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Driving Miss (Insert Teacher Name): Teaching Students to Give Directions

Subject: Geography, Navigation

Grade: 3-6

Lesson Objective:

Teach students to identify directions, use basic navigation skills, and measure distances.

Materials Needed:

  • Draw a map on your whiteboard with a compass rose, a starting point (like the school), and several roads that lead to fun destinations (a library, a zoo, etc.)
  • Large magnet
  • Compass

Lesson Starter:

  1. Ask your students how they got to school today; walking, riding a bike, driving, etc.
  2. Wait for students to respond. 
  3. If a student says they took the bus to school, ask, "If you were the bus driver, do you know where you would need to turn to drive from home to school?"

Main Lesson/Activity:

Left and Right

  1. One easy way to help students find their left is to have your students hold out their hands in front of them and make L shapes with their thumbs and pointer fingers. 
  2. Tell them that the L that looks correct is on their left, while the L on their right is backward. 

Cardinal Directions

  1. Go over the four cardinal directions: North, South, East, and West. 
  2. Help your students identify each of them on a compass rose (either the one provided or the one you drew on the board). 
  3. Explain to your students that most maps have North at the top of a compass. 
  4. Help students identify which way the other cardinal directions go. (West points left, East points right, and so on.)
  5. Teach your students the rhyme "Never Eat Shredded Wheat" to remember the order of NSEW when looking at a compass and determining direction. 


  1. Once your students understand basic directions, choose a volunteer and challenge the class to help them find their way to a specific destination using the roads on the map. 
  2. Using the magnet to represent the student, have your volunteer move it along the whiteboard to travel the roads of your map and follow the provided directions.
  3. To make it a lesson about measuring distance, add a key to your map to approximate the length of a mile (it doesn't have to be accurate or to scale). Ask your students to use that key to determine how many miles away each destination is from their current location.
  4. Have your students take turns and choose more volunteers. 
  5. To create a degree of difficulty, vary your roads and add obstacles like road work to make the navigation more maze-like. You may even challenge your students to plan out journeys with multiple stops. This way, you can teach them the importance of efficiency or how to best use your gas and time. You may assign time to each destination to show your students how long each trip will take.
  6. If you choose to measure the distance of your trips, incorporate that into the time as well. Establish a base speed for your traveling magnet, then have your students multiply that speed with the distances used on your journey to add to their time.
  7. Another approach to teaching navigational instruction is to have your students plan a numbered list of directions. Have each student volunteer to add a step to your instructions and write it on the whiteboard. For example, the first volunteer can say, "Go East for two miles," then your second volunteer can add, "Turn South and continue another three miles," and so on.

Outdoor Activity:

  1. As an alternative to the whiteboard activity, take your class outside and set up a course with obstacles and objectives (such as "Slide down the slide.”) 
  2. Go over the cardinal directions and point in the directions relative to your surroundings.
  3. Have yourself or a volunteer only move and turn when the class directs them. Have them use "Go," "Stop," "Turn left," or "Turn right," and so on. 
  4. For an added challenge, have students use only "Turn North," "Go East," and so on instead of left and right. If they still use left or right, ask them to clarify with the cardinal direction by asking again. For example, if you're going East and they want you to turn North, but they say, "Go left," ask them, "Which way is left?" Answer: West!


At the end of the lesson, challenge your students to watch where they travel and what directions they take the next time they're on the bus or in the car with their parents. 

As a homework assignment, have your students write down the directions they take to get from school to home. (Exit the school on the North side, walk .25 miles East, etc.)

Written by Will Hatch
Education World Contributor
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