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Classroom Material

Getting to Know Your City: An Introduction to Map Skills

Getting to Know Your City: An Introduction to Map Skills | Wisconsin Historical Society

Grade Level: Elementary

Duration: One class period

This unit for fourth grade students will introduce basic map skills using materials close at hand - the city map from the telephone book and current road maps of Wisconsin - to help students develop a basic orientation to map skills using their own community. A series of cooperative enrichment activities reinforces these skills.

Enlarge1854 Wisconsin state map.

Wisconsin Map, 1854

View the original source document: WHI 48499


Students will:

  • Become familiar with and able to read city and state maps
  • Plot a route on a state map
  • Use scale to determine locations one-half and one mile away from the school
  • Construct a map of their own

Resource Materials

  • An enlarged, simplified city map


  1. Enlarge and laminate a simplified city map (indicating main roads, lakes, rivers, etc.) and place it on the bulletin board.
  2. Students and teacher discuss the names of important places and write on map with non-permanent marker. The amount of detail varies with the level of interest shown by the students. The bulletin board map is truly a practice map for the following activities. When more familiar with the bulletin-board city map, students are asked to find a particular road or place on individual smaller-scale maps and then mark it with a specific color, (for example, draw a red line over Highway 22, color Pigeon Lake blue). Teacher follows example on bulletin-board version.
  3. Teacher introduces and discusses map symbols, then class creates a symbol key on the bulletin-board city map. Next, teacher distributes a city map with a list of ten specific places to each student. Students assign an appropriate symbol and color for each place (hospitals, stores, theaters, etc.) And draw and color it next to the name. They use the telephone book to look up the address of each place and record that information. Then they move to their maps to find that specific address and record the proper symbol at the appropriate sites.
  4. The "Where Am I?" session.
    After reviewing directions, teacher divides class into teams of 3 or 4 students. Each team comes up to the bulletin-board city map and teacher gives members a "Where am I?" question, (for example, starting at Longfellow Elementary, go north on S. Clinton Street, east on Highway 45 to the stop and go lights, and then turn north. "What highway are you on?") question, (for example, starting at Longfellow Elementary, go north on S. Clinton Street, east on Highway 45 to the stop and go lights, and then turn north. "What highway are you on ?") After all groups have had a turn, the teacher gives each group an activity sheet listing ten "Where and I?" questions along with a city map and list of symbols. Students work in teams and enter symbols on map to indicate their answers.
  5. The "Map Detectives" session.
    Each student writes his/her own "Where am I?" question and places it in a box. Each day the teacher pulls out a question, reads it aloud, and posts it on the bulletin board. Students each have a recording sheet on which to write their answers. At the end of each afternoon, students and teacher discuss the right answer and students, have the opportunity to self-correct their records.
  6. Creative Writing Enrichment session.
    As a group, class brainstorms different reasons for spending a day in town (shopping, walking to school and back home, playing at the park, etc.) Teacher lists the responses on the board as they are being given. Students select a situation from the board list to write a story about a hypothetical day in town. They need to incorporate a certain number of places in their story, for instance, five buildings and five streets.


  1. Scale of miles
    Teacher introduces this skill and students, practice with an activity sheet and a map of the city. Using the school as the starting point, students work with a partner to find places that are a half mile, one mile, and two miles away. They must do this activity as if they are driving a car through streets instead of as the crow flies. Then the class meets as a whole and compiles a master list of the places each pair found.
  2. What is a mile?
    Most fourth-grade students have little concept of how long a mile really is. For this activity, teacher and students select one of the one-mile sites from the master list and walk there as a group. If willing, the physical education teacher can add to this activity by taking the students on other half-mile and one-mile routes.
  3. A City of Your Own!
    Once students have a good idea of the kind of structures and parks in their own town, they create their own city maps for imaginary towns and include a symbol legend of their own.


This teacher-submitted, elementary-level lesson plan appeared in Badger History Bulletin. Please adapt it to fit your students' needs. Author: Linda Kirchner, 4th Grade, Longfellow Elementary, Clintonville