Maps in the Classroom

Using Maps in the English Classroom

I’ve been interested in maps ever since I was a kid and got my little hands on my first atlas. The colorful shapes on each page showed far-away places with strange names I couldn’t pronounce. Living in a small town in Manitoba, Canada, these were places I knew I would probably never visit. It just wasn’t in the script written for me.

Maybe because of that, I found something a bit forbidden about all of them. A taste of the exotic that prompted me to learn more. I eventually grew up and went off the script. I went to those places with strange names and I now live in one. I’m not saying that maps held the power to change my life but they definitely made me more aware of life outside of my tiny snowy town. They were a concrete representation of the potential lives I could lead. Would I be a totally different person if I had moved to Korea or China instead of Japan? Would I be married and have a son like I now? Or would I have come home disenchanted after a year or two of living there?  “Behold, our hero returns…a little sadder but a little wiser.”  Who knows? Gaze at a map long enough and these kinds of thoughts come to you sooner or later.

It’s for this reason that I have recently tried to use maps in my classroom.  Not only can you teach about the English names of countries, but I firmly believe that the right activities can get students more interested in studying a foreign language.  So far, I’ve noticed that my students seem to really enjoy spending time with them.


Activity 1: Travel Risk

Print out a blank map of the world and put the students into groups of 4. Have the students work together to find the location of 12 countries you have chosen. They can use their smartphones or a PC for research.  After they find all the countries, the students draw the locations of each country on the map. Each student then puts a playing piece on one of the countries they marked on the map (any country is okay). The teacher asks the class a multiple choice question about each of the countries (capitals, population, language, a popular food). After the teacher asks a question, each of the students in the group writes down their answer. The teacher reveals the answer. The students reveal their answers to each other.  Students who got  the correct answer can move their playing piece to another country on the map. Students who got the answer wrong cannot move their playing piece. Once a student’s playing piece leaves a country, the student can write his/her name inside of it on the map.  After asking all the questions, have students check the map. The student whose playing piece has “visited” the most countries wins the game. Skills: Listening

Activity 2: Tour Guide

Students look at a tourists map of a certain location. This map of Victoria is a good example. Provide the students with a few photographs of locations on the map (or ask them to find photos on their smartphones or PCs if it is feasible).  Have the students work in pairs to create a mini tour of an area or street on the map. Students should look carefully at the photos and the map to think about what their tour group is going to see and how to describe it.  They should use street names and directions (“across the street”, left, right, etc.) They can also use the photographs to come up with adjectives to help describe certain locations on the map. If you really want to go all the way, have the students lead a “virtual tour” of the area on the map by taking other students along and pointing left and right as they walk around.  If you have access to a PC, I recommend using Google Earth and Street View to really make this activity shine! Skills: Speaking

Activity 3: Map Scramble

Give your students a map and then give them an envelope with small pieces of paper upon which you have written several factual statements about certain locations on the map. The students must then match the locations on the map with the facts (glue them or tape them to the map). Students can use their smartphones for research if you will allow this. If not, try to use a country with which they are familiar (you can even use their own country). Make sure to give the students some blank strips of paper where they can write their own facts about locations on the map. They can then share this with other students. Skills: Reading

There are countless other activities you can use with maps. They can become a regular part of your classroom. They are also great for one-offs or time fillers. If you’re looking for some other great EFL map activities, check out busyteacher’s suggestions here.