Clutter-Free Classroom · Oct 1, 2016

Why You Should Teach Map Skills and Map Skills Activities Using Me on the Map

Even if you aren’t officially responsible for teaching map skills at your grade level, it is still important and extremely beneficial to make time for lessons involving direct instruction related to this concept.

Doing so will not only provide general geography knowledge, but will help in four other key areas of learning.
  • Working with maps and focusing on the concept of our place in the world will help students to increase their comprehension and make better connections to both fiction and non-fiction texts that reference different geographical locations.
  • Spatial thinking is one of the most important skills that students can develop as they learn geography and it is also linked to success in math and science.
  • The skills needed to read and interpret maps are a part of visual literacy — a set of skills and habits of mind necessary to “read” images.
  • Visual literacy means not just decoding an image but comprehending it — grasping the image’s intended meaning, evaluating it, and incorporating it into other knowledge.
  • Additionally, almost all social studies topics require an understanding of where historical events took place.

All of those skills require both analysis and interpretation of maps. This means map skill lessons need to go beyond just teaching map conventions. Map conventions refers to things like:
  • latitude and longitude
  • scale
  • how to use a key
  • map symbols
  • how to locate cities and countries.
These lower-order practices are important to know, but the true benefits come from using maps to help students visualize scale and the relationships of different geographic locations to one another.

There are a lot of great books focused on the topic, but the one I feel is best for really helping children in grades K-5 to understand how various places relate to one another and to strengthen their visual and spatial skills is Me on the Map by Joan Sweeney.
{The image and the affiliate link below will take you to Amazon where you can view more details and order the book}

{Me on the Map by Joan Sweeney}
Upon first looking at it, it definitely presents as a book that would be used for younger learners. However, when you are looking it as a book for teaching those skills of where you relate in a terms of global aspect it takes things down to a simple level and is very much appropriate for grades K-5.
I’ve created a collection of hands-on projects that help to bring home the concept for them. It has been used by thousands of teachers at the elementary level and has received great feedback. It’s a great collection of projects that will help educators to talk about maps, explain what they are, and creates a hands-on, visual way for students to understand the concept.

The Me on the Map resource contains three projects to choose from.
My favorite is the flip book. The students can write about and/or illustrate the different places they live starting with their home or school. The different-sized papers are then stacked on top of one another to represent the students’ city/town, state, country, continent, and planet. They can then illustrate a picture of themselves standing on the world using the included templates for easy prep.

Finally, I have included booklets or posters that can be used if you really want a simple, no-prep, no cutting options. I’ve added all of the states so the students can see where the state is in relation to the other 49.

Once completed the projects make a beautiful display. I typically completed these activities early in the year because it helped the children to make better connections to later topics. I always teach an in-depth unit on the Pilgrims and Wampanoags leading up to Thanksgiving and their increased schema made it easy to understand where England, the Atlantic Ocean and the area that is now Northeast America are located in relation to one another.
Would you like to see more? Check out my Map Skills video below:

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