The Five Themes were developed by the National Council for Geographic Education to provide an organizing framework for the presentation of geographic materials.

There are five main themes of geography: location, place, human-environment interaction, movement, and region. Collectively, these five themes encompass the whole of the subject of geography.


1. Location

Location is kind of like the first step in understanding an aspect of the earth and involves providing a reference to describe where a particular place is on the earth.

Location is actually best broken up into two subcategories- absolute location, and relative location. Absolute location describes the location of an area based on agreed upon standards like latitude and longitude, or a postal address. Knowing a place’s absolute location allows it to be located from anywhere, regardless of the surrounding area. Relative location describes the location of an area based on its connection to other places, like landmarks. Knowing a place’s relative location allows it to be located easily once its relative area is known. Saying a place is located at a specific set of latitude and longitude coordinates gives its absolute location. Saying it is located five miles north of a lake, or ten minutes outside of a town, gives its relative location.


2. Place

Geographers study this geography theme by looking at the characteristics that distinguish one place from another place on Earth. Place differs from location in that is describes an area based on its physical characteristics, including human-influenced features, rather than its physical location. Physical characteristics include things like its biome or overall geographical environment- whether it’s a jungle, beach, or mountain. Human-influenced features include cultural designations like the predominant ethnic or religious group in an area. The Amazonian rainforest is a place designation, since it describes a geographical area based on the physical environment of an area.


3. Human/Environment Interaction

Geographers study the way humans interact positively and negatively with their environments. They also study the lasting affects these interactions may have on a place. Some examples of this geography theme are damming a river, polluting the air, building highways or railroads, and even watering lawns and gardens. Human behavior such as planting trees is a positive interaction with the environment where creating landfills is a negative interaction.


4. Movement

This theme covers the way that human populations move across the world, including migration and settlement patterns, logistics, and a society’s infrastructure. Roads, telephone lines, and trade routes are all examples of ways that human movement is influenced by geography. Movement also deals with how and why people travel from one place to another. Some people travel for career, others to be close to family, and some move to escape war or religious persecution.

In addition, movement of ideas is also studied. With the advent of technology such as the phone and internet, ideas such as fashion, fads, music and philosophical ideologies are exchanged rapidly from all areas of the globe. Languages also evolve and change based on influence from outside ideas and other languages.


5. Region

A region is a unit on the earth’s surface that has unifying characteristics such as climate or industry. These characteristics may be human, physical, or cultural. Not only do geographers study characteristics, but they also study how regions around the world may change over time. Though regions are artificial constructs, they are very useful when it comes to describing geography in terms of biomes, cultural areas, socioeconomic areas, habitats, or other designations. Region doesn’t have a useful place when it comes to locating or mapping a geographical area, but is a huge help when it comes to comprehension- though telling someone an area is located in the Middle East won’t be much use when it comes to finding it, it can tell them about the very general features of the land, cultural and religious affiliations of the people, and other characteristics that a map cannot.