5 Themes of Geography for Kids and Teachers Illustration

5 Themes of Geography

FIVE THEMES: To make geography easier to use and to make it more useful, geography is divided into five themes - location, place, human-environment interaction, region, and movement.

Location: Where

Where is it?

  • Absolute: A location can be absolute (specific) as in coordinates of a map using longitude and latitude, or a specific address. For example, a school might be located at 1234 Main Street NW, City, State, zip code.

  • Relative: A location can be relative - examples: next door, nearby, a short drive, down the road a ways. Or, it can be in the same general location as another location - example: next to the post office.

  • Relative and Absolute Location - Which is it? (youtube cartoon video)

Place: What and who

Place is different from location. Location is an exact spot on a map. But place helps to create a picture of an area by describing what's there - landforms, people, things. A place is an area that is defined by everything in it. All places have features that give them personality and distinguish them from other places.

If you refer to your school as a place, then that place would include walls, windows, gym, cafeteria, classrooms, people, clothing, books, maps, mops, brooms, hallways, mice (if you have them) and everything else in the school, including the languages spoken.

Human-Environment Interaction

Human-environment interaction looks at the relationships between people and their environment; how people adapt to the environment and how they change it.

  • How do people depend on the environment? (Example: In ancient times, the annual flooding of the Nile River produced good soil for growing crops.)

  • How to people adapt to the environment? (Example: The ancient Egyptians rebuilt their homes each year, after the annual flooding. As time went on, they built their homes above the flood plain.)

  • How do people modify the environment? (Example: The ancient Egyptians built irrigation ditches to help water the crops. In modern times, Egypt built a dam to control the flood waters of the Nile River.)


Movement refers to the way people, products, information and ideas move from one place to another. This can be local such as how did you get to school today, or it can be global such as how did humans get to North America?

Region: An area united by a similar or several similar characteristics

Region divides the world into manageable units for geographic study. A region has some sort of characteristic that unifies the area. Some are formal regions with specific boundaries - for example a city, or a state, or a county. A region can also have loose boundaries as long as the area has something in common - for example, the East Coast, the South, the Corn Belt.  Those unifying or similar characteristics can be physical, natural, human, or cultural.

For Kids

5 Themes of geography game - matching and concentration (Quia)

The Five Themes of Geography (NYC Schools)

For Teachers

5 Themes of Geography Project - terrific (Cabarrus NC schools)

5 Themes of Geography - lesson plan and activity

Geography in the News (8 weeks, very short daily activity, created by Mr. Donn)

Free Geography Presentations in PowerPoint format 

5 Themes Review: In 6th grade, we study many ancient cultures. What I like to do is bring back one of the five themes to review in each civilization. For example:

  • With ancient Mesopotamia, I bring back Human-Environment Interaction, the first farmers.

  • With ancient Egypt, I use Location, the mouth of the Nile, which helped Egypt's protection but not isolation, and had other important values.

  • With ancient Greece,  I bring back Place, Mt Olympus, which is a real place. Since Place includes the mountain top and everything on it, it includes the 12 Olympians and their homes.

  • With Rome, I bring Region, the Mediterranean Region, and later in the unit, I bring back Location - searching for the silk makers; where are they?

  • China, of course, is perfect to bring back Movement via the Silk Road. If you study other ancients, pick one of the 5 Themes to bring back per unit.

  • Movement works well for ancient India, as you have all three movement elements including religion and inventions.

  • The Aztecs are perfect for Human-Environment Interaction.

  • At the end of the year, we bring back all five themes, and ask the kids: "Which theme springs to mind when you think of this civilization (pick one.)"  And then of course ask: Why did you choose that theme?  It reminds them of the civilizations as well as the themes. Then close with, of course, all five themes apply to all the civilizations we have studied because, after all - you are nowhere without geography.