks are set up as a grid.

To do this:

  • Students put their desks in rows and columns.
  • Assign a colour to each column and a number to each desk in the column starting with 1.
  • Write these on large pieces of paper and display them clearly at the start of the rows and columns. They could be taped to the sides of the desks.
  • Give a grid position for each student's desk.
  • Using coordinates, students describe how to get from one part of the desk grid to another. For example: My desk is purple 5. To get to my friend Asha's desk I could move forward to purple 3 then turn right and go to green 3, then move up to green 1.
  • Discuss the most efficient way (least corners) to travel or set a challenge where you have to make exactly five turns in your travel or you have to travel backwards at least once.

Activity 2: dance

Use masking tape to mark a grid on the floor. The masking tape should be positioned at suggested intervals of 1 metre or 0.5 metres over an area that allows for at least 12 grid coordinates. The grid needs to have ABC and 123 coordinates marked.

Divide the class into groups of 5 or 6 students and direct the students to stand around the four sides of the grid area. Direct alternate groups to move within the space, following these instructions.

Move through the grid by only stepping in between the marks. (At any time the students could be asked to stop and identify the coordinates of the space that they are positioned in.)

  • Move through the grid by stepping in between the marks.
  • Follow a simple path through the grid using grid coordinates and exit from a given coordinate.
  • Follow a complex path through the grid using given coordinates and exit from the same side.
  • Make a shape within the grid covering a set of given coordinates.
  • Allow the students to create their own path using coordinate language to direct their group.
  • Allow the students to create their own path given coordinates that they must pass through.

Using the same grid, remove approximately half the grid markers to reveal an asymmetrical pattern. Students work in groups. Direct the groups to move within the space, following the same instructions as above.

Using the same grid remove approximately half the grid markers again. Students work in groups. Each group creates a sequence of movements to be performed on the grid (the sequence is recorded using grid coordinates). The groups could be given a series of movements to be included in their presentation. The movements could include:

  • a travelling pathway that moves across all markers (explore actions such as rolling, sliding, stamping, turning)
  • a series of shapes that vary in size.

Activity 3

1. Construct a compass using a saucer of water, a slice of cork, a needle and a magnet, following these directions.

  • Place the cork on the water.
  • Rub the magnet one way along the needle repeatedly until magnetised.
  • Lay the needle on the cork. The needle will swing in a north–south direction.
  • When the needle stops mark North, South, East and West on the saucer.
  • Explain to students these are the four main points of the compass.
  • Confirm the results from the experiment with a standard compass.
  • Label walls of the room with North, South, East and West.

2. Ask students to describe journeys they have been on, the stops that were made and the directions they travelled in. As they describe their journeys put key words on the board using this diagram as a guide. Create a map of the journey using the description given.

Using the map, have students retell the journey to confirm all the information is correct, e.g. Our family went to Dubbo for a holiday. First we drove west from Sydney to Lithgow where we stopped for breakfast. Then we went west to Orange, then north to Wellington and visited the caves there. Finally we travelled north-west between Wellington and Dubbo.

3.Treasure Hunt

Using a compass design a treasure hunt in the playground for students to follow. Every clue requires the use of a compass, e.g.

a) Walk east from the canteen until you reach the large gum tree.

b) Face north–east and then you will find the clue under a seat.

c) Walk west for approximately ten metres. You will find me in the grass.

Complete a joint construction of the treasure hunt. Label a map of the school to show the hunt.

4. Barrier Game

Students are each given a simple map of a small town with the four compass points and cut-outs of characters, e.g. a dog, a cat and a rabbit.

One student places a character of their choosing at a set location on the map. The student then provides instructions for their partner to find the location of the character from a set point using compass points to indicate direction. Their partner uses the directions to draw their path on the map, e.g.

a) From the rabbit burrow go north-east till you get to the stream.

b) Turn west and follow the stream until you reach the forest.

5. Have students draw a street map of their local area, around their home or school or shopping area.

Have students provide the directions to go between places on their map.

  • Ask: Is this the shortest path?
  • Is there another way to go? How would the directional instructions change?
  • Have students list the positional language being used.

Activity 4 – dance

1. Use labels to attach one of the following directions (N, S, E, W, NW/SE, NE/SW) to each face of a die. Start the dance session with a cardiovascular warm-up such as Area Walks from Quantum Leaps (Department of Education and Training, 2002). Give the warm-up a directional focus by using changes in directions such as North, South, East and so on. Also incorporate changes in movement quality.

2. Use masking tape to randomly mark crosses on the floor which are within stepping distance of each other.

Ask students to:

  • Move across the floor by only stepping on the marks and give a direction, travel along the marks West, then North, then East. Where are you facing now?
  • Move across the floor by stepping in-between the marks.
  • Make a shape and hold for 3 seconds whenever they step on a mark.
  • Move through the space in time with music, stopping on a mark and freezing in a shape when the music stops.

Use multiple sets of directional cards (North, South, East and West) so students can follow directions. The teacher can use three directions: Move North, West, South, Move North, and South.

Students use their own set of directions and use their own movements – these can be performed in front of others.

Teach students a locomotor dance sequence that moves through the space, stopping in a frozen shape several times. Provide a count for the sequence, including the duration of the freeze in shape. Organise how students will perform the sequence in the space:

  • the pathway through the marks that will be followed
  • the groupings of students, e.g. 2s, 3s, individuals
  • the timing of each group's performance of the sequence
  • entrances and exits.

Rehearse and refine the group composition and present the work for an audience.


Australian curriculum

ACMMG090: Use simple scales, legends and directions to interpret information contained in basic maps.

NSW syllabus

MA2-17MG: Uses simple maps and grids to represent position and follow routes, including using compass directions.

Teacher resources

  • Mathematics K-6 (2003) Stage 2 – Position, pp 116-119

Students find objects on a grid given grid references or coordinates, locate places on a map with and without a grid, draw and label a grid on a map or plan.

Lesson plans and activities

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