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Engaging Map Skills Activities

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In this post, I am sharing some engaging and fun map skills activities to help your students learn all about map skills, how to teach map skills to kids, and engaging map skills activities to help your students learn spatial thinking and how to read maps. Learning how to read a map is an essential skill for both kids and adults.

Why Teach Map Skills to Kids?

The ability to correctly read and interpret a map is an important life skill. It is crucial that kids not only know how to find where they are on the map but need to know how to safely navigate to their destinations.

Map skills are essential for developing spatial thinking and the ability to read, visualize and interpret any given data.

Nearly everyone (including kids) is heavily reliant on technology. Technology is great, but your students must learn to not be fully dependent on gadgets when they’re out adventuring. Knowing how to read a map could save their lives!

Let students have fun while learning about map skills with this interactive unit! Topics include cardinal directions, grids, scale, types of maps, and latitude and longitude.

What are Map Skills?

Maps are diagrammatic representations of the world“, showing physical features like roads, rivers, mountains, and more. Maps help us navigate the world and places around us.

Map skills are a learned skill that helps us read maps and make informed decisions from their symbols and scales.

  • Map skills are essential for directions, recognizing the different features of a landscape, and more
  • They help children develop their spatial thinking.

Why are Map Skills Important?

  • Map skills help kids develop and improve their problem-solving skills
  • Map skills help kids develop spatial awareness
  • Learning map skills help kids build independence

4 Engaging Map Skills Activities For Elementary Students

Map skills is a unit that is not in my standards and I’m not required to teach; however, I do think that it’s important to refresh my students’ memories of what they learned in previous years.

Sure, they most likely know the cardinal directions, how to use a grid to identify a specific location, and what a scale on a map is for. I found that my students knew certain terms, but could not apply them when actually working with maps.

So, I created this map skills activities unit to help my students take their understanding up a notch and dig deeper into various map activities.

1. Finding Directions on a Map – Using a Compass Rose:

Perhaps one of the first things students learn in a unit on maps is cardinal and intermediate directions. On this page of the unit, I describe what a compass rose is, and where the directions are, and students need to demonstrate their understanding of the passage by cutting out the directions and placing them in the correct space on the compass rose.

Let students have fun while learning about map skills with this interactive unit! Topics include cardinal directions, grids, scale, types of maps, and latitude and longitude.

2. Using Key or Legend on a Population Map:

Using a key or legend is typically one of the easier skills for students. When they have a variety of different symbols, it tends to be easy for them to identify what exactly what they are looking for when answering questions about the map. What I did find was that when maps were shaded in various shades of gray, like in this population map, students struggled a bit more. On this particular page, a student is asked to identify populations of states, using both the legend and the map.

Let students have fun while learning about map skills with this interactive unit! Topics include cardinal directions, grids, scale, types of maps, and latitude and longitude.

3. Creating a Map Grid:

Map grids are another skill that students typically understand, but are sometimes confused as to what comes first – the letter or the number.

Let students have fun while learning about map skills with this interactive unit! Topics include cardinal directions, grids, scale, types of maps, and latitude and longitude.

 I always tell my students to think of a grid on a map (or a coordinate grid in math) like an elevator.  You have to get in the elevator before you can go up.  I have my students imagine that they walk over to the elevator, then the elevator goes up to the floor they want to stop in.  

With this activity, students are engaged because they are given 10 different pirate symbols and are asked to cut them out and glue them onto the grid within the island.  Then, students can either write down the location of each item, or they can switch papers and have a friend solve it.

Let students have fun while learning about map skills with this interactive unit! Topics include cardinal directions, grids, scale, types of maps, and latitude and longitude.

4. Have Students Draw their own Map:

Another way for students to show their understanding of a legend and a compass rose is to create their own map.  Students can draw their own map, complete with symbols that they identify in the key.  I always try to tell my students that the symbols do not need to be very detailed, but must somehow represent the object they are referring to.

Let students have fun while learning about map skills with this interactive unit! Topics include cardinal directions, grids, scale, types of maps, and latitude and longitude.

Get the Map Skills Activities Unit

These are just a few of the pages included in my Map Skills Unit. You can click on that link to see a full product description in my TpT store.

In addition to the pages above, you will receive 19 posters with pictures and definitions, 4 activities for latitude/longitude, 5 activities for using a scale, 4 activities for using a key, 4 activities for using a compass rose, and 4 activities for using a grid.

What’s nice about having multiple pages for each skill is that you can use one as a whole class activity, 2 for the students to practice on, and another to use as a quiz and take for a grade.

Let students have fun while learning about map skills activities with this interactive unit! Topics include cardinal directions, grids, scale, types of maps, and latitude and longitude.

Watch a video of all the pages included in this product!

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Melissa Mazur

Melissa Mazur

My name is Melissa and I am an educator, blogger, and curriculum designer.
I’m here to help offer you teaching tips and low-prep resources to help take some of the burdens off you so you can do what you do best – teach!

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learning lab resources- about

Oh hey there!

My name is Melissa and I am an educator, blogger, and curriculum designer.
I’m here to help offer you teaching tips and low-prep resources to help take some of the burdens off you so you can do what you do best – teach!  

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