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Ideas For Teaching Students About Cardinal Directions
Knowing your cardinal directions — North, South, East and West – comes in handy for more than just camping trips or when trying to follow directions from your GPS.
Help students in your classroom learn and apply their knowledge of cardinal directions with a few simple classroom activities, such as coloring a map or learning a silly song.
Start out by reviewing the names of cardinal directions by working in a clockwise order by giving them a simple phrase such as “Never Eat Soggy Waffles” to help them remember the order. (See silly video below, which you can show to your class and teach them to sing.)
Take the kids outside to help them recognize the directions while outside. For example, tell students that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Show students moss growing on trees and explain that it grows there since light doesn’t hit that side of the tree. Show students different maps of the night sky and point out the North Star, and it is location near other constellations.
View different maps (and their legends) to be able to easily identify where North is. Remind students that most times people hold maps so that North is pointed upwards.
Consider distributing a printable map of a campground (found HERE) to the classroom. Ask students to fill in the answers to the questions posed at the bottom of the page, and color the map appropriately (blue water, green land, etc).
Post a large city map on the board and give students directions to a particular location, such as the zoo. Use cardinal directions, such as “Starting at the school, travel North two blocks, East 5 blocks and South 1 block.” Quiz students on their knowledge by having them write down directions to locations on the map or by having them give oral directions to the class. Consider getting children up and out of the classroom with a fun scavenger hunt, using a map of the schoolground or by taking children to the local park with a map of specific landmarks.
Once you’ve taught your class about cardinal directions introduce them to intermediate directions — such as Northeast and Southwest. Use legends on the map to show students the difference between (for example) North, East, and Northeast. Use hand motions or positions on a clock to help students recognize the visual difference between cardinal and intermediate directions.
Marsch, C. (2010). 4th Grade Social Studies: United States History to 1860. Peachtree City, GA: Gallopade International.