Teaching Navigation in one day

image of taking a bearing on a map

Taking a bearing

In my experience there is often very limited time in which to teach someone navigation. This page is an attempt to help you make a plan for how you are going to do it. Of course, it depends a great deal on who you are teaching and what chance you might have had to teach some of this in the classroom but I’m going to assume your chances were few. So here is how I go about teaching the basics in one day. You must also appreciate that you will only be able to teach a minimum in one day – it has taken me a life time to learn navigation and I am still learning (although I might be particularly dim). It would be irresponsible to assume that after one day of training they know enough to go out on their own. This is just the first day of training programme that would include other times of training. You should never allow a group to go off on its own unless you are sure that they are competent to do so. This is just a suggestion.

  • Have a plan
  • Introduce yourself and what you are going to do
  • Divide the group into twos or threes
  • You take a lead and talk in detail about what you are doing
  • Each small group take a turn and get them to describe out loud what they are doing
  • You take another leg with talking it all through out loud and demonstrate a compass bearing
  • Each small group take another turn (if time)
  • At the last check point
  • Last leg – just take them home

Have a plan

You need to know what you want to achieve before you set off. Different groups need different levels of training and so you need to understand what they know before you start – I am assuming they know nothing in the rest of what I say and so you can adapt the following plan accordingly.

For Bronze DofE they will need to know how to use a map to navigate paths and only basic compass skills. If you try to teach them too much in one go it won’t help. For Ten Tors, etc. they will need much higher navigation skills including good compass skills (essential for Dartmoor) – you are unlikely to be able to teach this all in one day so any time you can spend in the classroom will be very valuable and then you can confine the outdoor training to practice.

Introduce yourself and what you are going to do

If the group don’t know you I think it is important to build some trust, so explaining your competency is important – I find this embarrassing but it needs to be done. I have also found that this needs to vary for the age group I am working with. It is easy to worry some people at this stage so try to keep the talk light – save the high pressure safety stuff till the end (I like people I train to understand that there is risk on the hills and they need to manage it – this usually involves telling a couple of true stories about those who have run into trouble. It is possible to make some people nervous with these stories and so keep them for the end – especially if it is a dark wet day).

Divide the group into twos or threes

This can get awkward but it does help with the learning and safety. Give them a few minutes to sort themselves out – I’m not usually too worried if there is a group of three but somehow a group of four means that one of them can avoid the process too easily and get left out. It is very important that they ALL know how to navigate, though I never expect them all to be good at it.

You take a lead and talk in detail about what you are doing

This stage is very important. You need to talk in great detail about all the things you are thinking about (this can seem strange to do but it helps to have ALL the details). You should have explained to them what you are doing – otherwise they might just think you are a little weird.
However, you should keep the talk to relevant things – what you are trying to teach them. Make use of terms like attack points, etc. as it will help them learn the right names but you will need to explain each time what they are. I assume teachers get used to doing this but it always feels odd to me. Lead the first leg. Explain where problems in navigation might occur.

Each small group take a turn and get them to describe out loud what they are doing

Take each small group in turn and get them to do what you have just done, e.g. describe what decisions they are making and guide them in what they are doing. Each time you reach a check point change to another small group. You should encourage the others to listen to what is happening and to follow along on their copy of the map (you did give them all a map?). Also, at each check point you can take a moment or two to cover other important things – like safety, etc. I would also go into detail about what to do in an emergency and what to do if you are lost (or temporarily unsure of your position – as I like to call it). If the walk is really short with few check points them use other attack points as well e.g. the first group take us to the track junction – the next take us to the river, etc.

You take another leg with talking it all through out loud and demonstrate a compass bearing

Towards the end of the walk you should demonstrate the navigation process again to them. It is important to do this well so they can see and hear how it should be done. This stage gives them the opportunity to think about what they did and where they might have made a mistake. If there was a particular problem you can stress the proper solution at this stage – being careful not to make anyone feel awkward. There is a great deal to think about to navigate correctly and this will give them a chance to think and reflect without the pressure of having to actually do it.

I would usually take a moment to demonstrate using a compass to take a bearing. They don’t have to learn this skill at Bronze DofE level but it might help them to see it done. Some of them might like to learn to do it and this would be a chance to see how it might benefit them. If they need to learn this skill then get them to have a go. If they need this level of navigation then you will not be able to teach it in just one day.

Each small group take another turn (if time)

If this is a particularly long walk, or you have just a few in the group, then you may get the chance to let them have another go at it. You would simply repeat the process you went through with them in the small groups.

At the last check point

This is the time for a debrief. Take a few minutes to talk through what happened. You can talk about any problems that were apparent. I will also tell them that they can see lots of information about navigation online and if they find themselves with a few moments they should check out youtube (or maybe this web site!)

Last leg – just take them home

Navigation can be demanding and they are likely to be tired. I have found it really hard to get them to concentrate on navigation towards the end. I also want them to enjoy being on the hills and so I will let them just walk back to the car park on the last leg without any responsibilities. Of course you may find it is different for you.