Lesson 2: Maps of All Kinds

Getting Started

A map can be a terrific tool for learning more about the physical environment, but only if it's the right kind of map for your needs. Just as you couldn't effectively use a wrench to try to drive in a nail, you can't use a political map to understand mountain elevations or a contour map to figure out population density. A map is a tool, but, like most tools, each map is designed to meet specific needs.

Stuff You Need

  • Geography of the World by DK Publishing
  • The Geography Book: Activities for Exploring, Mapping, and Enjoying Your World by Caroline Arnold
  • Camera
  • colored pencils or markers

Ideas to Think About

  • How can the physical environment be represented visually?
  • How might it be useful to have different ways of representing the physical environment?

Things to Know

  • Maps can represent the physical world in a variety of ways.
  • The key or legend of a map explains what the symbols, colors, and patterns on the map represent.
  • Maps contain specific kinds of information; when you need to know a particular kind of information, it is important that you consult the right kind of map!


  • Identify and use models and maps as ways of representing landforms. (SS)

Introducing the Lesson

In the last lesson, your child created globes and used an orange to figure out how to represent a round object on a flat surface. Explain to your child that in this lesson, he will be exploring more kinds of maps and their different uses. Ask what kinds of maps your family has used before. You may even ask your child to go on a map scavenger hunt and find a few examples of maps around the house (road maps, maps inside the telephone book, maps in an atlas or encyclopedia, maps in a history text, etc.).
Reading and Questions
Materials: Geography of the World by DK Publishing
Read pages 8-9 in Geography of the World, paying particular attention to the descriptions of the maps on page 9. You'll notice that the large maps for each location will often include both natural features like mountains and rivers and human-created features like national borders and major cities. The smaller locator map provides less detail but shows a particular country or region in the context of the countries surrounding it. Answer the following questions:
  1. Name at least three kinds of information that you can find in the map pages of this book.
    Your child might mention the location of specific places relative to one another, geographical features (mountains, rivers, lakes, deserts), the locations of cities and towns, the capital cities of various countries, borders, national flags, weather information, or other facts.
  2. When might you want to use the locator map?
    The locator map shows where a country is located relative to other countries on its continent. This map also allows the reader to see how near the country is to the equator, the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and the poles, allowing the reader to get a rough sense of the climate of the country. So the locator map could be used if you wanted to know where a country is located on its continent, where it is located relative to other nearby countries, or what its climate might be like. Your child may have other creative ideas for how this map might be useful as well.
  3. Can you think of any kinds of maps that you have used that are not like the maps on page 9? (Hint: You may have used one on a car trip or seen one on the TV news when you're checking the forecast.)
    Answers may vary, but your child might mention a road map, a weather map, a map of a nature trail or park, a map that they use in a game, or a map that might be found in a book they have read.