Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Using Local Geography to Make Maps

Jerry Stephens
Walton County Schools


In small groups, students research, create, and present a scale representation of the county in which they live.


The student extends and refines knowledge of various map forms and other geographic representations (for map projections, Geographic Information Systems technologies).


-Informational resources about your county such as school zones, voting districts, population (by district), flood zones, etc... (may vary according to what is available in your county)
-Poster board
-Construction paper
-Any other materials you may wish to include (like paper mache, fabric, or other materials that may produce an interesting product)
-Large folders to contain/organize information


1. Gather as many useful resources from your county government as possible.
2. Visit your school and/or local library for additional resources.
3. Identify what information you have gathered and what types of maps could be constructed using this information (these will be the projects that you will assign to the groups).
4. Decide how you will divide your students into groups. You will want to consider discipline problems, conflicting attitudes, or other dynamics that you feel need to be factored into this process.
5. Reserve space in your school library, if applicable.
6. Create any checklists, rubrics, and handouts that you intend to use (see associated file for samples).


1. Introduce lesson by asking the class to give directions to different landmarks within your county (i.e. the mall, a historic landmark, or local park).

2. Explain that they are using their “mental maps” about the local area and that other types of maps or geographical representations can be used to both gather information and to develop more detailed mental maps.

3. Explain that they will be using information from a variety of geographic representations to create a scale map of the county.

4. Divide class into small groups (about 4-5 students per group). Each group should be responsible to create a different type of map (i.e. physical, political, population density, topographic, etc…). Pre-determine what each group will be doing, and organize their specific information in a folder just for that group. Also provide each group with a customized checklist identifying exactly what they need to do (see sample checklist, page 1 in associated file). Encourage creativity such as textures, symbols, photographs, and recycled items for added interest to the projects. To cut down on expenses you may have students decide what they will use and bring the items from home if this is possible in your setting.

5. Provide detailed, written instructions about the group activity including what products they are expected to create, where they can locate the information they need, when their project should be completed, how the projects will be graded, and behavior guidelines. All information should be tailored to what YOU expect from the groups. Provide information for the groups such as: maps of voting districts, school zones, census reports, topographic maps, and aerial photographs depending upon their assignments. Get as many items as you can.

6. Monitor the groups closely. Check the groups' projects to ensure that they understand the concepts being applied. Ask questions frequently and provide feedback so that they will know when they are on track. They will need suggestions, guidance, and support to keep them on task and making progress.

7. After group work is finished have each group present the project to the class. Ask the group how the project met the guidelines that were given at the start of the lesson. Allow the class to discuss each project. Ask how each representation helped them to build onto their existing “mental map” of the area. Be sure to praise the groups for their teamwork and creativity in completing their projects.


Group projects will be observed and assessed by use of a checklist incorporated with a project rubric (see associated file) and by recording feedback in the “Notes” section from a class discussion focused on each project.


The most obvious applications for mapmaking are in geography and history classes, however, students can make maps for virtually any subject. You could have students create a map following the journey of a character in a story for language arts. For math, students could create a map by placing landmarks or buildings at different coordinates. A science class may create a map to help visualize the distance traveled by a migrating animal or to illustrate locations where important scientific discoveries were made.

This lesson is already geared toward special learners, however, modifications might include: students working individually instead of in groups, paper mache for three dimensional effects, photographs from magazines pasted to indicate what is happening in a certain area, and more individual instruction while the rest of the class is busy.

Web Links

Web supplement for Using Local Geography to Make Maps
Maps and Globes

Web supplement for Using Local Geography to Make Maps
History of Mapmaking

Web supplement for Using Local Geography to Make Maps
Make a Topographic Map

Web supplement for Using Local Geography to Make Maps
Owl & Mouse Educational Software: U.S. and World Geography

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