Using Maps as a Learning Tool

Using Maps as a Learning ToolMaps are ubiquitous in the social studies classroom, but they aren’t always used to their full capabilities. Social Studies teachers often fall into the trap of simply using maps when it’s obvious, failing to remember how maps can be used for a variety of skill building assignments and to meet various common core standards. Maps can be used to improve so many academic areas that they can be used almost every day to improve a host of skills. Some examples of the benefits of maps are:

map of the Silk Road A map of the Silk Road can lead to a research assignment that uses graphic organizers. This allows the students to see how a map is a vessel for information, while allowing them to take ownership of that information by   researching the parts they find most interesting.
map showing the spread of the Black Death A map showing the spread of the Black Death can help children improve their reading comprehension by properly using the symbols in the key, or it can be a used for chronological tracing of the path of the disease. Either way, the students see that a map is not just a collection of cities; a map tells a variety of stories within the confines of small area.
map of Latin America A map of Latin America can help students understand where countries are by placing visual representation of the places they learn about. This may be the most common use of a map, but it’s still very effective in showing students where the events that they learn about every year take place.
map of the Greek city-states A map of the Greek city-states can illustrate the impact of geography on history, a central theme of state assessments and standardized tests throughout the country. Maps that ask students to infer the effects of what they see on a map help to sharpen those skills and improve their critical thinking.
map of the Atlantic Ocean A map of the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding continents allow students to be active learners by asking them to show how this region was part of history. Ask them to trace the routes of the Atlantic Slave Trade themselves. History comes alive anytime kids are doing and not just listening or watching.

Whether you use them for a homework assignment or entry into a deeper analysis of the great historical questions of our time, maps can do more for your lessons than you may be giving them credit for. The suggestions above touch upon the skills of analysis, reading comprehension, inference, compare and contrast, and many others.

By using a few words and a picture, a map can say so much more than text. By my count, maps can be used to meet five of the ten ELA Common Core Anchor Standards used to measure college and career readiness. Whether through their use in document based essay writing, compare and contrast activities, or as a summary of a historical event, maps can play the skill building role of a primary source reading passage.

Help Teaching has a full complement of historical and geographic maps to improve your lessons, projects, and assessments. You can create your own versions of the activities linked above that include your personal style of teaching. Few other websites have such a varied selection of maps to include in your lessons. There are also plenty of questions paired with maps that you can add to your tests and activities.

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