Elementary Orienteering

Elementary Orienteering

Unit Title:



During this unit the students will learn the different parts of a compass and practice using the compass for various activities while enjoying the outdoors.

Grade Level:

3rd Grade

Lesson author(s):

Mary Peterson

Rick Clark

Sandy Benton

Instructional Materials Needed (if applicable):

Classroom set of orienteering compasses

a globe to show magnetic north pole

chart with parts of a compass

chart with the steps on setting a bearing

Compass Unit Pre/Post-Assessment given prior to the beginning of the unit and immediately following the unit.

Shapes Compass Course. (one per student pair)

Wisconsin Standards for English Language Arts Addressed (ELA Full Document or Literacy in All Subject Areas Full Document):

RI 1.3 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers

RI 7.3 Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).

Wisconsin Standards for Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Standards Addressed (Full Document or searchable spreadsheet):

C1.D.i.: Identify areas in the community that promote well-being and explain why

Evidence of Need:

Few students know how to use a compass for simple navigation.

Evidence of Success:

Students will be able to use an orienteering compass to accurately set a heading and move in the direction of the heading set.

Inquiry Experience 1

Setting and Estimated Time:  (3 30-minute lessons)

Learning Target:

I can choose the correct direction (N,W,S,E) based on the card I pick.

Formative Assessment:

Observations of and conversations with students using a compass rose for direction.


Part 1

I can choose the correct direction based on the card I pick.

Begin with a review of a compass rose as well as the cardinal directions and their abbreviations: North, South, East, West as well as ordinal directions and abbreviations: Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest

Add movement activities (on a set of index cards) when they get to that direction--jumping jacks, sit-ups, push ups.

(Create a set of cards with all 8 compass directions for each group.)

Closure: Ask the students as a group to point to a certain direction while they are lined up to check their understanding from the activity.

Inquiry Experience 2   

Setting and Estimated Time:  

Learning Target:

I can identify the parts of a compass and practice moving in different directions.

Formative Assessment:

Observations of students. Do they move in the correct direction while walking through the steps?


Part 1

Review compass rose and compass directions 

Introduce the compass  and ask for student input on how a compass can be used and when it may be useful to have one (based on pre-assessment).

Go over safe and careful use of a compass.

Parts of a compass: base plate, bezel, direction arrow, magnetic needle, "shed"

Demonstrate how to hold a compass.

Students should observe the magnetic needle as they move in different directions, forward, back, side to side in a circle. Students should notice that the red end of the magnetic needle always points in the same direction regardless of how and where they move.

Share that the red end of the magnetic needle always points toward the magnetic north pole. Show where magnetic north is on a globe.

We can use a compass to help us move north. We can do that in a couple of ways--We can move in the direction of the red magnetic needle.  Have the students practice this.  

We can also move North by setting a bearing of N.  
Demonstrate gently turning the bezel so that the N is directly over the white marker line.  Keeping the base plate level to the ground and the Direction arrow pointing straight away from you (usually from your navel), turn your body (not the compass) so that the "Red" of the magnetic needle is exactly in "The Shed."  You should now be facing North.  Take two steps in the North direct.

Go over these steps with the students while they try them.

Together with the students, set a bearing of S, using the steps above. Have the students use their understanding of the compass rose to predict where they will be facing.   

Have students set a bearing of W, using the steps without assistance if possible.

Share with students that they can set a bearing using degrees--the numbers on the bezel. 

Have students set the bearing to 280, and follow the process.  What direction are they facing? Mostly, but not quite West.

Ask students to determine the degree readings for N, S, E, W, using the markings provided. Do the same for SW, NW, NE, and SE.

Closure: Discuss what went well and what was challenging as a group.

Part 2

Demonstrate how to use and follow a series of compass directions using the Shapes Compass Course. Allow students complete the course. Offer assistance as needed.

Inquiry Experience 3

Setting and Estimated Time:  Open play area at Roche-A-Cri State Park, 20 minutes

Materials needed: Class set of orienteering compasses, plastic eggs, poly spots, course cards, pencils Shapes Compass Course.handout

Learning Target:

I can use a compass to follow an orienteering course.

Formative Assessment:

Student pairs will follow a series of 3-4 compass directions that lead back to the starting point.


1. Place one set of compass course instructions per plastic egg (or other closed container) and place in the area of play.  In this case, hide the eggs in an open area of Roche-A-Cri State Park.

2. Divide students into pairs. Distribute compasses.

3. Review use of the compass to walk a course.

4. State the learning target. Explain and model that the student pairs will find an egg, drop their poly spot where they found the egg, set compass to the first heading and walk each leg of the course. For example, a course might be comprised of the following directions: 300°-8 Steps, 60°-8 Steps, 180°-8 Steps

Students will know if they successfully completed the course if they end up at the same poly spot. Once back at the spot, students should place the directions back in the egg and then choose another egg and repeat these steps.

5. Allow time for student pairs time to complete the courses they selected.

6. Closure-Review the learning target. Ask students: What did you notice about the courses? How many successful courses did you walk? Did you accuracy improve throughout your practices? How did you feel about doing the treasure hunt? What advice to you have for other groups as they complete the compass treasure hunt?

Double check your plan for evidence of high quality instructional ELA materials as outlined by EdReports.org:

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