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Activities to Teach Map Skills to Elementary Students

written by: Tracey Bleakley • edited by: Kellie Hayden • updated: 6/6/2012

Here are some fun ideas to use when teaching map skills to elementary students. These books and hands-on map activities will increase social studies skills by helping younger students learn about reading and making maps.

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    Mapping Activities

    Help your elementary students become map experts.

    • Collect maps from places you've visited: museums, zoos, aquariums, etc. Make a map skills learning center by placing each map in a file folder with a list of questions for the children to answer using the map. How many water fountains are there? What animal is north of the bears? If you are at the snack bar, what direction do you need to go to find the exit? If you don't want to make this a center, you can give each child a copy of one map and the questions and have the children work alone or in pairs to find the answers.
    • Send the students on a "treasure" hunt to practice map reading skills. Make a map of the playground or other area on the school grounds. Hide several small prizes on the playground and divide the children into small groups. Give each group and map and directions to help them find one of the treasures and take them to the playground. When all of the treasures have been found bring the children together discuss how they used the maps to find their prizes.
    • After introducing landforms and bodies of water to the children, divide the children into groups of three or four. Give each group a ball of blue and a ball of green or brown play dough and a piece of cardboard. Then give each group an index card with three or four landforms of bodies of water written on it. One group's card might have a hill, a lake and an island and another might have a valley, a mountain and a river. Instruct each group to create a map with its landforms and bodies of water on it. Display the maps on tables around the room or in the hallway.
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    Suggested Books

    As the Crow Flies:A First Book of Maps by Gail Hartman

    This is a fun book for introducing simple maps. It shows basic maps of landmarks through the eyes of different animals: a crow, an eagle, a horse and others. The final map shows the smaller maps put together into a larger map, which is a great way to show students how maps can relate to each other.

    Me on the Map by Joan Sweeney

    A little girl draws maps of her room, her house, her street and then moves on to finding her place on bigger maps of her town, state, country and the world. After reading this book, have students draw maps of their rooms or houses as a follow up activity.

    Mapping Penny's World by Loreen Leedy

    After learning about maps at school Lisa draws a map of her room and then decides to makes of places that are important to her dog Penny like her backyard and the local park. Students will learn mapping vocabulary like key and scale as Lisa makes maps and explains their function and the tools she uses to make her maps.