Map Skills Thematic Unit Plan for First Grade

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The theme of this unit is map skills. This series of lessons will address cardinal directions, how to use different features of maps, and show students how to make their own maps. The following comprehensive unit includes objectives, instructional steps, activities, and assessments. You only need to prepare the materials.

Use these five engaging lessons to teach your first graders everything they need to know about maps.

Cardinal Directions

Time: 30 minutes

Objectives

Following this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Identify the cardinal directions.
  • Explain how directions are used.

Materials

  • Blank KWL chart
  • Real examples of maps
  • Compass and compass rose
  • Globe (optional)
  • North, South, East, and West cards placed on the correct walls (keep these up for the entire unit!)
  • Student journals

Key Terms

  • Cardinal directions
  • Compass

Lesson Introduction

Ask students what they know about maps including how they are used, where they might be found, and what they have on them. Call students up to write their answers to these on a KWL chart as well as fill in what they do not know and what they want to know. Then, show students several real examples of maps.

Instruction

  1. Explain that you will be starting a unit on maps. "We will start by talking about cardinal directions. This is the name for the group of directions that include north, south, east, and west." Show students a compass (use a document camera if you have one).
    1. Have a student come up and point out where north, south, east, and west are on the compass rose. Introduce this tool as a compass. Note that the directions are often abbreviated. Show a compass rose and explain that this is what a compass looks like on paper.
  2. "Can anyone think of why we might need these four directions?" Explain that they help people to know where they are in the world.
    1. "They can be used to help anyone know where they are going no matter where they are. Directions help us get anywhere we need to go."
    2. "Even sailors in the middle of the ocean can find their way using directions. Turn and tell your neighbor another type of person that might need to use directions," (e.g. truck drivers, parents, pilots).
  3. "Compasses always point north toward the 'top' of the world." If using a globe, show students the top of the world. "They use magnets in the Earth to tell which way is north. When you know where North is, you can always find the other directions."
  4. Pair students up.

Activity

  1. Point out the cardinal directions around the room. Ask students to use their bodies to point toward each one as you say it.
  2. Explain to students that they will take turns directing their partner toward an object around the room using cardinal directions. Parter 1 will be whichever student's name comes first alphabetically. Partner 1 needs to select an object without telling their partner what it is.
    1. Tell students that they should choose objects that are against the four walls (intercardinal directions will not be addressed in this unit).
  3. Students should direct their partners toward their chosen objects using step numbers and directions. Example: "Take four small steps east."
    1. Do this until both students reach the object, then switch.
    2. Have students spin around a few times before starting so they're not just walking in a straight line.
  4. Allow approximately 10 minutes for this activity, five minutes per student.

Differentiation

Have students tell their partners the object they chose and work together to create directions to reach it.

Assessment

Have students sit at their desks. Instruct them to each label the cardinal directions around the outside of their paper (in their journals) then draw an object that is north of their position.

Mapping a Route

Time: 25 minutes

Objectives

Following this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Use cardinal directions to map a route from one place to another.

Materials

  • A very basic map of your school with cardinal directions, your class, the cafeteria, and specials classes labeled for each student
  • Colored pencils or crayons
  • Printed maps from your school to a nearby local landmark such as a park or grocery store for each student—circle school and landmark

Key Terms

  • Map

Lesson Introduction

Have students play "Simon Says" using cardinal directions (e.g. "Simon says to take three steps west.") to refresh their memory.

Take your class on a short trip through the school. Point out all specials classes and the cafeteria.

Instruction

  1. "Does anyone remember what we learned in our last lesson about how cardinal directions can be used?"
    1. Answer: "Directions help us get anywhere we need to go." Have students repeat this to the person next to them and tell a time they or someone they know used directions to get where they needed to go.
  2. Define a map as a drawing of an area that shows where important things are. "The area a map shows can be very large like the Earth or small like our classroom." Ask students for examples of maps in their lives.
  3. To the tune of "Bingo": A map will show us where to go if we follow its directions. North, south, east, and west. North, south, east, and west. North, south, east, and west—these are cardinal directions."

Activity

  1. Pass out coloring utensils. Students will need a different color for every special plus one for the cafeteria.
  2. Have students come up and help you map the routes to each special and the cafeteria.

Differentiation

To make the following assessment more accessible, ask students to use arrows of a certain color for each cardinal direction to show direction on the map instead of letters.

Assessment

Pass out the map you have printed from the school to a local landmark. Have students first draw a compass rose somewhere on the map then draw the route from the school to the landmark. Students should label each turn with its direction (e.g. An "E" when traveling east). This can be completed as homework or in-class practice.

Map Keys

Time: 30-40 minutes

Objectives

Following this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Explain the purpose of a map key.

Materials

  • Franklin Is Lost by Paulette Bourgeois—digital version available to borrow through Internet Archive Digital Library (create a free account to use)
  • A roughly drawn sketch of your school playground with nothing labeled
  • Example of a map with a map key
  • Student journals

Key Terms

  • Map key

Lesson Introduction

Read Franklin Is Lost before starting this lesson, perhaps as a Morning Meeting activity.

Instruction

  1. Discuss why Franklin got lost while playing hide-and-seek. "What have we been learning about that would've helped Franklin find his way? Do you think that we could make a map for Franklin so that he doesn't get lost again?"
  2. Explain to students that maps are useful for finding which way to go but it isn't always easy to tell what images on a map are supposed to represent. Show students your unlabeled sketch of the playground.
    1. "What could I add to this map to make it easier to understand?" Explain that a map key, which uses symbols and colors to tell what a place or object is, would help.
  3. Show students a map with a key and demonstrate how to use it.
  4. Sing the map song from "Mapping a Route" lesson.

Activity

  1. Draw a map of the classroom while students watch. Label the door, whiteboard, your desk, etc. on a map key. Use colors and symbols.
  2. Work with students to identify important objects and places that Franklin encountered in the book.
    1. "Turn and tell the person next to you one important place or object Franklin saw."
    2. "What place should we label extra clearly for Franklin?" Students should say the woods because he was specifically told not to go there.
  3. As a class, draw a map for Franklin that only includes the path from Franklin's house to Bear's house. Do not draw a key.
  4. Have students work with a partner to make their own maps for Franklin that include Franklin's house, Bear's house, the woods, the bridge, and the berry patch—with a path going through each of them—in their journals (they may discuss with partners but must produce their own maps).
    1. Tell them to clearly label each place or object in a map key (e.g. Use a small tree symbol to represent the forest).
    2. They can use your already-started map for reference and duplicate what you've done.

Assessment

Have students add one more feature to their maps and label it in their map keys. This can be another character, object, or place that was mentioned such as Bear, the water under the bridge, or the logs and bushes in the woods.

Making Map Books

Time: Two 30-minute periods

Objectives

Following this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Teach others about map skills.

Materials

  • Several sheets of blank paper for each student
  • Several examples of real maps (can be the same ones students already saw in first lesson)
  • Coloring utensils
  • Checklists for books with sentence stems (see details in Lesson Introduction)
  • A completed book example
  • Rubric for Assessment

Key Terms

  • Map skills

Lesson Introduction

Look through map examples with your students. Call a few up to identify important features. Explain to students that they now have great map skills because they know what goes in maps and how to read them. Map skills make it possible to use maps.

Decide beforehand (this is what you will include on checklists):

  • How much writing vs. drawing/diagramming you want to require of your students.
  • What features students must include in their map books (options might be an explanation of cardinal directions, what a compass is and what it does, how to plan a route using a map, how to use a map key, etc.).
    • Note: You will need to prepare sentence stems for these that students will complete and write in their books. E.g. "The four cardinal directions are _____."
  • How many pages will be in the books.
  • How much time students will have to complete these.

Instruction

  1. Ask students why maps are so important. "Maps use directions to help us get anywhere we need to go. What would it be like trying to get around without maps?"
    1. "What would it be like to not know how to use maps or not have map skills? Turn and tell the person next to you why it would be difficult to not have map skills."
  2. Tell students that they will be making books to teach others map skills.

Activity

  1. Provide each student with a checklist that tells what they will need to include in their book (these are the features you will be checking for when assessing their work).
  2. Show students your completed example. Demonstrate how to use the checklist to make sure all important parts are included.
  3. Allow students as much time as you have scheduled for this activity.

Differentiation

Provide additional graphic organizers for planning the books. Give some students options for what to put in the blanks you have provided. For example, "The four cardinal directions are _____ North/South/East/West or Up/Down/Left/Right."

Assessment

Use a rubric to assess student work. Check whether they have included every important feature and for the accuracy/delivery of each.

Treasure Hunt

Time: 25 minutes

Objectives

Following this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Effectively use a map.

Materials

  • Five "treasure boxes" or items for students to find
  • Five maps, one for each treasure box, with all map features students have learned (cardinal directions, compass rose, map key, etc.)
    • Copy these so that each student has their own

Lesson Introduction

Hide the treasure in the classroom while the students are gone, as spread out as possible.

Review the map song with students and remind them what they have learned in each lesson so far. Tell students that they are going to put all of their map skills to the test. Divide them into five groups.

Instruction and Activity

  1. Explain to students that you have hidden treasure around the room and the only way to find it is to use everything they know about maps.
  2. Give each student their own map. There should be five separate maps but group members must have the same one.
  3. Give students approximately 15 minutes to work together to find their treasure.
  4. Once every group has found their treasure, gather the class to talk about the activity on the carpet. Add to the KWL chart you started in the first lesson and allow a few students to show the class their map skills books.

Differentiation

Provide students with step-by-step directions for locating the treasure in addition to the maps. These should be straightforward and visual.

Assessment

Have students write a sentence or two explaining how they used the map to find the treasure in their journals. What was the first thing they did? What map feature was most helpful?