Polski3's View from Here

Quote of some personal revelence: "Is a dream a lie, that don't come true, or is it something worse?"

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Geography Education 1a: Teaching basic Map Reading

In today's educational world, many standardized tests our students must take include visual materials from which they must deduce correct answers, such as pictures, charts, graphs, and maps. One thing I have discovered over the years, is that many of my incoming seventh graders do not know how to read a simple map. If they are given a simple black and white map showing names of countries or regions, towns and cities, and some squiggly lines indicating rivers, they are "lost". They don't know Europe from Germany. Many of them also do not know which parts of a black and white map are oceans and which are land. Don't assume your junior high students come to you knowing much about geography and how to read maps.

One of my on-going projects is developing map reading skills activities to help them learn to read maps. Yes, many may be able to deal with a modern gps or other computer/electronic dodad, but those are not on their standardized tests. We start out simple; trying to determine continents from oceans. Then we get into physical geographic features such as rivers and mountains and how they are shown on a map. I tell my students to trace in blue the rivers, to color the seas and oceans blue if that helps them learn about the water bodies on their maps and to color the mountains brown. Students coloring can help they learn locations and how things are shown on maps.

From there we go into differences the publishers use to indicate countries, regions, towns, cities and other cultural geographic features. (See the big black letters that say "EUROPE"? That is a region. Yes, it is also a continent. See the black stars with a circle around the star? Notice these have smaller black letters with names like Berlin, Warsaw, Paris, London, Rome and Madrid? Those are cities. Capitol cities of their countries." Yes, I know, this sounds simple. But far too many of my students have gone through six plus years of public education without learning this skill. Yes, some already know how to read basic maps, and they are often bored out of their skulls with these exercises. But I try to keep them short and it doesn't hurt them to review and maybe help their less geographically inclined classmates. Over time, most of my students learn to read simple black and white maps like they may find on their standardized tests.

These map reading exercises can be great for those times when you are pretty much done with a lesson and have ten minutes to fill in. I also do many map activities that are related to whatever culture we are currently studying. For example, tomorrow, we open class with several questions using a black and white map about the Han Dynasty of Chinese History.

There are many black and white maps that a classroom teacher can use for such Geographic learning activities; just do a search on google/pictures or use the maps often found in the collection of history/social studies textbook support materials. There are also booklets you can buy with exercises to help teach map reading skills. (please note: if I use anything from some of these booklets and they indicate grade 3 or some grade level lesser than my grade seven students, I usually white it out so my students don't feel belittled by the learning activity.)

Please share with us what you do to help your students learn basic map reading skills.

Thanks for reading my blog !