Maps are tools that people use to locate places, get to places and know about places. A map tells a story of what a place looks like and the types of existing natural and human features that give the place its special identity. It informs us about the relationships between the features and the influence they have on one another. Because of the range of maps available, we need to exercise care in choosing maps for fieldwork that are appropriate to our pupils’ age and map competencies. Although maps differ, all maps generally have the following elements: a plan view, a title, a legend or key, symbols, names of places, scale, north arrow and grid lines.
It is never too early to teach pupils map reading skills although one may question the need for teaching especially when pupils nowadays can use the Global Positioning System or GPS in their mobile phones to help them navigate from one place to another. The answer is that not all pupils have mobile phones and for those who have, they may not have subscribed to a mobile data plan which can access their GPS. And for those who do make use of their GPS for navigation, they need to first understand how to read their GPS maps to make sense of them. Furthermore, maps on paper will not disappear any sooner just because of GPS. They are still widely used in our daily lives in school and at work and home. Hence, map reading skills are fundamental life skills which pupils need to acquire. According to Wiegand (1993), pupils need to acquire the following knowledge or skills in map reading:
- Understand that maps are views from the above, that is, the plan view.
- Interpret symbols on maps and understand that the map information is selective, depending on the map purpose.
- Locate places using grid lines that are expressed as numbers or/and letters on maps.
- Tell directions using compass points.
- Interpret the relationships between features on the maps.
Map readings skills should be integrated into primary social studies lessons and fieldwork and be reinforced in other subjects whenever appropriate. Since the map reading skills are developmental, we need to revisit what our pupils have previously learnt about them and build upon their knowledge during teaching.
Wiegand, P. (1993). Children and primary geography. London: Cassell.
Map reading - PLAN VIEW
Maps give a bird’s eye view or a plan view of the features on the ground. The plan view of a map shows how the ground features look from above. Some strategies to teach plan view are as follow and they range from simple to difficult:
- Ask pupils to lay out their stationery on their desk tops and draw the views from above.
- Bring various objects such as a hat, an egg tray, a comb and a toy and ask pupils to draw the plan views.
- Design a worksheet that shows the plan views of certain objects and ask pupils what the objects are. Alternately, ask pupils to match the correct plan views with the pictures of objects.
- Ask pupils to draw the plan views of their bedrooms, classroom or part of the school ground. Pupils can base their drawings on actual photographs, their memory or bring pupils out of their classroom to do the activity in the school ground.
- Give pupils a map of the neighbourhood with certain places marked. Pupils can walk around the neighbourhood to locate places, take photographs and then stick them on the class notice-boards.
Map reading - LEGEND AND SYMBOLS
A legend or key explains the meaning of symbols that are used on a map. Symbols are signs on a map that represent the physical and human features on the Earth’s surface. Symbols can be pictorial or abstract which can take the form of linear, point or area symbols. Linear symbols represent line features such as a road or a river. Point symbols represent point like features such as a building or a bridge and area symbols represent features that occupy considerable spaces such as a lake or a padi cultivation area. Note that standard colours are used for map symbols: green for vegetation, blue for water bodies, brown for landforms and red or black for man-made features. Some strategies for teaching symbols are:
- Match the correct symbols with their meanings.
- Draw symbols for a list of features provided.
- Identify symbols provided.
- Give pupils a neighbourhood map and ask them to identify the marked features by making reference to the legend. Teacher can extend the activity by asking pupils to describe the functions of the features found in the neighbourhood or ask them to compare and contrast the different land uses as represented by the map symbols.
Map reading - LOCATION
All maps are marked by grid lines. These are vertical and horizontal lines that are used for locating places on maps. The grids can be marked using the alpha-numeric system such as those on a road map, the four or six-figure grid system on topographic maps or latitudes and longitudes on an atlas map or globe. For primary pupils, teach them place location using the alpha-numeric system as it is the easiest to learn. In the alpha-numeric system, the columns are usually marked by letters and the rows are marked by numbers. The columns are always read first, followed by the rows. One way to remember is ‘C’ comes before ‘R’. C stands for column and R stands for row. In the figure below, the coordinates of X are A2 and the coordinates for Y are C3.
Some of the strategies for teaching location are:
- Get pupils to draw a grid on the ground with numbers on one side (rows) and letters on another side (columns). One pupil can throw a stone towards the grid. The first person to shout out the correct coordinates where the stone lands, skips to the square to pick it up and hops back again. He will throw the stone and another pupil who gives the correct answer will repeat the whole process.
- In the classroom orienteering activity, stick 10 post-it labels with letters underneath the tables, cupboards, etc. Mark the locations of the labels on the classroom plan but number each location. Ask the first pair of pupils to use the plan to locate the labels and fill up the worksheet. Teacher may wish to time pupils with a stop watch. Ask each pair who has completed the orienteering course to set a new course for the next pair, putting the labels in different locations and making a new plan. The activity can be extended outside the classroom.
- Whenever places are mentioned or taught, teachers can point to their positions on the class wall maps or get pupils to mark the positions.
- Teachers can also encourage pupils to look up the locations of places that are mentioned in the newspaper articles.
Map reading - DIRECTION
The north arrow can be used to find the direction of one place from another on the map.
The north arrow tells us where the main or cardinal points are – north, south, west and east. These indicate general directions. For young pupils, start with the cardinal points first. An example of how to read direction using the cardinal points is shown in the diagram below. The black triangle is south of the pink square. The orange star is east of the pink square.
For older pupils, extend their understanding by using other compass points between the cardinal points - northeast, southeast, southwest and northwest. These compass points help to state the directions more precisely. An example of how to read directions using compass points is shown in the diagram below. The green circle is northwest of the red rectangle. The blue triangle is southeast of the red rectangle.
Some strategies for teaching directions are:
- Label the classroom walls North, South, East and West and get pupils to practise giving directions of features with the cardinal points.
- Get pupils to gather in pairs. A will mark any two places, X and Y on a map provided. B will then provide locations of X from Y and Y from X. A will check B’s answers. Reverse the roles. B will now mark two places on the map, P and Q, and A will provide the direction of P from Q and from Q to P. B will check A’s answers.
- Get pupils to indicate compass directions of places in the neighbourhood map.