Lesson Plan

Map Analysis Challenges: #WithMathICan

Harnessing the Growth Mindset to answer complex geographical questions
Lisa B.
Classroom teacher
Hershey Middle School
Hershey, United States
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My Grades 6, 7, 8
My Subjects Social Studies

Students will be able to analyze a series of maps to answer multi-step geography based questions about the United States and Canada. They will develop a growth mindset as they persevere through the difficult task. The entire class will celebrate the almost successes and minor failures, but they will continue to solve the map challenges. They will rely on problem solving skills like logical reasoning, identifying important and relevant information in the question prompt, and solving smaller problems in the big problem. 

Social Studies
Grades 6 – 7
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Hook

Activity: Exploring

Provide the students with random thematic maps, but with the titles and map keys obscured. Have them make educated guesses for what the map is showing. 

  • Why could you not tell what the map was showing? 
  • What parts of the map do you look at to "read" a thematic map? 

Provide the definition of a thematic map: a map that provides information about a specific topic or theme. 

Student Instructions

Make observations and assumptions about the thematic maps you are shown. 

2 Direct Instruction

Free, Paid
Free, Paid

Have the students view a Nearpod presentation that goes through the different types and uses of thematic maps. 

  • Political Map: the boundaries and capitals of political units, like states or countries
  • Physical Feature Map: the landforms and bodies of water
  • Population Density Map: the number of people per square mile
  • Climate Zone Map: the long term pattern of weather over time in an area
  • Vegetation Zone Map: the types and amounts of plants that grown in an area
  • Economic Activity Map: land use and natural resources, how people make money

There are pre-created teacher Nearpods or you can create your own. My Nearpod for Thematic Maps also includes FieldTrips, which are 360 degree panorama photos that illustrate examples. 

You can toggle an option to allow students to take notes while viewing the presentation. Students can save a PDF of their notes and the the Nearpod slides to GoogleDrive. 

As a follow up to the direct instruction, you can create Quizlet flashcards to focus on the key topics. Quizlet works as an app or through the website. 

3 Emojification (aka Application)

Free, Paid

The students are going to take their newly discovered knowledge of thematic maps and apply it. Students will write their own definitions of each thematic map type ONLY USING EMOJIS. Emphasize that there is not a single correct answer.

Give the students 10 minutes to write their emoji based definitions on their device. This activity is more challenging than it initially seems because they have to truly understand the terms to represent them using basic images.

You can run a Socrative Quick Question and have the students copy and paste their definition of the stated thematic map onto Socrative. After every student has answered, allow the students to vote on which one is best. 

 Hold a full class discussion to highlight different student approaches and have students share out some difficulties they faced. For example, asking: "Which thematic map was the most difficult to represent with emojis? Why? Which was the easiest? Why?" The teacher could also make a mental note of students who tried a few different emoji combinations before landing on their final version and have them share out to the rest of the class how they persevered and what their thought process was. 

One disadvantage if the teacher is using a laptop and the students have mobile devices: not all the images will display on the laptop, but the students will be able to see each other’s clearly.

Save screenshots of some of the best examples to use as a potential review later.

4 PreTest Map Analysis

Google Drive
Free, Paid

Give the students a GoogleForm pre-test to determine grouping for the differentiated map analysis portion of the lesson. Emphasize with the students that you want them to try their best, but they are not expected to know the answer at this point. Responding 'I don't know' is ok, quitting is not. They will grow and learn how to find the answers.

The different skills involved:

  • Knowing what each thematic map shows

  • Identifying important information

  • Knowing which thematic map to look at

  • Process of elimination

  • Fearlessly persevering

To easily analyze the pre-test results, you can run the Google Sheets add-on Flubaroo.  It will 'grade' the results and also email the students their results if you collect their email address.

5 Differentiated Partner Practice

Google Drive
Free, Paid

Distribute GoogleDocs to  the students with the challenge questions based on their pre-test results, this can be accomplished with Google Classroom or the Google Sheets add-on Doctopus. The questions should be based on whatever atlas maps your students have access to. I have three different leveled documents: Challenge 1, Challenge 1A, and Challenge 1.0. To the students at quick glance the documents look almost identical. The questions are the same, but the directions and the process is different.

  • Challenge 1 is the middle level. It asks students to find the answers, but does not require complete sentences.

  • Challenge 1A is the guided level. Their questions are chunked into smaller steps with hints and additional prompts before the question. There list of possible maps is limited.  In the end they find the same answer, the path they follow is just different.

  • Challenge 1.0 is the advanced level. Students are required to answer in complete sentences that includes information restated from the question. These students are also required to write some of their own challenge questions at the end, which will be turned into a review game for the entire class.

  • This GoogleDoc shows the difference in the directions/questions for each level.

The questions get progressively harder and require more maps to answer the questions. Students should check their answers after each question. The teacher can either verbally tell them what to correct or highlight on the GoogleDoc. Students are not expected to solve the question on the first try, but they are expected to work with their partner to fix their mistakes. When students finally solve the challenge, the success should be celebrated - I just use a loud YES and a high five.  

6 Wrap Up

Quia Web
Free to Try, Paid

Turn the questions into a review game on Quia, like Rags to Riches (similar concept to Who Wants to be a Millionaire). You set the complexity of the questions, so just like the Map Analysis , the questions get harder as you progress in the game. The game can include easy questions that just review the types of thematic maps through the higher level application and analysis of the thematic maps to answer geography based questions.