What Are the 5 Themes of Geography? Simple Examples

, Staff Writer
Updated January 8, 2021
geography themes student world map
    geography themes student world map
    Annette Bunch / Moment / Getty
    Used under Getty Images license

Geography is a huge subject. Since teaching such an expansive topic can be overwhelming, the topic is organized under five separate themes. Discover what are the 5 themes of geography, and use them as a tool to help effectively structure and organize your approach to teaching geography.

Geography Theme: Location

In terms of geography theme, location refers to where a particular place is physically positioned on the surface of the Earth. This can refer to a place's absolute location or its relative location. Every place has one absolute location that can be described in a few different ways. Every place has multiple relative locations, which change based on how their location is being described.

map of washington dc district of columbia white house capitol hill
    map of washington dc district of columbia white house capitol hill
    map: werbeantrieb , whitehouse: tupungato
    Used under Getty Images license

Examples of Absolute Location

The absolute location of a place does not change. The broadest example of a place's absolute location is its combined latitude and longitude. The place's position on a map and its address are also examples of absolute location.

  • The White House's latitude is 38.8977° N and its longitude is 77.0365° W.
  • The White House's address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.

These examples hold true for any place, from your home to your school to your favorite places to visit and beyond.


Examples of Relative Location

The relative location of a place changes based on how its location is being described in terms of its relative position to another location.

  • The White House is approximately nine miles from Ronald Reagan National Airport in the District of Columbia.
  • The White House is approximately 30 miles from Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia.
  • Washington, D.C. is around 40 miles from Baltimore, Maryland.
  • The Port of Baltimore in Maryland is 197 nautical miles away from the Port of Norfolk in Virginia.
  • AIM Mail Center is in the shopping center located at the intersections of Grelot and Hillcrest roads in Mobile, Alabama.
  • The fourth grade classroom is in the second building past the gymnasium.
  • Interests along the eastern coast of the Gulf of Mexico should closely monitor the storm's progress.

Geography Theme: Place

In terms of geography theme, place refers to the physical and/or human characteristics that make up a location.

Examples of Physical Place Characteristics

Physical place is represented by the physical features of a location.

  • Islands are above water and surrounded by it.
  • Mountainous terrains can be steep, jagged or gently sloping.
  • Terrain can be flat, rocky, even, or uneven.
  • An area can be heavily forested or free of vegetation.
  • Arctic climates are extremely cold.
  • Tropical climates are extremely hot.
  • Soil can have varying levels of acidity.

Examples of Human Place Characteristics

The human characteristics of place refer to cultural features introduced and maintained by humans.

  • Land in rural areas may predominantly be used for agricultural purposes, with locals primarily earning a living from the land.
  • The architecture in New Orleans reflects the city's unique blend of French and Creole culture.
  • New Orleans is also known for its distinct cuisine, including crawfish, muffulettas, etouffee, and jambalaya.
  • The United Kindom's system of government is a constitutional monarchy with a royal family and elected officials (including a prime minister and members of parliament).
  • In large cities with extensive public transportation, such as New York City, it's not as common for people to own cars as in other types of locations.
  • In Amish communities, transportation via horse and buggy is the most common means of transportation.
  • In India, more than 80 percent of the population practices the Hindu faith.

Geography Theme: Human-Environment Interaction

Human-environment interaction as a geography theme refers to the connections and interactions between human beings and the overall environment.

Examples of human-environment interaction include:

  • drilling for oil in the oceans and gulfs
  • mining ore from below the surface of the Earth
  • harvesting and eating food that grows naturally in a location
  • changing soil conditions to be able to grow other foods in a location
  • building dams to control the flow of water and/or harness its energy
  • capturing energy from the wind or sun to use as power
  • deforestation of land and its impact on plant and animal life
  • extracting ingredients for medicine and natural remedies from plants
  • creation of pollution via industrialization and its impact on the environment
  • development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Geography Theme: Movement

In terms of geography theme, movement refers to interactions between places due to people's movements from one place to another.

Some examples of movement are:

  • From 2019 to 2020 alone, more than 900,000 Syrian people were displaced from their homeland due to civil war, resulting in continuing mass migration.
  • In the United States, the industrial revolution (1760-1840) caused many people to leave rural areas and agricultural lifestyles to find factory work in cities.
  • People tend to move to areas where jobs are plentiful and the cost of living tends to be low, such as areas in the U.S. where fracking is being done.
  • If the trend toward remote, home-based jobs continues, some economists believe that a large portion of the population will leave cities for rural life.
  • When people in undeveloped parts of the world leave en mass to developed areas where they can find work, communities of immigrants develop in those areas.
  • If those who leave their families behind in undeveloped areas send money home to help their families, the economic climate of their homeland starts to change.
  • When companies offshore jobs to less developed countries, that creates a new middle class in the areas where they set up out-of-country operations.
  • In developing nations with such opportunities, fewer young people leave their homeland to find gainful employment, so families tend to stay together.
  • When businesses choose new locations, they look for ones that are well supported by road and airline transportation, as well as access to water and rail.

Geography Theme: Region

In terms of geography theme, a region is an area that shares certain common geographic characteristics.

Examples of regions include:

  • The Gulf Coast region of the United States refers to those areas that touch the Gulf of Mexico (southern Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama as well as northwest and the western coast of Florida).
  • The term Tri-State Area refers to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. These three small states are close together, share a climate and are also within commuting distance of one another for work.
  • The term "rust belt" is used to describe the swath between the northeastern corner of Wisconsin through the central part of New York that has historically been a stronghold of manufacturing in the U.S.
  • The term "corn belt" is used to describe those states where the majority of agriculture production is linked to corn. This region stretches from the eastern edge of Nebraska through Indiana."
  • The Pacific Northwest is used to refer to Washington State, Oregon and the northern portion of California. The scenery and climate in this area is very different from what would be referred to as the Pacific Coast of southern California.
  • "Wine country" often refers to regions where wine production is big business. There are wine country regions in multiple countries. There are many wine regions in France. In the U.S., California is known for its wine production. Other states, such as Missouri, also have wine regions.

Learn More About Geography

Geography is a fascinating subject that can be explored from many angles, though it's most often organized in the context of the five themes discussed here. If learning about the five themes of geography has piqued your interest, continue learning even more. Start by building a strong vocabulary of geography terms.