SpellO’: An Orienteering Lesson
Laura Grant (Shelburne Community School)

Introduction: This lesson provides a hands-on experience of the "thinking sport" of orienteering with a map.

Objectives: The students will: (1) practice orienting maps, and (2) accurately navigate an orienteering course.

Geographic Theme: Location.

National Geography Standard: Number 1 (use maps and other geographical representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective).

State Geography Standard: State standard number 6.7.c (use maps, globes, and other geographical images for a variety of purposes, such as acquiring knowledge, making decisions, interpreting information, and analyzing perspectives).

Time: One class period.

Materials: A special purpose map (such as a classroom map, fire escape plan, campus map, or orienteering map) with the chosen course indicated, one for each student; control card for each student (see sample below); some type of markers to indicate the chosen features, such as small yellow self-adhesive papers (i.e., "Post-its").


(1)In advance, plan a course on the map, and mark it with 18 locations for students to find along the course. (If using an outside course, have students work in pairs, and use fewer locations. Seven or eight stops is about right for beginners.) Make enough copies of the map for each student to have their own (even if they work in pairs).

(2) In advance, place a yellow self-adhesive marker at each location using the number from the map and the appropriate letter from the phrase for the control card. Placing markers under desks and tables works well, but never completely hide a marker; this activity is about accurate map reading, not archaeological or forensic skills.

(3) Introduce the activity to the class as a map reading adventure in the classroom or school similar to the sport of orienteering where people called orienteers read special topographic maps and run swiftly through the woods along a timed course.

(4) Hand out the maps and control cards to students. Have students turn their map until it lines up with the way the room is, make sure everyone knows where they are, and explain that they should turn their bodies when they travel rather than the map.

(5) Shows students a sample of the markers used. Have the students travel the course in the direction indicated on the map and locate the 18 stations (or have half the class go forward through the stops and the other half go backwards). Tell students to quickly copy the letter from the marker and keep moving. The letters will spell a message when the course is completed. Give them 15 minutes to complete as much of the course as they can, and suggest that they not waste time trying to solve the message during the timed part of the event.

(6) After 15 minutes, reconvene the class to see who discovered the message. Hold a discussion about their experience.

Variations and Extensions:

(1) Instead of having the letters on the control card spell a message, have the letters be in a secret code that the students crack when the 15 minutes is up. This makes it harder for students to guess the letters and message.

(2) Design a course that awards higher point values to distant features and lower values to close or easy features.

(3) Advance to a course in the woods by arranging for a local orienteering club to provide more instruction and set a course in a wooded area. In Vermont, contact Mary Jo Childs of the Green Mountain Orienteering Club at (802) 879-4968. Fees may be charged.

List of eighteen orienteering maps that have already been published for Vermont localities.

List of Orienteering Contacts

Control Card for SpellO’: An Orienteering Lesson

Directions: Travel around the course marked on the map. When you locate each numbered marker, place the letter you find there on the corresponding place below to spell a phrase.


_____ _____ _____             _____ _____        _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____      
    1          2        3                      4       5                 6         7          8         9        10       11     
_____ _____ _____        _____ _____ _____
   12       13       14                15       16       17
Print Out SpellO' Card Here
[Answer: Are we having fun yet?]
List of Orienteering Maps