Meaningful Map Facts

Hello! I wanted to share a little activity that has helped in a big way in our class this year. This activity complements one I shared back in February, Utilizing Those Nonfiction Text Features.

During our unit on explorers, our class encountered numerous helpful maps. The only problem? With so much information on the textbook pages, I wasn't sure my students were really analyzing the maps carefully.

So we devoted one whole lesson to strictly analyzing a map.

Doesn't that always feel nerve-wracking? Like you should be covering more in a lesson? But I've learned that these really focused lessons are the ones with the biggest payoff in the end.

taking a look
At first glance, it looked at though it showed a bunch of famous explorers and their routes (I'm thinking like a 5th grader can tell, right??):

then a closer look..
But upon closer analysis, we noticed so much more. We began with a turn and talk. The partners identified tons of additional information to what we had already known so far. Explorers who had chosen similar paths. Others who claimed lands. Treaties that had to be drawn up. Unique routes to Asia. The list went on and on.

taking note
We then turned to a simple template to record a bulleted list of facts we could pull from the map. Meaningful facts...ones that tied into our prior knowledge of these explorers.

Soon the pencils were flying, filling the page up with all the things they had learned from this one map.

After sharing our findings as a whole class, we were amazed to see all we had learned from this map. 

And it gets even better!

 unexpected benefits
We had accomplished what I had hoped for in this students had analyzed the maps collaboratively and independently. They made and noted key observations, extending their understanding of this topic.

However, I didn't realize at the time how much the information would stick!

Weeks later, as we were working on our informational texts (all about explorers!) I conferenced with student after student who recalled details for their research from this map. "Remember how Magellan found that waterway in South America to get to the Pacific Ocean? It was on that map we looked at," they told me.

I couldn't have been any happier!

These connections and understandings are the kind I'm always striving to achieve with all of my students, especially my newcomer English Language Learners. Knowing that the information had stayed with my students proved how meaningful the lesson was.

I do have some more to share about using maps in Social Studies, but I will save that for next time. In the meantime...

would you like to try it out?
If you would like to grab a copy of the fact template, please click on the preview image below:
I hope it is as helpful in your classroom as it has been in ours! Thanks for visiting! :)


  1. Love this...I won't be able to dedicate as much time as I'd like to for a lesson like this until after testing in May...but I will definitely be using this idea for my kids...I have fourth graders and we haven't focused on maps as much as I would have liked so I think it will take us more than a day a few mini lessons will be needed...but I have one question...for the map did you use a map on a smartboard or did you give out individual maps to your students? Thanks for sharing I wanted to leave a message because I love finding new ideas for my classroom...thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Ivett! I've been using the maps in my students' textbooks for this activity, since they usually have a lot of info. in them.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, best of luck with testing!! :)

  2. This is perfect Kristen! Gets the kids actively engaged in text (even if that text is a map) and definitely helps develop close reading and connections. What a great lesson you did!!

    Teaching in Room 6

  3. That's a really great lesson- map skills are so important, and understanding routes which lead to eventual trade routes will help them so much in middle school. Have you played geoguessr with your class? That's a really fun one to calculate distance!


  4. I don't do this with my kids but I know my partner teacher does with her older ELL kids so I am passing this along! Always looks great.
    Ms. K/1 ELL

  5. Such a meaningful post! I experienced something similar while teaching Globalization this year. Using a map truly makes it more clear and more relevant, therefore it sticks! I enjoyed reading this post very much. Thanks for sharing!
    Creating Lifelong Learners

  6. I love all the connections your students were making! We study ancient civilizations for most of our social studies units this year. I have really been trying to focus on how the geography of the civilization defined a lot of who "they were." We've been doing a ton of map reading! Thanks for sharing. Have a great week!
    Coffee Cups and Lesson Plans

  7. I agree that sometimes those simple, focused lesson benefit the kids the most! Analyzing maps can be such a scary thing for students, but at the same time, I always find that they are fascinated by them! You've found a great way to keep students' interest on an already popular topic, but most importantly, to help them retain the information! I love it! Thank you also for the freebie!


Back to Top