Map-Making Basics

U.S. Geological Survey

Activity Source: 

U.S. Geological Survey, 2006. Adapted with permission.

Background

Maps are two-dimensional ways of representing information about the natural and built world from a "top-down" perspective. You are probably familiar with road maps that show where roads go and which roads intersect with others and where. You also may have seen weather maps, which show weather patterns across a specific geographic area, or political maps, which show where borders are for countries and areas within those countries.

Geologists use a variety of maps in their study of the Earth. One type is a geologic map, which contains information about the types and ages of rocks in an area. Another kind is a topographic map. This map shows the different elevations in a region. For any map to communicate information effectively, it needs to have several key features. This activity will help you to discover some of those features as you create your own map.

Materials

For a group of three to four:

  • Metric measuring tape
  • Large sheets of white drawing paper
  • Notebook to record measurements
  • Pencils and colored markers

Procedure

  1. Your group's job is to make a map of your classroom and its nonhuman contents as if you were looking down from high above. The map must fit on the piece of white paper your teacher has given you.
  2. Before you begin, talk over with your group what you will need to make the map. Think about these points:

    • Data. What measurements will you need to make to create your map? What other information about your classroom can you show on the map?
    • Scale. How will you translate your measurements into a map that will fit on your paper? How will people who see your map know how big your room really is?
    • Legend. How will you show the contents of the room on the map, as well as the doors and windows? If you use symbols, how will people know what they represent?
    • Labeling. How will people know what your map is supposed to be showing? How will they know who created the map and when?
  3. When you have answered the questions, compare your answers to those of another group. Make as complete a list of answers as possible from the ideas of both groups.
  4. When you're ready, make any measurements you need and record them in your notebook.
  5. Draw your map of the classroom and its contents, being sure to show your scale and the legend. Give your map a title, indicate the date, and put your group's names on the map.
  6. Post the maps up around the classroom. Go on a "gallery tour" of the maps, looking to see how other groups used scale, legends, and labels. From what you learned on the tour, how could you improve your own map? If you have time, draw a second map with any improvements.