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Food for Thought Lesson Plans

Foundational Skills

How to Read a Map

The Language of Maps - Reading a map is a lot like reading a book or an article: check out the title and the brief description that is sometimes on the cover. The title of a map gives away just what the map is about, and the brief description can be found in the legend. Go on to use the clues of the colors on the map, the scale, date, source, orientation or compass rose and the source of the map, to help you read the map just as you would use chapter titles, charts, graphs, and illustrations to find out the content of what you are reading in a book or story.

  1. Using wall maps, discuss the importance of the title on the maps.
    1. What is the map telling you? Why would you want to read this map?
  2. Find the legends on different maps.
    1. What is similar in all the legends? What are the differences?
    2. List the different types of information the different legends give you.
    3. Is there more information on the map than is listed in the legend? What is it?
    4. Could you understand the maps without the legend?
  3. Find the compass rose or orientation.
    1. Where do you usually find the north arrow? Why? Does it have to point to the top of the map? Why or why not? (Answer: it doesn't)
    2. What is the value of having an orientation on a map?
  4. Find the source or creator of the map.
    1. Does it matter who made the map? How might the author influence the information that is on the map?
  5. Find the date the map was produced or, on a historical map, the date the map refers to.
    1. Are maps always the same? How do they change over time?
    2. Considering the dates on a map, which map would we want to use to plan a trip this summer, to study changes in the population in an area, to understand the votes in a recent election?
  6. Find the scale on the map. Demonstrate to younger students what scale means.
    1. Use a ruler to determine the distances on the map between two points.
    2. What would happen to the map if the scale was larger? smaller?
  7. Using a world map, find the grid system that should show the longitude and latitude.
    1. How do we use this "square" overlay to find our way around the world?
    2. Are there grids on other maps? Why? (Answer: A grid system gives places addresses that are based on directions rather than relationship to other places, as in 45 degrees north by 90 degrees west.)
  8. Using a road map, point out that some maps have indexes.
    1. Define an index and find one in a reference book.
    2. What is the value of having an index on a map?
  9. Conclude by having the students find the following on different types of maps: title, orientation, author, date, legend, scale, grid, and index. In partners/pairs, they should explain what they read in their maps to other pairs. When students make any maps in the future or when maps are being read together in class, refer to this language of maps.
  1. Observation of conversation between pairs explaining maps.
  2. Reflections in which students define the terms in their own words or create a fictional map showing the different elements of maps.
Working with Reference and Thematic Maps

Students will encounter many different types of maps in their lifetimes. Clarifying the differences between reference and thematic maps and how they are used opens up the exploration of many topics and increases map literacy.

Reference Maps

The main purpose of a reference map is to show locations of many types of features (e.g. cities in relation to highways and rivers or campgrounds in relation to parks and highways). Reference maps often use conventional colors and symbols to represent a great variety of topics. Make several different types of maps available to the class during this lesson. These maps could include political maps of different places, road maps, physical maps that include political demarcations, etc.

  1. As a class, look over the wall maps and the legends on reference maps.
    1. What are some of the colors or symbols that are the same on these maps? What do these colors and symbols stand for? Together, list these characteristics and discuss why we usually use the same colors and symbols on maps.
  2. Working in pairs, provide the students with a variety of reference maps or use maps in the student atlases that are of different places. Pairs should create a list of the different features on their map, for example, roads, rivers, lakes, cities, towns, etc.
Thematic Maps

Unlike a reference map, a thematic map usually presents only one topic.

  1. Display one of the maps from Food for Thought. Do not show the map title or legend. Discuss what the map is trying to show and list the student guesses.
    1. Why are there different shades of one color? What does the darker color stand for?
    2. Give the students hints – tell them that this map shows an agricultural product, production plant, or other topic related to agriculture in Minnesota; continue their guessing.
    3. Show the map title and legend. Discuss the use of shading. (Example: This type of map is a choropleth map.)
    4. Decide together why a map of this type might be used. Who would use it and for what purpose? Does this map give as much information as a reference map? What other kinds of maps similar to this one might be important?
  2. Working in pairs, give a different thematic map to each pair in the classroom or refer to the student desk map. Students should make a list of five facts they have learned from the map. (Maps 1-24 are suggested)
  3. Use thematic maps to explore causation. Display the map of Minnesota Annual Frost Free Days (Map 37) and ask students how the information on this map might be related to the information on the maps they have. Students should add the comparisons to their list of facts.
  4. Optional: Repeat by using Landforms of Minnesota (Map 35), Minnesota Annual Precipitation (Map 36), Minnesota Native Vegetation (Map 34), and the Major Cities and Waterways (Map 40) to compare to the crop maps.
  1. List of five facts and comparison(s) to another map generated during the lesson.
  2. Quiz showing different maps and deciding if they are reference or thematic maps.
What's Where? Finding your way around a map

Where are we going? What will be there? What's that over there? Ever heard those questions before? This lesson uses the resources of Minnesota to help us find our way around a map.

Part 1
  1. Using a Five-State Region map, decide where we live and mark it. Find your own city or town. Label the surrounding states, using the positional words above as you mark them.
  2. Choose five students to be Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota. Have the class tell you how they should stand to show how they neighbor Minnesota. (Add the Canadian provinces, Lake Superior or other, further neighbors, if you wish).
  3. Display the second Five State Region map and explain that you have become confused as to whom our neighboring states are; could the students please explain what is where? Label this map according to what the students tell you.
  4. Repeat step two with other students to reinforce the learning. Label parts of the classroom showing where our neighboring states are located.
Part 2
  1. Explain that maps use other directional words and arrows to point the way. Have four students stand in front of the class. Arrange them in north, south, east, and west directions. Ask everyone to point or walk to the different directions in the classroom. Each student creates a sentence that uses one of the four words telling where something is in the room (i.e. the pencil sharpener is in the east).
  2. Give each student a 3" by 3" paper and instruct them to fold it in half. They should then fold it the other direction in half to create a perpendicular pair of lines. At the end of one line, have them write "N". Explain they have just labeled the line "N" for north. Label the opposite end of the same line "S" for south; continue by labeling the east and west ends of the other lines. (If you have a compass, this would be a time to show it.)
  3. In pairs, the students place their compass on the edge of the Five State Region map. Using the correct names of the states, have students explain using the cardinal directions how the states are related to each other. They may also write this in sentences.
Part 3
  1. Using the compass rose the students created in Part 2, have them apply that knowledge to the different thematic maps. With their compass roses in front of them, tell them that they are detectives using clues to find a place in Minnesota.
  2. Display Minnesota Native Vegetation (Map 34) and add a mark for your own community. Have the students find the same map on their placemats and follow along. Discuss what the legend tells us. Tell them that you are thinking of a place in Minnesota and have them ask you only yes or no questions to find it; the questions should use relative location words or the cardinal directions. (i.e. "Is it north of the deciduous forest? Is it next to a swamp?")
  3. Display Major Cities and Waterways (Map 40). Add a mark for your own community. Distribute a copy of the map to students and have them mark their community. Repeat the questioning, again reading the legend to understand the map.
  4. Repeat the questioning with another thematic map, again reading the legend to understand the map.
  5. You may want to have each student choose a thematic map and mark a place on their own map, asking their partner to find the place through questioning.
Part 4
  1. Distribute a copy of the Scavenger Hunt Clues to each student and a copy of the USA Scavenger map.
  2. Students will read the clues and find the locations on the corresponding U.S. Scavenger map.
  3. Students will use their knowledge of cardinal directions to help them find the various locations. Answer Key for Scavenger Hunt: 1 D, 2 A, 3 E, 4 B, 5 C
  4. To further extend this activity, use a blank USA map. Have students label locations on the map. Students will write clues using cardinal directions to locate the places they have labeled on the map. For third grade students incorporate intermediate directions. A variety of maps can be used with this activity (i.e. world, state, thematic).
Part 5
  1. Bring eight students to the front of the class. Arrange four of them as the cardinal directions. Then ask if the others stood between the first four, putting a student between north and east, what would be the names of the additional four students? (NE, SE, NW, SW) Repeat the activity of finding objects in the classroom, but use the additional direction terms.
  2. Draw or fold a new compass rose, adding northeast, southeast, northwest and southwest. Discuss why we want to have those new terms on a map.
  3. Apply these terms again to one of the maps.
  1. Lists or narratives using the cardinal directions to explain where things are in the class or where our neighbors are in the five-state region.
  2. Treasure hunts created by the students that use cardinal directions in the clues.
Map Literacy: Looking for the Big Picture

Most teachers would define literacy as a competency of understanding, conveying, and interpreting one's written and spoken language, but recently the definition has expanded. Literacy is now "the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts". Not only should we expect students to be literate with the written and spoken word, we should strive for spatial literacy as well. Geographers deal with the basic fundamental questions, "Who or what is where?" "Why are they there?" and "So what?" Comprehension of places and locations, seeing patterns of connections, and finding commonalities among them are the spatial literacy basics, just as comprehension of words and sentences, seeing word and language patterns or finding commonalities among words and literature are reading literacy basics.

In "How to Read a Map", teachers are encouraged to see that the skills needed to read and interpret books and articles closely parallel the skills needed to read and interpret maps.

Teachers should also see the parallels in literature genre to a genre of maps. Just as there are different forms of literature, there are different categories of maps – thematic maps, reference maps, physical maps, and topographical maps, to name a few. Primary teachers help students to look for certain patterns of letters or words, which expedite comprehension. Likewise, geographers look for basic patterns in maps. An important skill of a primary or intermediate teacher is to teach the "phonics" of maps, or more simply put, "What are some of the basic patterns in maps we should be aware of and look for?" Just as importantly, once a pattern is discerned, students should immediately look for things that don't fit the pattern.

Think of maps as "data pictures." By careful observations and asking good questions, students can accurately interpret what a place looks like and feels like just by studying a map, identifying patterns and looking for connections.

Looking for patterns
  1. Using the Minnesota Counties (named) (Map 41) have students look for patterns that seem to pop out at them. For instance, many of the counties have at least two or three straight sides and right angles. Several counties seem to have boundaries that align to create a long vertical or horizontal line through Minnesota, such as across southern Minnesota, or the north to south line through the Arrowhead portion of Minnesota. Note: When determining boundaries in the new territories, lines of latitude or longitude were often used for both states and counties within states.
  2. Are there counties that seem to have only one or two straight edges? (Answer: Scott, Nicollet, and Cook counties are examples) What might account for this? What other physical landforms might be used to create boundaries? (Answer: Rivers or other physical barriers created "natural" boundaries that are reflected in our political dissection of the earth's surface.)
  3. The Minnesota River and I-94 run parallel following the same angle across Minnesota. Minnesota has a straight line only for its southern border.
Comparing two maps for similarities and differences
  1. Use the two maps about Corn for Grain In Minnesota Counties 2012 (Map 3) and Corn for Grain in Minnesota Counties 2017 (Map 4). What looks the same? What differences do we see? Just as we encourage students to make connections to text from themselves or the world, encourage them to identify some connections that can be made to these maps based on what they know about new uses for corn.
  2. What predictions would they make about Corn for Grain in 2019?
  3. Use the two maps about Soybeans in Minnesota Counties 2012 (Map 5) and Soybeans in Minnesota Counties 2017 (Map 6) and repeat instructions from 1.
Patterns on isoline maps give clues about the map's theme or topic
  1. Compare the maps of Annual Precipitation (Map 36) and Frost Free Days (Map 37). Have students identify the predominant patterns of each map. (Answers: The precipitation map has long and generally vertical stripes that lighten from East to West. The Frost-Free Days map is divided more horizontally and lightens from South to North.) Help students make the general connection that temperatures decrease from the equator to the poles, and that precipitation follows wind and weather patterns that tend to move east and west.
  2. Next, compare altitude or topographic isoline maps and help students discover that the closer the lines of altitude the steeper the terrain. Temperature maps will also follow altitude – higher altitudes generally have lower temperatures, therefore accounting for those little circle anomalies.
Look for similar patterns between maps of different information:

Compare maps of corn and hogs, or hay and native vegetation, soybeans and frost-free days or precipitation. Are there some maps that seem to have similar pattern areas? (Answer: Crops such as soybeans and corn are heaviest in the prairie or flatter parts of the state, whereas hay and dairy production seem to follow the river valley and hilly terrain from southeastern Minnesota and along the I-94 corridor in central Minnesota.)

Using an atlas of the World or United States find and locate thematic maps:

Compare different maps to find overlapping or similar patterns and generalize about the connections. If possible, compare maps of the same topic from different time periods or several years apart to see changes over time.

  1. Students can look at untitled precipitation and temperature maps of Minnesota or the United States, identify them, and explain how they know.
  2. Students create a climate, altitude and/or precipitation map, and their map reflects the correct general patterns for each type of map. (Temperatures drop from equator to pole or as altitude increases.)
  3. Students can make and verbalize connections from mapped information to themselves, the world and/or other maps.