In Alaska, I once had a tourist complain to me that “You guys give crazy directions, like ‘turn right at the boulder.’ Don’t you guys have maps?” This tourist was from Southern California, like me, where Thomas Guides and Freeway directions are an indispensable part of life. But here, because of the vastness, because of the sparseness, who knows why?, people identify with features. This tradition likely has its roots in Alaskan oral narratives, which speak of land features and place names that reflect them. The significance of places in these narratives can be found in such things as “where we find food,” “a place of shelter,” “the place where the river comes up,’ and “the meeting hut where we tell stories.” These ideas are meant to teach people how not to get lost, and to understand why various land features are important. Keeping these things in mind, consider the way that the places where you are from are defined.
Think about where you lived in high school, and where you went to school.
- Describe how you got to school. What was your preparation and process? (This is more than walking, driving, riding the bus, etc.).
- Give Directions about how to get to school and back. Did you take a different route sometimes?
- Give the directions without using any street names. Use only landmarks.
Write a paragraph based on your descriptions:
- Are they confusing?
- Could they be misinterpreted?
- What do you have to know about the place?
- Are these directions for “insiders’ only?
Broaden your horizons:
- How would you change the directions to make them suitable for visiting relatives?
- Would you make the directions different for a tourist?
- Are there warnings that need to be given (there’s a big dog on the corner)?
- If there was a new student in town, how would you change the directions?
Write a paragraph describing how each of these audiences would need different directions. Which parts of the directions could be universally understood? Which ones would be improved by changing them?
What can you conclude about the process of giving directions? What can you conclude about the specific activity of going to and from your school?
Combine the elements of your observations and conclusions to write a 1-page essay describing these differing choices, and how you would recommend giving directions to your school to someone else.
Contributed by Ann Lewis, 2013