Map Skills Unit

For our six-week Spring co-op this year, I taught a class on map skills.  Using various resources, I created six different lessons with specific goals for each one.  Overall, I feel the class went well.  The students learned a great deal of information in a small amount of time and seemed to enjoy themselves in the process.  There were some challenges since the class consisted of twenty-two students in kindergarten through eighth grade.  At times, the younger students were a bit lost and at other times the older students seemed a little bored, but most of the time they were all actively engaged.

For our co-op, our classes were forty-five minutes.  You can easily adapt the lessons to fit the needs of your children.  I will highlight each lesson briefly so you will know what to expect.  Under each description is the corresponding lesson plan and any other files or links that I utilized.  I also have a pdf file of all of the lessons, Map Skills Lessons (All), if you prefer to look at them together.  Lesson 1 teaches some basic map skills, so I would suggest completing that one first unless your students already have these skills.  The other lessons can be done in any order and taught on their own as I did, or they can be easily interwoven with other subject areas.  For instance, you can adjust the historical maps lesson to fit with a time or place that you are currently studying in history.  Or, the weather maps lesson could be done when you are studying weather concepts in science.  Since our co-op consisted of six sessions, that is how many lessons I created.  However, feel free to keep going.  There are many more maps to explore.

Lesson 1 Basic Map Skills

The focus of the first lesson was on learning basic map skills.  I had the students work in groups because of our class size.  We completed the first part of the lesson using a map of our state.  For the worksheet, we used a map of our county.  I noticed that some of the younger students needed help with the worksheet.  So, you may need to complete it together.  I created this lesson based on our location, but you can easily create a similar lesson based on your own.  We ran short on time, so most students did not finish the last part of the lesson which was to create a map.  That activity could have been a separate lesson itself.

Here are the files for this lesson: Map Skills 1, Map Skills Lesson 1 Sheet
The Bristol County map used for the worksheet can be found here:

Lesson 2 Historical Maps & Subway Maps

The focus of the second lesson was Boston, MA and how it has changed over time.  The students studied four maps of Boston from different years to identify similarities and differences.  I chose one from the 1600’s, 1700’s, 1800’s, and a current map.  The students worked in groups, but this activity could have been done individually.  I encouraged them to list as many things as possible and to look carefully for small details.  This lesson could easily be adapted to another location.  Many historical maps can be found online.  The subway map activity could be omitted or saved for another day.  Or, you could have students learn to read a bus route map or another train map instead of the subway.  I included it here since it related to Boston, but you can choose whatever is relevant to your location.

Here is the lesson plan file: Map Skills 2
Historical maps of Boston can be found at and a current map can be found at  The subway map can be found at

Lesson 3 Understanding the Globe

In this lesson the students learned a lot of vocabulary as we studied parts of the globe.  They used a blank map of the world to label key concepts and then looked at actual globes.  Because of our class size we did this in two steps, but in a small group you could do it simultaneously.  For example, label a continent on the map and then locate it on the globe.  There are websites with interactive games that students can use to practice some of the skills learned in this lesson.  I have listed some below.

Here is the lesson plan file: Map Skills 3
In addition to lots of teacher resources, National Geographic has a nice map making tool that you can use to print a blank world map for this lesson.  You can find it here:
The tool allows you to select or deselect the items you want included on your map.  Since I wanted the students to label most of the map themselves, the only items I selected were grid lines and country borders.
Here are some websites with interactive games that correspond to this lesson:

Lesson 4 Topographic Maps

In this lesson students learn about topographic maps.  I used a topographic map of our state that I had to show students some of the features.  You can do the same or use a topographic map of any interesting place.  Make sure the contour lines are clearly visible since students will be learning about them.  The U.S. Geological Survey website is a great source of information for the lesson.  The site even has a student worksheet for this topic, so I did not need to create my own.  For the activity, I suggest making a model before class so it will be easy to demonstrate the process of slicing and drawing the contour map of the slices.  I used generic play dough for the activity.  It was a bit soft but still worked fine.  All of the students enjoyed this hands-on lesson.  I let them continue making creations with their dough until class was over.

Here is the lesson plan file:  Map Skills 4
The worksheet that I used for this class can be found here:
The corresponding teacher sheet is here:
If you want to expand on this lesson, there are lots of ideas here:

Week 5 Weather Maps

In this lesson, students learn some weather map symbols and then create their own weather maps.  The weather symbol chart can look intimidating to students at first, so I suggest just highlighting some of the information.  The students really enjoyed making their own weather maps.  I allowed them to create crazy weather scenarios.  If you prefer, you can question their maps to see if their use of symbols makes sense.  Would a symbol for snow usually appear next to a warm front symbol?  If you complete this lesson in conjunction with a science study of weather, you can explore this even more since students will be familiar with the topic.  Toward the end of the class, several students gave a weather report of their maps.  This was lots of fun and showed me that they really understood the concepts we covered in this lesson.

Here is the lesson plan file:  Map Skills 5
Here is a weather map symbols chart:
There is an explanation of how to read weather station plots at that I found helpful.  This site also has information on air masses and precipitation.  You can review this before class if you want to give students more technical information relating to weather.  There is a nice chart of surface fronts at that I referenced to draw diagrams on the board.  Since the symbols chart is not in color, it is important to show students the symbols that have color on weather maps such as the surface fronts and pressure systems.  The National Weather Service has surface weather maps at that you can print to show students the weather on any given day.  I showed students a color version without surface observations and a black and white version with surface observations.  The color version had less weather symbols and was more similar to the weather maps shown on news reports.  It was good for students to see both.  You can use any blank map to have students create their weather maps.  I used a map of the U.S.A. from

Week 6 Review & Quiz Game

During our previous class, I noticed that some students did not know all of the state names on the maps of the U.S.A.  So, I began this week’s class by having the students label the states on a blank map.  However, this took an enormous amount of time and left little time for the review activity.  I would suggest just doing the review activity.  If you want to review the state names, you can do that as a separate lesson.  Stack the States is a fun app to use for this purpose.

I created an activity to review the concepts that we had learned during our five previous classes.  I made small “cards” with a different fact on each one.  The students worked in groups to review the cards.  Then I collected the cards and the students participated in a quiz game to see which group could answer the most questions.  I had small prizes for the winning team.

Here is the lesson plan file:  Map Skills 6
Here is the review activity file:  Map Skills Review Activity