A race around the conservation area in which the children have to work their route from given compass bearings and find 10 correct checkpoints on the way

Learning outcome

To set and follow a bearing on a compass.

Key Stubbington focus

Mapping skill

  • For upper Key Stage 2
  • Duration 2 hours (complete morning or afternoon)
Success criteria
  • I can recognise 360° is a full turn
  • I can move the compass dial to set a bearing
  • I can move myself so that the compass is set to follow a bearing (‘red Fred on his bed’)
  • I can walk a set number of paces following a bearing
Session plan

Explaining how to use a compass 10 minutes

The compass should be held in the left hand, if right handed or vice verse, and the cord around the wrist as a safety precaution.

It should be held close to the body with the outside ‘Direction of Travel’ arrow pointing away. The compass should be kept level so that the needle can swing freely.

Familiarise children with different parts of the compass: dial, base plate, direction of travel arrow, Red Fred (magnetic needle), Fred’s bed etc.

How to set bearings 10 minutes

To set a bearing of 120°:

  • Turn the dial until the number 120 is over the stationary white line
  • Turn body using small steps until ‘Red Fred’ is over his blue/red chevron arrowed bed (aligned with north)
  • Check that your feet are together because your ‘nose and your toes, shows you where you goes’
  • Point straight ahead with your free arm, and then check your compass again
  • If ‘Red Fred’ is still on his bed, look straight ahead and note a distant stationary object to walk towards
  • Practise a variety of bearings, especially odd and even numbers
  • Point out each white mark around the edge is worth 2°
  • Start with 90°, 180°, 270°; gradually work through multiples of 20, then 10, then even numbers and then odd numbers

How to do a practice run 15 minutes

Give each pair of children a clipboard and course sheet together with one compass.

Explain they are following each bearing in turn and finding a yellow diamond tag on which they will find a code letter. They write this letter on their course sheet and then set their compass for the next bearing until all 10 are done or time has run out. On no account must tags be removed from the trees. Do not do the tasks written on the reverse of the tag at this stage.

The whole course takes place on flat ground. Follow paths but sometimes they will have to side-step obstacles like trees, brambles and stinging nettles. No course takes them through water or over mounds. Each course has a number of doglegs i.e. two bearings given to find one tag to navigate around large obstacles like Lake Vulpes.

Practice Run 20-30 minutes

Get to the start positions according to the course being followed: red, green or yellow sheets correspond to the coloured slabs outside the classroom blocks.

All start together:

  • Set the compass to the given bearing
  • Holding the compass correctly, turn around until ‘Red Fred’ is on his bed
  • Look up and spot a landmark straight ahead
  • Walk the number of paces given and find the yellow diamond shaped tag nearby (paces may need to be adjusted if the children’s paces are too small)
  • Copy down the code letter on one side of the tag
  • Standing under the tag, set the compass to the next bearing

Give as much help as needed. After 15 – 20 minutes return to the classroom, mark the courses and discuss any problems. After a break they will attempt the real race.

20 minutes playtime

If the children have demonstrated that they have a good understanding of using a compass, teach children how to do the tasks. If not, give them hints and move onto the Big Race.

How to do Tasks – using a compass to take a bearing of an object in the distance:

  • Read the task on the back of the Yellow diamond
  • It will ask you to take a bearing of an object visible from your position
  • Stand facing the object and point the direction of travel arrow at it
  • Holding the compass base tightly, turn the dial to put ‘Red Fred’ on his bed i.e. the blue/red chevron arrow
  • Check that the direction of travel arrow is still pointing at the object
  • Read the bearing on the stationary white line and record it on your answer sheet

Tell them that you will accept an answer 10° either side of the correct answer on the master sheet.

The Big Race!

  • Give the children a different orienteering course from the one they had before
  • Name the sheets and explain that one minute penalty time will be added for each mistake (thus the first pair back is not necessarily the winner)
  • As this is a race they should try and run – remembering that paces become bigger when running and taking care not to trip over logs or badger snuffle holes
  • At their start positions they must not begin until you give the word - they may however, prepare the first bearing
  • Start the stopwatch as you begin the race
  • Still assist where necessary
  • As the children finish, enter their finishing time and mark the sheets
  • Add penalty minutes as necessary and the total time
  • When all the groups have returned, enter the race position
  • Leave the winners names and badges in the dining room to be awarded
  • If you have managed all this satisfactorily, then award yourself a badge as well!


Wrap up by explaining that children have been covering Maths, PE and Geography! Ask who has learnt a new skill, refer to learning objective. Give all a round of applause.

Less able children

Supported by adults as necessary.

More able children

Complete tasks. If it’s not appropriate for all children to do tasks, then do a straight course and then teach tasks to the first ones back.

Previsit activities

  • Maths activities focused on direction, turns and angles
  • Using a compass

Follow up activities

  • Make an orienteering course at school
  • Take part in other orienteering courses; different levels of ability are usually catered for
  • Link to work on angles, turns, directions etc
Health and safety checks
  • Children must stay in pairs at all times
  • Stay away from the edge of the ponds
  • Children should not swing compasses on the cord
  • An adult needs to stay near the Great Chamber, as a contact person for any problems
  • Walk looking upwards, clipboards down
  • Be aware of ditches, brambles, low branches etc