Use a compass


Students can:

  • use compass points, distance and scale to read and interpret maps
  • understand the effect on a map when the scale is changed

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1

In this activity, students are given a simple map which has a 2 cm grid or a 2 cm grid overlay can be used.

On a separate page students can:

  • draw a 4 cm grid and copy the map, then
  • draw a 1 cm grid and copy the map.

Students compare the maps. Discuss:

  • Did doubling the size of the grid double the scale? Why?
  • Did halving the size of the grid halve the scale? Why?
  • Did doubling/halving the size of the grid double/halve the size of the map? Why?
  • How could this method be used to enlarge/reduce a smaller section of the map?

Activity 2 – geography

In geography students use various types of maps to gather data. Maps are the most common tool used by geographers to show the spatial distribution and features of physical and human elements of the environment. Students need practice in identifying landmarks on a map by using a compass and map coordinates.

In geography, students can:

  • use atlases to investigate the different types of maps that are produced and discuss the purpose for different maps
  • identify the various features on a map, e.g. scale.

In geography, teachers can:

  • introduce the mnemonic BOLTS to students as a way to assist them to remember the important elements of a map
  • explain the importance of each element and show how students might use each to gain information that may help them.

Exploring metalanguage (QTF)

BOLTS Acronym

B Border to separate a map and give it a clearly defined area
O Orientation or Compass to give direction
L Legend or Key to explain the symbols used
T Title to give clue as to why a map was drawn
S Scale to show the relationship between distances on map and actual distances on land

When teaching students to read map coordinates in the geography classroom, it is important to explain that:

  • the starting point for reference is the bottom left hand corner of the map
  • the horizontal always comes before the vertical. That is, read across the bottom of the map, and then read up the map

When teaching students to use direction on a map it is important to emphasise the importance of the words 'from' and 'to'.

From is the starting point. Students need to place a compass on this point aligning it with the map orientation to work out the direction required to reach the end point.

  • To is the end point.

1. In this activity students will identify landmarks on a map by using a compass and map coordinates. The activity is designed as a team activity with students working in pairs.

  • Photocopy 15 different pages from a street directory and distribute one page to each pair of students.
  • Explain to students the importance of being able to locate features on a map when analysing for a specific purpose.

Demonstrate to students how coordinates are helpful by displaying an overhead of the street directory page which shows the school and discussing the school's coordinates.

Highlight the north point on the page.

Ask students to generate a list of ten questions that relate to using the map coordinates and direction on their specific map. Examples of the types of questions students may generate include:

  • What are the main features located in A1? B2? C6?
  • What are the map coordinates for ____________?
  • What direction is ____________ from ____________?
  • If you travelled from ____________ to ____________ what direction would you be travelling?

Students can swap maps and questions to test another group in the class.

Additional ideas can be sourced at the Ed Helper website. This includes sample activities for using easier maps.

Exploring deep knowledge (QTF)

2. In this activity students will select an area of study and draw a map including all of the important elements. The activity is designed to be completed by individual students. Select a country that fits within your topic of World Heritage area or global environments, such as China.

Provide blank paper so that students can draw or trace an outline of the country.

Ask students to mark the World Heritage sites found in the country, then draw a holiday route which connects many of the main World Heritage sites, e.g. Great Wall of China, Yungang Grottos and Lushan National Park.

Remind students to include all of the important elements of a map, especially the scale. In groups or individually, students use the scale to calculate the total distance to be travelled on the holiday.

Discuss the distances of each section of the holiday route, the type of environment being traversed (e.g. mountains, rivers) and the modes of transport available.

Discuss which form of transport would be most appropriate for each section and give reasons why the mode of transport was selected.

Students estimate the number of days required for the holiday given the distances to be travelled, the modes of transport being used and the time required to visit the World Heritage sites.


Australian curriculum

ACMMG113: Use a grid reference system to describe; locations. Describe routes using landmarks; and directional language

NSW syllabus

MA3-17MG: Locates and describes position on maps using a grid reference system. ENS3.5: Demonstrates an understanding of the interconnectedness between Australia and global environments and how individuals and groups can act in an ecologically responsible manner – See indicators 1,2,3, 9,10, 12. (Current HSIE K – 6 Syllabus in use for 2014 p31)

Teachers resources

  • Mathematics K-6 (2003) Stage 3 – Position, pp 154-156

Lesson plans and activities

Interactive white board activity

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