Directions for Using Maps
Finding a Map
There are far more maps available in paper than online. If an online map is not available, it is a good idea to look for a paper map as an alternative. Teachers may wish to consider the following:
- Start with an atlas. An atlas is a book of maps and may contain other related information. Visit the school or local public library to examine atlases and other tools in their map collection.
- Browse the school media center or library shelves. Books about a place will often include maps of that place.
- The school media center or local library might be able to obtain a particular map from another library through Inter-Library Loan. Ask a reference librarian.
- Try a large university's library. Many universities have extensive map collections. Be sure to speak with the map librarian to help locate the map.
- The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy provides some maps online as well as maps that may be purchased. (See Resources for Teaching Maps.)
- State highway welcome centers and visitor centers in cities and towns often distribute free maps of the area.
- Book stores can also order a wide variety of maps from different publishers
Reading a Map
To be able to use maps, it is essential to know how to read them. The language of a map is really quite simple. A good map will include instructions. Some tips about map reading are listed below:
- Following is a list of map terms and explanations. Students should become familiar with common map features by finding these parts of a map:
- Map title. This heading indicates what the map has to offer.
- Map symbols. These representations may stand for people-made features (such as a triangle for a rest area or a circled "H" for a hospital). Often the symbols will look like what they represent (such as the outline of an airplane to show where the airport is located, a tipi for a First American reservation, or a mortarboard cap for a college or university). Colors, lettering, and lines are other common map symbols. Natural features are sometimes indicated by color. For example, water is typically represented using the color blue, and green sometimes indicates a protected forest or a scenic stretch of road.
- Map key (or map legend). The meanings for the symbols are usually shown in a box called the map key, or map legend. The symbols and other information in the key may help in understanding the map. Since not all map symbols are the same, it is important to check the key on each map.
- Distance scale. This scale can be used to measure the distance between two points.
- Compass rose. This drawing shows N, S, E, W. The four main directions (north, south, east, and west) are called cardinal directions.
- One of the most basic uses of maps is to help one find specific places. All location is relative. All directions begin with a starting point. Everything else is described as being a certain distance and direction from that point. Teachers might have students find the location of the school on the map and determine the distance from the school to the place where the watershed drains (for example, the Chesapeake Bay).
- To find the distance between two cities on a map with a graphic scale, students may mark the distance between the two on a piece of paper or a ruler, then place the paper or the ruler along the graphic scale and read the distance. To measure distance along waterways or other curved places, students may use a piece of string to follow the contour of the waterway. They would measure the length of the string and compare it to the scale to determine the distance. Students may enjoy determining the distance a drop of water would travel to get from the school to where the watershed drains.