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5th Grade Map Lesson

During this lesson, students used their knowledge of parts of a map to create their own maps of a fictitious country.  This is a sample map used to create the lesson:






Map Skills: Do It Yourself Map

Resources: Draw Island Map activity from Social Studies for the Elementary and Middle Grades by Sunal & Haas, page 417; Do It Yourself Map as taught by Dr. Blythe Hinitz at TCNJ, Spring 2007.


By Wendy Byrne, Robbins Annex, Mrs. Colleen Rand, Grade 5


Students will review and practice using map skills.


Map skills are an integral part of most social studies lessons.  Students must be able to read maps to understand the people and places they are studying and how they are impacted by the land on which they live.  This lesson will review map skills and encourage students to start thinking about how maps help us learn about the world.


In prior grades, students have studied maps and landforms.  They have seen both physical and political maps.  They have studied political boundary systems (cities, states, countries).


6.6.A.1 Use physical and political maps to identify locations and spatial relationships of places within local and nearby communities.

6.6.B.4 Discuss factors involved in the development of cities.

6.6.C.1 Describe basic components of the Earth’s physical systems.




Students will be able to correctly identify elements of a map.

Students will correctly draw the map elements in the Do It Yourself Map.  (Scoring is shown in the instructions below)

Students will be able to follow oral instructions when drawing their map.

Students will draw the map elements on their paper.



At the beginning of the lesson I will ask if students like maps and why.  I will ask if any students have ever drawn a map.  I will then explain that everyone is going to have the chance to create their own land area and draw a map of it.


Students will be given a piece of graph paper, to be passed out by one student helper.  One table at a time, I will distribute crayons to use during the activity (alternatively, they may use their own colored pencils or markers if they have them).  Students will be told to put these materials to the side while we review map features for several minutes.

Students will take out their Social Studies textbooks and turn to page 12.  We will read the paragraph on page 12, reviewing physical and political maps.  We will review these features on the physical map on page 7: mountains (Rocky  Mountains), plains (Great Plains), deserts, rivers (Mississippi), lakes (Erie), bays (Hudson), oceans (Atlantic), peninsula (Florida), islands (Hawaii).  Questions: how might we show mountains on a map using symbols? What do you notice about the rivers – where do they start and end?  We will review these features on the political map on page 12: cities (Austin), states (Texas), countries (Mexico), map legend.  Question: how do we know where one state or country ends and another begins?  We will look at these features of both maps: scale and compass rose.

Students will create individual Do It Yourself Maps.  Students will be told that they are going to create their own maps showing the features we discussed.  The student’ books must be put away.  The instructions are:  Do not draw anything until you are instructed to do so.  We will be drawing our maps one feature at a time.  I will read each instruction out loud several times.  Everyone must be quiet so that you all can hear.  If you want me to explain something raise your hand.  Do not ask your neighbor for help.  I am checking that you know the parts of a map as well as your ability to listen and follow instructions.  Let’s begin:

1.    Put your name and today’s date on the back of the paper in the upper left hand corner. (1 point)

2.    Draw a compass rose on your map in the upper right hand corner. (1 point)

3.    Draw a box for a legend in the lower right hand corner.  Be sure there’s enough room to include several symbols. (1 point)

4.    Draw a land mass that has both a peninsula and a bay.  This should take up the majority of the space on the page.  Name the bay. (4 points)

5.    Draw a mountain range that runs east to west.  Put the symbol for mountains in the legend. (3 points)

6.    Draw a large lake in the southern part of the land and name it. (3 points)

7.    Draw a desert in the northern part of the land and name it. (3 points)

8.    Draw two rivers and name them.  Put the symbol for river in the legend. (3 points)

9.    Divide your land into three countries.  Put the symbol for the country boundary in the legend. (2 points)

10.  Show one city in each country and name them.  Put the symbol for city in the legend. (3 points)

11.  Draw a scale at the bottom of the page. (1 point)

12.  Bonus:  draw a railroad connecting two cities.  Put the symbol for railroad on the legend. (2 points)

The instructions will be read through one more time as students check their work.  The maps will be collected.  The lesson will conclude with a discussion of how this activity helped students understand maps and if it prompted them to think about any bigger ideas, such as how different land forms relate to one another or why people create cities in particular locations. 


Did this activity help you to understand how a map works?  Why?  Did you have any strategy in deciding where to put certain features? Explain.  When doing this activity and in looking at the sample maps, did you notice anything about how the different land forms relate to one another?  For instance, the direction that rivers flow or where they’re located in relation to deserts, mountains, lakes and oceans.  How did you decide where to put the cities?  Did you think about the resources that the people would need, such as water, transportation, food sources?


We will brainstorm about future ideas to explore from the questions discussed above.  We will determine three questions that students want to learn more about.


There are no special needs identified students in the class.  The lesson incorporates reading, looking at pictures, discussion and listening, which accommodates a variety of learning styles.  The class activity will be completed as a group, so there should be no early finishers.  If they would like extra work, students may complete Practice Book pages 3-4.  They may also spend time looking at world atlases brought in as reference material.


This lesson will be the basis for future studies in geography.  The questions raised during the end of class discussion will determine what future activities will be.  Future areas to study include how landforms and environment influence where people live and what they do for a living and how global climate change will impact this.

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