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What are the 5 Themes of Geography

Though the 5-theme organizational approach is not officially in use today, educational institutes continue to use it to teach the basics of geography.
Abhijit Naik May 13, 2019
In 1994, the National Geography Standards, a set of 18 standards meant to guide students and teachers of geography, was introduced in the United States.
It replaced the five-theme organizational approach, which was adopted by the National Council for Geographic Education and the Association of American Geographers in 1984. More often referred to as the 5 themes of geography, this approach relied on location, place, human-environment interaction, movement, and region.


The 'location' of a place can help in determining where the place is, on the basis of which further evaluation of the said place can be done. This theme is divided into two types: 'specific location' and 'general location'.
Specific location, also referred to as absolute location, is determined by the exact address of the place (e.g., at XYZ street in California) or on the basis its longitude and latitude (e.g., at 32°32' North 114°08' West).
In contrast, general location, also known as relative location, gives random location of a place (e.g., 'just five minutes from the airport' or 'to the northwest of California').


The 'place' can either be a structure, or a piece of land on which the said structure is located. The description of a place helps you differentiate it from other places, which is what makes it so important. Even this theme is divided into two categories: 'physical characteristics' and 'human characteristics'.
While physical characteristics are related to physical features of the region (e.g., the Amazon rainforests and Niagara falls), human characteristics are related to human-induced changes in the surroundings (e.g., the pyramids of Egypt and Golden Gate bridge).

Human-Environment Interaction

The 'interaction' observed between humans and environment can be categorized into three types: adaptation, wherein humans adapt to the said environment modification, wherein when humans modify the environment to suit themselves and dependence, wherein humans are dependent on environment.


With the world becoming a global village, the 'movement' of people, goods, and information has become a regular affair. Movement is also divided into two types: 'transportation' and 'communication'.
While human transportation and import/export of goods has been in the picture for a long time, the flow of information and ideas by means of mass communication is a relatively new inclusion.


Region refers to an area which is bound by one or more unique factors, ranging from language and religion to weather and vegetation. This theme is divided into three types: 'formal region' on the basis of administrative boundary, 'functional region' on the basis of function, and 'vernacular region' on the basis of people's perception.
That being said, regions determined on the basis of physical properties, such as the Great Lakes Region or Himalayan mountain range, also come under formal region.
The five-theme organizational approach continues to form the basics of geographical studies not just in the United States, but all over the world. If you spend a minute pondering on the importance of geography, you will realize the importance of these themes that you need to take into consideration when studying (... or teaching) geography.