Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12183

Describing to a friend how to get to your house is different from telling him or her how to mail you a letter. There are different ways to explain the location of a place, the first step of geography!



learning style
Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5), Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Skill Sharpener

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Look at the map above.

  • How would you describe where Lake Michigan is located on this map?

When learning about geography, there are five themes you should know:

  • location
  • place
  • human-environment interactions
  • movement
  • regions

The five themes of geography were created to help organize geographical concepts and make geography easier to understand.

In this lesson, you will learn about location.

  • What do you already know about location?

The study of geography begins with understanding the position of places on Earth. Location is the term used to describe the position of places. Location can be described using absolute location or relative location.

Absolute location describes the exact location where a place is located.

An address or latitude and longitude lines can be used to describe the absolute location of a place.

absolute location example

Let's go back to Lake Michigan.

  • How would describe the absolute location of Lake Michigan on the map below?

map of the great lakes

Image by NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, via Flickr, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

You could describe the absolute location of Lake Michigan by citing its latitude and longitude.

The absolute location of Lake Michigan is around 43º N, 87º W. The numbers you used might be slightly different since Lake Michigan covers such a large area.

If you are uncertain how to find latitude and longitude, make sure to watch Dr. Nagler's Laboratory: Longitude and Latitude to review:

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Relative location uses less-specific terms to describe the location of a place.

Relative location describes a location in relation to the places surrounding it. You will need to use directional terms such as north, south, east, west, right, and left to describe the relative location.

You could also use distance to describe how far a location is from another place when describing the relative location. For example, your house might be 1.2 miles away from the library.

  • How would you describe the relative location of Lake Michigan on the map below?

great lakes and neighboring states

You could describe the relative location of Lake Michigan by naming the states that surround it. You could also describe where it is in relation to each of those states.

Before moving forward, consider the following questions:

  • Why is it important to know the difference between the absolute and relative locations?
  • Is it easier to describe the absolute or relative location?
  • What is an example of a time when you would need to know the absolute location?
  • What is an example of a time when you would need to know the relative location?

When you are finished, move on to the Got It? section to practice identifying the absolute and relative location of different places.

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