Lesson Plan

Mastering Map Reading

Students will learn through doing what the parts of the map are and why they are important
Lisa B.
Classroom teacher
Hershey Middle School
Hershey, United States
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My Subjects Social Studies

Students will be able to...

  • identify the parts of a map 
  • explain the function or purpose of each part of the map 
  • create their own functional map 
Social Studies
Grades 4 – 7
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Preview Activity

Activity: Other — Observing

Break the students into small groups.

Provide students with a variety of maps. I collect maps when I travel, whether it is a state road map or a site map. 

Give them 5 minutes to look at the maps, then ask them questions about their observations. 

  • What do you notice?
  • What does your map show? How do you know? 
  • What are the parts of the map you already know? 
  • What is the same between maps?
  • What is different between the maps? 
Student Instructions

With your group you will observe the details of various maps. What do you notice? What is interesting? What is different? What are the parts of the map you already know?

2 Video Hook

Free to try, Paid

Play the "Mappy Map" video from Flocabulary (found under the Social Studies/Geography tab). 

Afterwards ask the students to list the parts of the map they heard mentioned. 

Student Instructions

Watch the video. On a piece of paper, list the parts of a map that were mentioned in the video.

Challenge question: What is the purpose of each of the parts?

3 Map Scavenger Hunt

Activity: Exploring

Create a random list of places. It should include the basics like map title and map key, but it can also have fun items like a city with a woman's name, a city named after nature, a city with a funny name, a stadium, a museum, a hiking trail, etc. 

Divide the students into groups.

Provide each group with a random state map and items to use to map the map, like bingo chips.  Have them search for and mark your random list of places. 

Give the students plenty of time to find as many of the places on the list as possible. Afterwards, let them share some of their findings. 


Student Instructions

You will work with a small group and be given a random map. Groups will not have the same map. You need to find a place that fits the requirements. Most of the items will be based on the Map Key, but it will also require observation and attention to detail.

4 Historical Connections

Select a variety of historic maps. Some good resources to check for historic maps are the Library of Congress, Docsteach, or National Geographic.  

Give the students time to observe and visually explore the historic map. 

Ask them questions. Ask the same questions from the preview activity. The National Archives also provides a Map Analysis worksheet of questions for primary sources. 

Student Instructions

Pick one of the historic maps. Observe and visually observe the map. What do you notice? What does your map show? How do you know? 

5 Practice and Application

Give students with game options to practice and apply their map reading skills: 

Provide the students with game options to practice and apply their map reading skills. While everyone is playing games, have small groups of students try to put together a random 100 piece puzzle in less than 5 minutes. On the back of the puzzle, have the pieces labeled by row and column A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, etc. This will enforce the importance of a Map Grid.

Student Instructions

Practice and apply your map reading skills: 

6 Changing Perspective

Using Google Earth or the National Geographic Atlas, change different components of the map view. Zoom in/Zoom out. Rotate the map orientation. Change the theme. Ask students to make observations. 

Student Instructions

What do you see? What changes? Why?

7 Create a Map

Activity: Drawing

Provide the students a blank outline of the school. They need to turn the outline into an accurate map for a new student. It must have each map component: map title, map key, map grid, map scale, and compass rose. 

They will need to use a yardstick to figure out an approximate map scale. 

They will need to use the compass app on their device to draw the compass rose. 

They will need the map key to be functional by also incuding the symbols on the map. 

Student Instructions

Draw a map of the school for a new student. Make sure you include accurate map components. 

Extension: Use your map to write directions including an approximate distance from the library to the cafeteria, the gym to the nurse's office, and the classroom to the office.