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What Do Maps Show?

Topics: Maps, topographic maps, map reading, map scale, elevation

Length: 2.5 class periods, 5 lessons

Type of Resource Being Described: Complete Teaching Module


What Do Maps Show module contains 4 different lesson plans, each approximately 30 minutes long which are geared towards teaching students about location, space, map representations, north orientation, map grids, latitude and longitude, and map scale. Students will learn the various ways map makers use flat surfaces to depict larger amounts of space as identified by the map scale. The module contains information on a variety of map types, including road maps, topographic maps, shaded relief maps of the same location to show how map theme can change how a place is viewed. The topographic map module shows students how to read these type of maps and determine the elevation of given locations, select appropriate walking/hiking routes, and determine slope steepness.


Location—where things are—is the most fundamental geographic concept. The first task in geography is to locate places. Maps are the tools students need to accomplish this task. This lesson also helps students understand that there are many different kinds of maps. Place—physical and human characteristics—is another key concept in geography. All places on Earth have distinctive characteristics that give them meaning and character, and that help distinguish them from other places. As students learn about Salt Lake City, a city near both a lake and mountains, they will start to understand that physical characteristics make a place unique. Geography involves not only learning the location of places, but analyzing why the place is there: the interaction of physical, climatic, economic, and historical factors. Spatial analysis is the cornerstone of geography, and maps are the principal tools in performing that analysis.This lesson focuses on developing skills students need to understand location—where things are., It helps students understand both absolute and relative location. This lesson helps students understand more about the primary tool that geographers use to communicate information about a location—maps. Throughout this lesson, students will examine the characteristics of Salt Lake City (mountains, rivers, roads, trails) and its surrounding area. They will then look at several maps to see how those various physical and manmade characteristics are represented on maps. Using a topographic map can give students a clear understanding of the physical and manmade characteristics of a location. The topographic map allows for a clear understanding of such physical features as mountains and canyons. Using the topographic map, students can see why some things are where they are. They can see how people have adapted to the physical characteristics of a particular location. Students can begin to understand how the topography of a location influences the transportation and communication within that area and with the rest of the world.


Follow the lesson plans and activities at the What Do Maps Show website.