Tuesday, September 24, 2013

World Mapping--and a little art and measurement along the way!

My first "content" unit of the year every year is mapping, and every year I start with a quick review of the continents and oceans.  Students are supposed to come in with this knowledge, but as you know--sometimes it takes many repetitions before some things stick!  Because of this, I like to do a number of review activities with my students--but try to throw some new learning in along the way to make sure that they are always moving forward with their understanding of the world they live in.

The first step is to collect a little baseline "data"--in other words . . . I ask them to draw a world map from memory.  This always draws moans and groans, but I reassure them that it isn't graded, isn't being put in a museum, and isn't being shown to anyone--it's just for me to see what they remember!  It would be mean of me to put them on here wouldn't it?  After I promised them no one would see them?  Let's just say . . .

I don't feel bad about doing a thorough review.  At.  All.

So . . . this brings me to one of my favorite projects of the school year--one where they not only review their world geography but can refine their listening, direction following, and ruler skills!  

Here's how we start.  I pull down our world map and we talk about what we know about the continents (I stress that there are SEVEN) and oceans (that there are FIVE).  We look at how the oceans all connect to make a giant body of water that covers a huge amount of our planet.  We then start talking about what we know about life by the poles and by the equator, and I point out the "special lines" on a map.  We find the Equator and Prime Meridian first and talk about the idea of "hemispheres" and the different ways to divide the Earth.

I start by marking the lines on the Smartboard

and had the students use their rulers to do the same on paper.  We talked about finding the halfway point, making marks on each side of the paper, and dividing their pages on the Prime Meridian and the Equator.  This sounds so easy.  False.

After that, we study the world map and talk about what they know about the Arctic and Antarctic Circles and what life is like on that part of the planet.  I sit back and wait for the Santa question--this year it does not come.  

I then show them how to use their rulers (only if they have the "skinny" regular rulers...the wider bendy, trendy, and wider ones don't work) to line their ruler up at the top and bottom of the page to draw in those lines.

Finally, we look at the tropic lines and talk about how life between the tropics and the Equator is very different than life at the poles and how the "temperate climates" in the middle part of the northern and hemispheres have a unique climate as well.  To draw the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, we simply put our ruler up against the Equator and draw one ruler width above and one ruler width below.  No measuring needed.

Once we have our world "grid" set up . . . It's time to put the project away until the next day. This was plenty of learning to get started!

On our second day of our project, we pulled down the world map and get out the atlases and spend some time looking at the sizes and shapes of the different continents. We look at which ones cross the equator and which ones come close to the Arctic and Antarctic circles.  We start by trying to draw Africa as it crosses the prime meridian, the equator and several other lines. Once we practice finding where it should go and how it should look, I send the kids off to work on drawing the continents.  It is so much fun to watch them helping each other and coaching each other and looking at the variety of maps to get things just right.

After this, we had a discussion about political versus physical maps and looked at some examples of each. I gave the students the choice of making a political map or a physical map and they labeled their continents and oceans (we talked about capital letters, neatness, and writing straight across just like a real map--no bendy, sloppy writing) and then colored with crayons.

Finally, the "water" itself!  Students painted their oceans with watered down tempera paint to create their oceans.

We are just finishing them up so we can display them above our lockers!  

Not bad!  I love to hang nameplates that say "Cartographer ____" to reinforce that term!

Hope you get some ideas for your own classroom!

UPDATE:  This lesson is now available in my TpT store with directions, photos, maps, assessment ideas, and a number of additional ready-to-use mapping activities--enough for 3 or 4 days.  Here's the link if you are interested!  Click here


  1. I'm glad I'm not the only fourth grade teacher who wants to facepalm when having students measure to a midpoint or divide a paper into equal sections

    1. Yeah...it's tricky for them--especially at the beginning of the year!

  2. I love it!! MIght have to give this a go next year!! Thanks for sharing
    The E-Z Class

    1. Hope it works for you! It's a favorite--and the kids are SO proud of their maps!