Direction is used to determine where things are in relation to other things


3 - 12+


Geography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Human Geography

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Morgan Stanley

Direction is used to determine where things are in relation to other things. Sometimes direction is vague, like when we talk about things being in that general direction. For geographic purposes, direction is more specific.

It can describe position, like in the sentence Susie sits to the left of Adam. Susies direction is to the left of Adam; Adams direction is to the right of Susie. Direction can also describe movement: Susie can walk forward or backward, and she can turn left or right when walking to school.

Cardinal directions are probably the most important directions in geography: north, south, east and west. These directions help us orient ourselves wherever we are. For example, in the United States, San Francisco, California, is west of New York City, New York. If we live in New York, we have to travel west to get to California.

You can use a magnetic compass, which uses the Earths magnetic field, to figure out where you are or in which direction you want to go. Compasses always point north. If you dont have a compass, you can use the sun or the stars. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. So in the morning, the sun will be in the east; in the afternoon, it will be in the west. At night, the North Star in the Northern Hemisphere points north. The Southern Cross, which is a constellation, or group of stars, marks south in the Southern Hemisphere.

The arrow is a universal symbol for direction. If someone needs to turn right at a stop sign to get to the freeway, there will usually be an arrow pointing the way.

Fast Fact

A simple compass can be made by floating a magnetized needle on a leaf in a dish of water. You can magnetize a needle by rubbing it with silk or a magnet.

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Kim Rutledge
Melissa McDaniel
Santani Teng
Hilary Hall
Tara Ramroop
Erin Sprout
Jeff Hunt
Diane Boudreau
Hilary Costa
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society
Tim Gunther
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Kara West
Educator Reviewer
Nancy Wynne
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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