Picture Books and Activities for Teaching Map Skills

Teaching map skills is by far one of my favorite tasks as a first-grade teacher. In this magical unit, students will go beyond their current knowledge of the world around them. They'll discover the vast information waiting for them on a map and how to use it. Not only is this lesson fascinating, but it's really fun too! Come along to see how I approach teaching map skills with fun picture books and activities students love! 

Use these fun activities to teach your kiddos map skills along with some picture books they are sure to love.

Why Should We Teach Map Skills? 

Does anyone really use a map anymore? Surely you can just punch in the destination into your smartphone and listen as Siri directs you on where to turn, right? In this digital age, it's less common to see someone using a physical, paper map to navigate, I know, but I still think this is a VERY valuable lesson for our littles. 

Learning to use a map helps children understand how we chart the big, wide world. It opens the door to discovery as you explain how maps have been used historically and relate them back to how we use them today. I love using examples like explorers, pirates, and wild west wagon trips. Maps would have been crucial in these situations to ensure people ended up in the right place! 

Teaching map skills is an important skill for children to have as they begin to explore the world.

In today's world, maps are still important - though you might find them in digital formats more frequently. I chat with kiddos about how maps are used to show community layouts, park landscapes, and even amusement parks! Once students understand that learning how to read a map helps them find their way, they are always SUPER excited to learn more. 

Using Picture Books to Introduce Map Skills 

I am a big fan of using picture books in the primary classroom. Read-aloud time is a great opportunity to infuse some new concepts into your day and offer an illustration of them in action. When it comes to map skills, there are a few clear winners out there to facilitate a strong introduction. Here are 5 of my favorites! 

1. Me on the Map by Joan Sweeney

This book is great for your initial introduction since it helps students understand where they fit in the world. This story will ask students questions like: "Where are you?, Where is your room?, Where is your home?, and Where is your town?"

Use this picture book, Me on the Map as an introduction to your unit on teaching map skills this year.

As you can see, each question expands on itself, growing larger each time. This is an excellent way to illustrate to children the vastness of our world and how each little piece of it gets tucked inside another. I love using this as an example when we first dive into teaching map skills. It's helpful for students to understand that their room is in their house, which is in their neighborhood, which is in their town, which is in their state, which is in their country, and so forth. This is often an eye-opening concept for the kiddos that gets them excited to learn more about maps. 

2. Map My Neighborhood by Jennifer Boothroyd

This next picture book for teaching map skills focuses on neighborhoods in particular, which is a great beginning concept for teaching map skills. Over the years, I've found that students can very easily picture their neighborhood and practice mapping it along with this story. 

In this book, a young girl creates a map of her neighborhood to share with her grandmother who is visiting. She wants to make sure her grandma knows where everything is and decides that a map is the best way to do so. Students will love listening as she details a simple, step-by-step explanation of every feature of the neighborhood. 

Map My Neighborhood is a fantastic book to add to your classroom library as you are focusing on teaching map skills.

I especially love the child-like drawings in this one. Students will relate to it and visualize their own neighborhood. This book is the inspiration for one of our map activities.  This activity starts as a take-home project. Students are to create a map of their neighborhood.  I ask parents to help with this so that students have a fairly accurate map.  I encourage them to take a walk through the neighborhood or drive through it looking for key features to include on the map.  

3. Follow That Map: A First Book of Mapping Skills by Scot Richie

This next book is great as you begin to introduce mapping skills to your students. In this one, they'll learn about direction, map symbols, and how to read different types of maps. Not to mention, I know they will love the cute characters too! 

Red the book Follow That Map: A  First Book of Mapping Skills is a great book to read to your students as you begin your unit on teaching map skills.

In this story, five friends go on an adventure to find their missing pets, Ollie and Max. They use maps to find their way through their neighborhood, into the city, across the country, and eventually around the world! This book does an excellent job of illustrating different types of maps and how many different scenarios they can be used in. 

There are a lot of fun extras sprinkled into this book too! I know your students will love listening as the friends find time for treasure hunting, rides at Playland, and even a lesson on worldwide weather! 

4. The Boy Who Loved Maps by Kari Allen 

In this heartwarming storybook, students will listen in as a young boy shares his love for maps! He is a mapmaker who collects and studies maps. A girl asks the mapmaker to make a map of the "perfect place" and he is stumped! Does it exist? 

Your students will love reading The he Boy Who Loved Maps as they are focusing on their learning as you are teaching map skills this year.

Students will love listening in as they explore this concept together and finally come to the conclusion that HOME is the best place of all. After his discovery, he walks readers through how to make a map of their own home as well. This is a cute read that will go along nicely with your map skills lessons. 

5. There's a Map on My Lap! By Tish Rabe 

Last on my list of fun picture books to teach map skills is this cute, playful, rhyming storybook! This one will make your students laugh as they learn fun facts about mapmakers, geography, compasses, and more. This book is written with Dr. Seuss's style rhyming throughout and even features the Cat in the Hat! 

Include this Dr. Seuss book, There's a Map on My Lap! in your classroom library as you are teaching map skills to your students.

Inside, students will learn how to read longitude and latitude lines on a map, why a hiker uses a topographical map, why mapmakers use a scale and legends, and much more. This book also includes a useful index, glossary, and suggestions for continued learning. It's perfect for read-aloud time as you dive into teaching map skills. 

Activities for Teaching Map Skills

Aside from picture books, there are many other lessons that I use in my classroom to teach map skills. As I mentioned, this is one of my favorite units to cover every year, so I like to use lots of fun resources to support learning! Here's a breakdown of the activities that we use to cover this topic:

1. Map Skills Mini Booklet 

Mini-readers are a great place to start when it comes to teaching map skills in a fun and meaningful way. The book we use teaches all of the main points about different types of maps and what they are used for. it also includes important vocabulary words such as a compass rose, cardinal directions, and map key. 

This map skills booklet is a great whole class or individual activity for your students to complete as you are teaching map skills this year.

We cover this book as a whole group and then they color it in afterwards. We might also read it a second time on day two or in small groups as a reading activity. I have kiddos keep these in their desks while we work on our map unit to ensure they have a reference tool to use during our lessons. 

2. Map Practice Worksheets 

After our group introduction, we use printable worksheets to continue our practice with map skills. The unit we use includes 14 different printables that cover a variety of topics such as cardinal directions, using a compass rose, understanding map scale, using map keys, differences between globes and maps, and more!

Map practice worksheets like these are included in the teaching map skills resource and are easy for students to work on during centers or independent work time.

These worksheets help illustrate how maps are used and allow students a chance to practice some of the skills for themselves. I begin using these worksheets in small groups to help provide examples and assist students as they are just starting with map skills. After a while, my kiddos usually get the hang of these skills. At that point, these worksheets work well for independent practice!

3. Map Skills Writing Activities 

In addition to our practice pages, I also like to use graphic organizers and writing prompts to help students better understand what we're learning. We use the graphic organizers before the writing prompts to help brainstorm ideas and expand on thoughts. The graphic organizers we use cover facts about maps, how to describe maps, and things they can do for us.

Include these map writing pages in your teaching map skills activities.

These activities help inspire my students to do some creative writing afterward. Inside my map skills unit, there is some fun writing paper included for this purpose. You can either have your students get super creative with their own writing ideas or provide them with a prompt. I tend to use a mix of both throughout our work with this unit. 

4. 3D Town Map 

This next activity is probably everyone's favorite- and for good reason! Remember when you had students sketch out a map of their neighborhood after one of the read-alouds? This idea takes that a step further as students are invited to create a 3D map of their town! 

The idea behind this lesson is to help students grasp how much information a map can hold. There is SO much that a map can tell us, after all! In this activity, students will get to color pieces of a town including trees and buildings, and glue them down on their road. As they color and cut, they will fold their pieces in a way that creates a 3D effect on their paper. 

This 3D town map is the perfect hands on activity to include in your teaching map skills unit this year.

My kids LOVE this activity because it allows for so much creativity. They really enjoy choosing what to include, coloring it to suit their preferences, and arranging it in a way that they like. When everyone is finished, I let my kiddos tour the classroom to take a peek at their peers' maps. The students enjoy seeing how each person set up their map. 

5. Map Lapbook 

I love lapbooks because they create a visual record of everything we've worked on. They are the perfect way to review at the end of your map skills unit or to build as you are going through the unit. Kiddos love to share these with their families, and I love hearing them explain all about the map skills they learned. Plus, they allow for some intentional fine motor skills practice as student work carefully to cut, color, and attach pieces to their lapbook. 

Use a lapbook like this to bring all of the teaching map skills learning together in one easy to access resource.

In our map skills unit, students use lap books to review key vocabulary, explain how to use a compass rose, discuss differences between globes and maps, share how to use a map key, and more! They will also get to design their own map of the place of their choosing. They can do a classroom, a bedroom, a house, or a neighborhood. This is the perfect way to finish up a map skills unit and it serves as a fun keepsake if you're collecting work samples for parents. 

Make Teaching Map Skills Fun and Easy 

I hope these book ideas and resources help you plan your own fun and engaging map skills lessons! This really is such a fun topic to explore with young students. I know you'll enjoy working through these concepts with your students as well. 

Grab this map skills activity set to use as you are teaching map skills this year.

If you want to simplify your planning, don't forget you can find all of these resources and activities inside my Map Skills Unit! This done-for-you resource has everything you need to ensure your students learn all of the necessary map skills in a fun way! Plus, I know they will enjoy making their own 3D town and map lapbook too. 

Looking for More?

Once you've explored map skills with your students, try mixing it up by teaching Pirate Map Skills to review! This fun take on map skills is the perfect way to review everything you covered in your initial lessons at a later point in the year. 

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Looking for exciting and engaging activities to use as you are teaching map skills this year? These map skills activities include hands on activities, worksheets, 3D maps, and more sure to keep your students excited about learning everything there is to know about maps. #thechocolateteacher #picturebooksandactivitiesforteachingmapskills #teachingmapskills #picturebooksforteachingmapskills

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