Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Teaching 2nd Graders About Maps

March 4th, 2013

I’m just back from teaching 70 2nd graders about maps and I am happy to report that I not only survived but I was duly impressed with their existing knowledge. I know there are several readers who volunteer their time in school classrooms. This post covers the content of the talk so that you can steal any ideas that would work for you. A previous post covered some general ideas.

These three topics were designed to take 5 minutes each.

  1. Major Types of Maps Each student received one map card, of which there were three types. They held their card in their hand until they were called upon to show it. We discussed road maps first because these are the maps that students are most familiar with. Students raised their hands and told the class what you can do with a road map such as: figure out how to get to an aunt’s house, where the school is, or how long it takes to get somewhere. At the end of the road map discussion, I asked everyone with a road map card to hold it up. We discussed physical maps next. I held a relief map up and asked if anyone knew what the large blue area was (ocean), what the bumps are (mountains), and what the blue lines are (rivers). Everyone with a physical map card held theirs up. Last we discussed political maps. I explained this one, since it is a bit trickier. We talked about how political maps show the boundaries and names of countries, states, and cities, though they don’t have to show all of those things. Everyone with a political map card held it up. See the end of the post for links to the maps I created for these cards.
  2. Webmaps Next, I told them about this fourth kind of map. We put a tourist map of Colorado on the smartboard and I asked for a helper to click the map layers on and off as I took suggestions from the students. They chose to look at trains, welcome centers, and hot springs. The helper figured out how to click layers on very easily. This particular map is nice and simple so it is easy to discuss. Next, I asked if any of the students had seen Google Maps (lots of hands) and we put that on the smartboard. One student asked to see where Grand Junction is in relation to Fort Collins so we typed those in and used Get Directions. They were impressed. We also did a show of hands for who had seen maps on cell phones, on car dashboards, and on tablet computers.
  3. What Mapmakers Do We discussed how mapmakers need to decide what colors to make things, how to make the roads wider or narrower depending on how important they are, what shapes to make things (we pointed out the tree symbols used for parks on Google Maps), and other related topics. One student wanted to know how mapmakers figure out which mountains are which and where they are. I wasn’t prepared for such an astute question so I fumbled around with words about “map data” and satellites making the map data.

The great thing was how excited the kids were to hear about maps. I’ve made two of the trading card documents available below, each in a single jpg or as a 10-per-sheet word document for you to print and cut. The road map cards used OSM data and were zoomed in to a portion of town that the students would recognize. Because the road maps were quite custom, I’m not posting those here. You’ll have to make or find your own road map cards.


Physical Map Trading Cards For Kids Word Document



Political Map Trading Cards For Kids Word Document

Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration