(and globes!)

for 3rd graders

by Franki Fullmer and Jen Krebs












Return to other social studies units - index







Why do people make maps?

How do we use a map?

What are maps for?

What does a map show us?

Are maps always flat?

How many kinds of maps are there?

What does the earth look like?

Where do I live on the map?

How can I find where I live on a map?

How do you make a map?

What tools do you need? How do the tools work?

Who made the first maps? How were they made?

How have maps changed? Why?

Can the computer help me make a map?

If the earth is round, how do you make a map flat?

What do the symbols mean?

How do you tell where you are on a map?

What kind of map will help me find my way home? Or to a new place?

How do you tell north? South? East? West?

Who makes maps today?







"Mapping the world by heart." This site contains good information on workshops and materials. Also has many links to geography, tools, & maps. Can find books, magazines, & videos. On-line store for maps, globes, & atlases.

The features in this site include: how to plan a trip, getting directions, exploring with maps, & educational learn & play.

Here I can choose from hundreds of maps full color and physical maps, world reference atlases, outline maps, history maps & thematic maps. This is a good resource for teachers & students. Also contains lesson plans, activities and skill builders.

Useful for driving directions, travel guide, world atlases and city guide.

"Geography Matters". This site contains a wide selection of outline maps & timeline materials. It also has lesson plans & project ideas.

There are great world political maps, world physical maps & continental U.S. physical map. There are also key facts & statistics on countries of the world.

"Show me the Way". Standard 6030-04. A great lesson plan creating a map of the Mormon Trail. Teaches ideas like land features & map legends & symbols.

National Geographic's map site. Zoom in on any area of the world with a geographic or political map. Also a map and globe store.




Mapping the World by Heart Smith, David. This book has curriculum for mapping and geography skills broken down into mini-lessons. There are a lot of good geography resources and lessons.


Building Skills in Geography Boehm, Richard G. Teacher's annotated Edition. This is a text-workbook based on five major geographical themes. It teaches about different kinds of maps.


Greetings from America Nelson, Ray, 1965. U.S. Geography Flying Rhinoceros. Good resource for grades 3-5. It contains lesson plans, activities & other resources. It is a huge teacher's resource & guide containing ideas for teaching map detective skills, worksheets, making a map mile line and mapping families.


Maps and Mazes: Chapman, Gillian and Robson, Pam. Millbrook Press, 1993. This is a first guide to map-making.


Which Way? White, Alice. This is a geography unit found in the YETC. It has lesson plans to teach map symbols, making a class room map--North, South, East, & West, and enrichment activities for maps & directions. Also contains videodisc barcodes & frame numbers.


Maps Maps Maps. Snow, Jolona. A resource found in the YETC, that is a mapping unit. It is a well planned unit with goals, activities and assessment.


Literature-Based Map Skills. Sniffin Court Books Grades 2-4. This is a great resource because it has activities for 17 stories. Connects literature and mapping-in Europe.


Maps. Haslam, Andrew, Scholastic. This gives activities and ideas for students in learning about and making maps. Contains questions and answers children may have about maps.


The Book of Where or How to be Nationally Geographic. Bell, Neill, ill. Wilson, Richard. This book is about learning of the world-finding out where things are and what is there. Takes you from your room to the street-to the city, to the states, and then around the world.


Teaching Map and Globe Skills K-6...a Teacher's Handbook. Stoltman, Joseph P. Rand McNally & Co. This book is exactly as the title states, a great handbook for teaching these important & global skills. Ideas for across the curriculum.


National Geographic. This would be a great magazine to have in the classroom. Contains maps and vivid pictures of places in the world. One of my personal favorites.




A geographer

A cartographer (surveyor)

City Council (planning & zoning)

BLM-Bureau of Land Management

Get city maps

Airplane pilot/photographer




Young Student's World Atlas Weekly Reader Books, Middletown, CT, 1982. Different types of maps from all over the world. Also descriptions of the different countries and types of maps. How maps are made. Geographic features included and how to use a map. Tells about cultures, climates, etc. Of different countries. Animals, food, industry, terrain.


The Simon & Schuster Young Readers' Atlas Wright, Jill & David, 1983. Many similar features to the previous book. Includes weather, country facts (flag, population, area, exports, etc.). More thorough.


Maps Getting From Here to There. Weiss, Harvey, 1991. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. Starts out with a desk, then it shows the desk in the room, the room in the house, the house in the town, the town in the state, the state in the country and the country in the world. Directions, scales, symbols, colors, topographic maps, longitude and latitude, how maps are made, and making your own maps. An excellent source for beginners! Not too babyish, but pretty basic.


The Facts on File Children's Atlas Wright, David & Jill. Facts on File Publications New York, New York, 1987. Mountains, plains and seas, countries of the world, fact boxes, people of the world, hot & cold lands, wet & dry lands, maps of different countries & facts, quiz at the end to test knowledge. Focus is more on atlas than on maps, but it is still a good resource.


What's in a Map? Cartwright, Sally. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc. New York, 1976. Very basic. Good for different ways to make maps.


Roxaboxen McLerran, Alice. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1991. Marian, her sisters and friends create an imaginary town on a hill covered with rocks, bottles, and wooden boxes.


Follow the Drinking Gourd Winter, Jeanette. Knopf: New York, 1988. By following the directions in a song, "The Drinking Gourd", taught to them by an old sailor named Peg Leg Joe, runaway slaves journey north along the Underground Railroad to freedom in Canada.


Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe Williams, Vera B. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1981. Mother, Aunt Rosie, and her two children make a 3-day camping trip by canoe.


Anno's USA Anno, Mitsumasa. New York: Philomel Books, 1983. A lone traveler approaches the New World from the west in the present day and journeys the width of the country backward through time, departing the east coast as the Santa Maria appears over the horizon.


Weslandia Fleishman, Paul. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 1999. Wesley's garden produces a crop of huge, strange plants which provide him with clothing, shelter, food and drink, thus helping him create his own civilization & changing his life.


Chester the Worldly Pig Peet, Bill. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1965. A disgruntled pig sets his sights on being more than just something to eat.


The Pony Express Lake, A.I. Vero Beach, Florida: Rourke Publications, 1990. It describes the history of the Pony Express and the daring riders who risked their lives to deliver the mail.


The Sweetwater Run: the Story of Buffalo Bill Cody and the Pony Express Glass, Andrew. New York. Doubleday book for young readers, 1996. Buffalo Bill Cody recounts his adventures as a teenaged rider for the Pony Express. Includes a history of the Pony Express, and facts about Cody's life.


Pony Express Kroll, Steven. New York: Scholastic, 1996. Discuss the eighteen-month history, officially beginning April 3, 1860, of the mail delivery between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California, known as the Pony Express.


Hats, Hats, Hats Morris, Ann. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. Introduces a variety of hats, from soft to hard hats to snuggly and hooded hats.


Git Along, Old Scudder Gammel, Stephen. Old Scudder is traveling to the west with his dog. He comes to point where he can't tell where he is until he draws a map, and names the places on it. Out of print.


The Way to Captain Yankee's Rockwell, Anne. Miss Calice loses her way going to go visit Captain Yankee's. Her map helps her find his house. Out of print.


Tomas and the Library Lady Mora, Pat, ill. Colon, Raul. This is a story of Tomas and his trip from Texas to Iowa. He meets a very nice library lady who inspires him to read. Can map out library or trip from Texas to Iowa. Available in Spanish and English. Dragonfly, 2000. ISBN:0375803491


Climbing Kansas Mountains Shannon, George, ill. Alen, Thomas. Sam knows there are no mountains in Kansas, but his dad takes him to see "the mountain" or the wheat bin. He can see the land for miles. Aladdin Paperbacks, 1996. ISBN: 0689807333


Grandfather's Journey Say, Allen. This is the story of his grandfather's trips from the U.S. to Japan. It talks of mountains, rivers, villages and cities. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1993. ISBN:0395570352


Children Just Like Me Kindersley, Barnabus, Anabel. This has photographs of homes, schools, families and culture of young people all around the world. DK Publishing, 1995. ISBN: 0789402017


Somewhere in the Universe Drew, David, ill. Dunphy, Dorthy. This is a "big book." It locates Jason's house in relation to the planets, earth, country, state, and city.


Ben's Dream VanAllsburg, Chris. On a rainy day, Ben has a dream that he is half submerged in water, in his house. He sees monuments from all around the world. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997. ISBN: 039587470x


My Two Worlds Gordon, Ginger. About a Dominican-American girl who lives in New York City. Spanish is her native language. It contrasts her two worlds. She frequently returns to her home land.


Bread Bread Bread Morris, Ann. Fun book celebrating different kinds of bread to be enjoyed all over the world. Mulberry Books, 1993.






1. Guest Speaker. Have a geographer come in and talk to the class. There will not need to be any materials unless he/she has a particular activity or request for something. Previous to the visit, we would be studying things that the geologist could talk about. Then, the students would have to be prepared for the visit. I would ask them to make a list of questions they have for the guest. Then, previous to the visit, give the list to the guest. Give time constraints and topics to discuss that the students would be familiar with. Time limit should be around 1 hour.

2. Field Trip. As a follow up, have the students go visit where the geologist works. Again, prepare them for the field trip and clear it through the school. Prepare for this well in advance and follow all of the rules for preparing for a field trip. Time limit will depend on how far away the place of employment is. Time spent at the place of employment should be less than an hour.

3. Guest Speaker. Have a cartographer come in and explain what it is he/she does. Talk about maps previous to the visit. Follow the same basic procedures as with the geologist. Time limit should be 1 hour.

4. Field Trip. To follow up, take the students to the place of employment. Same as before. Time limit again depends on the location. Time spent at the destination should be less than an hour.

5. Are They The Same? Next have them predict whether the trails are the same as current roads. Discuss why they think that they are or are not. After this, compare where the roads are the same and where they are different. Discuss why they might be different in relation to the area. Materials needed: maps of the trails, maps of the current roadways. Can use overheads and overlay the maps to see the difference. Allow 15 minutes or so.

6. Has Our Community Changed? Do the same activity with your local community. Find old maps and compare them with current maps. Notice the names of streets as well. You can also teach them the historical importance of certain areas in their community. They can do this activity in their groups or as a class. Materials needed: several outdated maps of the area, a current map of the area. A possible extension is that you could go to some of the places of historical importance on a field trip. Time limit is anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 days.

7. Map Maker Map Maker Make Me a Map. After studying maps, symbols, legends and scales, have the students draw a map, making and labeling their own symbols, legends, and scales. They can draw it of the classroom, the school, the community, their bedroom, their house, or whatever else they want to do. Materials needed: blank paper for them to draw maps on, writing utensils for them to write with, different examples of maps. Time limit: 1 class period. May extend into 2 class periods if necessary.

8. Dream Vacation. Have them plan a dream trip. Then have them map out the shortest way to get there by car and then by airplane. Have them use road maps and air travel maps. Materials needed: road maps, air maps, vacation spots and maps of those areas, blank maps of the state, country, world, writing utensils. Time limit: 2 class periods.

9. What Map Should I Use? Bring in several different types of maps and give the children situations (such as road tripping) and let them decide, in their groups, the best type of map to use for that situation. More than one map may be used per situation, or there may be only one type of map to use. Materials needed: several different types of maps. Time limit: 30 minutes.

10. Proud To Be An American. Have the children participate in making a playground map of the US. Have them plan out the outline and then to actually help clean the area for the map to be on, draw it on the concrete, and paint it. Materials needed: A map of the US, sidewalk chalk, paint, paint brushes, and brooms. Time limit: This could take a couple of days to plan it out, clean the area, draw the map, and then paint it. Plan on 3-4 days.

11. Globe Trotters. Have the students make a globe out of a balloon, paper mache, or something similar. Have them label it. Adapt it to the grade level and the knowledge level of the students. Materials needed: Balloons, crepe paper, paper mache, glue, markers or paints, cleaning supplies, aprons, paint brushes. Time limit: 1-2 days.

12. "X" Marks the Spot. Have the children, in their groups, draw a map of the school or school playground and then swap maps with another team. Check their map making and map following skills based on whether or not they are able to find the intended location. They may even place an item there to be found. Materials needed: A treat for each student to be found, blank paper for the maps, writing utensils for the drawing. Time limit: One day for the drawing, another day for the finding.

13. What's The Weather Like Today? Whenever there is a hurricane, tornado, or something of the sort, have the students map out the path of it daily. It may only take a few moments to map, but you can integrate and talk about the weather. Materials needed: Clips from the news the night before, newspaper articles, maps, the internet, or other sources. Time needed: possibly only 10-15 minutes daily.

14. Who's Running? To teach about national elections, map out where the candidates go and talk about important issues. Follow the candidates on their tours of the states in the US. Discuss why they go to some states, but not others. Materials needed: TV clips, newspapers, and maps. Time limit: 10 minutes a day or so.

15. Write About Mapping. Have students, at the end of the unit, write an acrostic or some type of poem or essay or something about one aspect of what they've learned. Great for assessment and a good way for them to implement what they've learned. Give the students an option so they are not forced to do one thing. Materials needed: paper to write on. Time needed: 30 minutes.

16. Pen Pals. Get each student a pen pal (or a key pal) and have them find where their pen pal lives on a map. Then, based on geography skills, decide what the climate, landscape, sights, etc might be like. Have the children write to their pen pals to discover how close their predictions were. Materials needed: Paper to write on, maps, and pen pals. Time needed: To begin with, 2 class periods. Then, time as needed to write letters back.

17. "Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!"Read "The Wizard of Oz" to the students for a few minutes every day. Have them take notes on important aspects of the story. At the end of the book, have them draw maps of Dorothy's travels along the yellow brick road. This idea can be used with many books. Materials needed: "The Wizard Of Oz" or whatever other book is being used, paper for maps, writing utensils. Time limit: a couple of weeks, or however long it takes to read the book. Time needed for the drawing of the maps should only be about 30 minutes.

18. Where Are You? When discussing different types of animals or biomes, discuss why those would only be found in that part of the world, based on geography skills. Ex. Why are rain forests only found in certain parts of the world? Materials needed: maps, geography books about different biomes, animal books. Time limit: 2 class periods. Possible extensions: Watch a Magic School Bus movie, or read a book (such as "Gets Swamped" or "In the Rain Forest" or "Kicks Up A Storm") and discuss why certain things only happen in certain parts of the world, based on geographic knowledge.

19. Help Me Find My Way. Map out the paths of important settlers and explorers, discussing why they may have chose to take the path they did. Did they know exactly where they were going or did they make a discovery on accident? Have the students work in groups and give each group an explorer or two. Have them share what they learned with the class. Materials needed: books on explorers, maps. Time needed: 2 class periods.

20. War. When discussing a war, map out the war paths of the different sides and mark where points of battle were. Have each group take a different side in different wars. Then combine the two groups (i.e. the North and the South in the Civil War) and have them put their maps together. Materials needed: books on the wars, maps. Time Limit: 2-3 class periods.

21. Biking Around the World. Follow the bicyclists around certain parts of the world. There is a team of bicyclists that take trips around the world. Classrooms can pay a small fee to follow them around on the Internet and participate in what they find and where they go. Materials needed: the Internet, the address, maps. Time Limit: 10-15 minutes a day. The first day of introduction to the web site should take 30-45 minutes to explore the site and the different options.

22. Making a Classroom Map: Each cooperative group is responsible for mapping out an area of the classroom. Divide the room into the number of cooperative groups and have each group closely examine their assigned area. Using a large piece of butcher paper, each group will make a map of their area, creating their own symbols and key. They should explain and present their map to the class. The maps can be hung on the wall and "pieced" together as possible to make one big representation of the classroom.

- Materials: butcher paper, crayons/markers/chalk, and rulers

- Time: 3-4 days

23. Television Guides and Longitude: Provide each group with magazines that list television schedules. Have students examine them and note what kind of information there is in the scheduling section only. In discussion of their findings, talk about time zones. Have them check what time their favorite show is in other time zones. Show them a map with the time zone lines. Discuss that when it is 3 o'clock in their school it is 2 in California (or whatever the time difference is for their school). After students have an understanding of this, introduce what longitude lines are, and how they are related to time zones.

- Materials: television schedules that include different time zones, time zone map, map with just longitude lines.

- Time: 1-2 days

24. Play Dough Mapping: Provide students with a poster board map of their state. (fairly large 8" x 11"). Using play dough or clay, have students make mountain ranges, rivers, lakes, on their map. They may also identify important cities. They can display their maps and their artistic abilities.

- Materials: Poster board map of state for each student, clay/play dough, map of state

- Time: 1 day

25. Mapping Field Trip: Show students a map of the city and locate a museum or historical site with in walking distance in the city. Have students map out the way from the school to the location of interest. After the most efficient way has been decided upon, take a class field trip to the location, having students use the map as their guide to arrive there.

- Materials: City map (if available, provide one for each student), any necessary items for field trip.

- Time: 1 day for map, and day for trip

26. Finding the Sorcerer's Stone: This activity is related and should be used after reading Harry Potter book I. The "sorcerer's stone" is hidden somewhere on the play ground. Students are given a map that they must follow to find it. Along the way they will be stopped at certain points in which they must overcome a "mapping challenge" (question or map problem) before they can go on to find the stone.

- Materials: Map for each student (or group, if working as groups), Harry Potter, if possible provide a compass to each student at the end to be the treasure or the sorcerer's stone (may need to get a sponsor or company to donate if possible).

- Time: 1 day

27. Safety Mapping: Have students view a school map, and locate all of the exits, fire alarms, extinguishers, and place where class would meet on the play ground in case of an emergency. Have students practice safety drills and make sure the map is displayed in the classroom.

- Materials: Map of school (with exits highlighted and the route to follow when an emergency might occur.)

- Time: 2 days (and drill should be practiced repeatedly through out the year.

28. Plan your Dream Trip: In cooperative groups, have students plan a four day vacation. For their vacation they should plan how to get there, where they will stay, what they will see, and how they will get around the city. Could also include cost of trip, food, etc.

- Materials: Students will need travel maps, a city map, tourist maps and brochures to be able to plan effectively. They may need to write to a travel agency or the city for information.

- Time: 3 weeks

29. Designing Your Own City: Students will design and make a map of their own city. They can use their creativity to let it be as perfect or imaginary as they would like, but they must write a paper to explain the reasoning for their map. Their map should include a legend. They can show their city to the class.

- Materials: large butcher paper for final draft of map.

- Time: 2 weeks

30. The North Star: Talk about how ancient peoples used the stars to help them find their way. Show the students maps of the stars and talk about how they move. Discuss how the North Star can be used for a guide. Plan an after school night activity for students to go star gazing, in which they can locate the North Star for themselves. Have students map the stars as they see them in the sky during the field trip

- Materials: Star maps, permission for night field trip, dark blue construction paper and white chalk for the trip. A telescope would be really fun also.

- Time: 3 days (and one night)

31. From Texas to Iowa: Read Tomas and the Library Lady to the class, then using a road map, have students map out Tomas' trip from Texas to Iowa every summer.

- Materials: Tomas and the Library Lady, overhead road map of the central states.

- Time: 1 hour

32. Mapping the Library: This activity can also be used with Tomas and the Library Lady. After reading the book, have students closely examine the library and make a map of it. They can make symbols to represent different areas of the library, and the kinds of books found in those areas.

- Materials: Tomas and the Library Lady, butcher paper.

- Time: 1-2 days

33. Gold Rush and Mapping Skills: All over the play ground are hidden rocks (that have been spray painted gold). Students are given "used 49er maps" of the play ground to give them hints as to where the biggest golden nugget may be found. Using their maps, the first one to the gold wins the jackpot, but there is more than just one nugget to be found. Students can pick up pieces of gold all along the way.

- Materials: The big golden nugget, several smaller nuggets, "old 49er's" maps.

- Time: 1 class period

34. From the Bird's view: Have an airplane pilot visit the class as a guest speaker. Ask him to explain what the earth looks like from the sky, (with out lines), and how maps are useful in flying airplanes. Ask him to bring air photos and maps that he may have or uses.

- Materials: Any air maps available, and photos from the air

- Time: 1-2 hours

35. A Life at Hogwarts: During the reading of Harry Potter, have the students make maps of what they imagine Hogwarts to be like. They can map out the school, or the forest or even just their favorite room at Hogwarts.

- Materials: Harry Potter, blank paper or butcher paper, and crayons, markers, pencils or chalk.

- Time: 2 days




1. During the unit, the students have been challenged to learn about maps, map symbols, and map making skills. They have made a map of their community. Now is their chance to put it to use. The students will go on a field trip to certain points of interest in their community (police station, hospital, fire station) by using their maps to get there. (The place determined to visit should be within walking distance for the students.) When the students return from the field trip, a special visitor has been arranged to talk with them about their trip. Have a historical story teller/character tell the class about what the area was like when it was being settled. He/she can show some of the first maps of the city, and tell how it was useful to the people in that time. The students can then show their visitor their maps, and they can compare how the maps have changed over the years. Both the students and historical visitor can discuss how their maps helped them, and why maps are important. The students' maps should be displayed at the end of the day, for everyone to see what they have accomplished.

2. We had discussed the idea of "Finding the Sorcerer's Stone as an activity. This activity could be adapted to be a culminating activity. Instead of the students just participating in finding the stone, the students can create the map and challenges to find the stone. After they have completed this, they can challenge another class to use the maps that they have made to find the sorcerer's stone. (See activity "Finding the Sorcerer's Stone for more details of this activity.)







1. Students will understand why maps are important and why they need them.

2. Students will understand the purpose of a legend/key and how to read one.

3. Students will understand how maps can help you find your destination.





Maps are such a big and normal part of daily living that we seldom stop to think about them. If we thought for a minute about what the world would be like without maps, we would realize that simple daily events would become difficult and frustrating. Because our world is dependent on maps, it is necessary to teach children basic map skills.

A map is a drawing or chart of the earth, often showing political divisions such as countries and physical features such as mountains and rivers. In comparison a globe has the general shape of a ball or sphere, and is a representation of the earth or celestial sphere.

No one can be sure when the first map was drawn. When primitive people wanted to tell the rest of their tribe how to find a special hunting ground, it was necessary to show distance, direction and landmarks. To do this, they often drew a map in the dirt with a stick. In Biblical times, the sailors made and used their own maps to find their way around the Mediterranean Sea. When Columbus was ready to sail from Spain, he could get expensive hand-drawn maps from the few map makers of Europe. Now, ocean liners need a special chartroom for their many maps. No matter the kind of map, maps give us very important information, specifically distance, direction, and landforms.

Distance is defined as the length of space between two objects. Direction is defined as the course along which something moves. Other key concepts that third graders need to know that correspond with direction include: left, right, north, south, east, and west. Finally landmarks are defined as something familiar or that is easily seen and used as a guide or an object that marks the boundary of a piece of land. It is important for third grade students to understand certain landmark concepts as islands, bays, and lakes. They also should learn about natural boundaries that follow natural features such as rivers and mountains.

In addition to learning these concepts, the most important thing to know is how to read the map. The grid system is an efficient way to locate places on a map. Helping children to understand that pictures represent words or objects on a map will help them to use the legend and gain map reading skills.

In order for children to deal with directional relationships and symbols on maps and globes they must first understand them in reality. It is for this reason that it is important to have classroom maps and areas familiar to the students as well as a basic introduction to the globe.

We feel that map-reading skills are developmental in nature and that they are not learned automatically as the child matures. To develop these skills, continued teaching and application opportunities on a consistent and continual basis throughout the year are necessary for children to learn these skills. Realizing this, this unit on mapping should become a helpful tool in assisting you to motivate and teach your students in an educational and memorable way.