Lesson 1: Introduction to Maps


Inquiry and Design, Earth Sciences

Standard Statements:

3.1.4C; 3.2.4A; 3.5.4A,B,D

Content Objectives

For this activity, students will:

  1. Identify different types of maps and their uses.
  2. Interpret various maps.

Assessment Strategies:

Each student will complete “Read That Map” worksheet requiring interpretation of the maps including an explanation of their reasoning. Use “Cool Things To Look For” as an extension.


This activity is to provide the students with a “hands-on” investigation of maps and the important information provided by different types of maps.  Following a group introduction, the students will work in cooperative groups to compare the information provided by maps and recognize the differences in the information.  This activity is an introduction for a more in-depth evaluation.

1.  The teacher should create a vocabulary chart for the students to be used during the group instruction. The following words are suggested (For more information about the terms used in the Land Cover (LC) map, see the description of the LC map in the background information):

  •   Commercial – land used for business
  •   Cultivated – land prepared for raising crops
  •   Deciduous – trees that lose their leaves
  •   Herbaceous – having to do with plants
  •   Industrial – buildings and areas that produce goods
  •   Residential – having to do with where people live (homes, apartments, etc.)

Suggested Level:

Grades 4-6

Standards Category:

  • Science and Technology 


  • Digitally Shaded-Relief Map of Pennsylvania (one per group) (DSR map)- available from DCNR
  • Land Cover Maps (one per group) (LC maps) -available from DCNR
  • Oil and Gas Fields of Pennsylvania (PaGS Map 10)
  • Sample maps of Pennsylvania (example: physiographic provinces, coal availability, weather, geological, road) (optional)
  • “Read That Map” worksheet one per student

Instructional Strategies:

  • Whole class
  • Cooperative groups

If the teacher plans to use more formal, cooperative groups, the following jobs are suggested for each student:

  •   Recorder – writes down ideas, needs to be able to write quickly and accurately.
  •   Noise Monitor – reminds group to use “inside” voices
  •   Leader – makes sure each person has a turn
  •   Timer – keeps group on task/on time
  •   Reporter – reports to large group the results of their investigation.

Whole Class Instruction

2. Show the sample maps one at a time.  Elicit from the students:

a.  What is the map used for?
b.  How does the map give you information?
c.  Discuss the key/legend

  •   Example for the teacher:  Show students the “Oil and Gas Fields of Pennsylvania” (PaGS Map 10). 
  •   What is the map used for?  To show where in Pennsylvania you can find oil and gas fields.
  •   How does this map give you information? Color is used to show where the different resources are found.
  •   Discuss the key/legend:  In the “Explanation” at the bottom of the sheet there are squares of color labeled: shallow oil field, shallow gas field, deep gas field, gas storage area. 

3.   Introduce the Digital Shaded-Relief Map of Pennsylvania (DSR map). Explain the “shaded” concept.  Explain how the DSR map was made. (See background information.)

      Elicit from the students:

a. What is the map used for?
b. How does the map give you information?
c.  Where is the legend and how does it give you information?

5.   Introduce the Land Cover Map of Pennsylvania (LC map). Elicit from the students:

a. What is the map used for?
b. How does the map give you information?
c. Where is the legend and how does it give you information?

6.   Explain how the LC map was made (See background information.)

7.   Discuss the vocabulary chart and the cooperative group jobs. Divide the students into small groups.  Groups may be selected by teacher or students. 

Group Work

8.   After the students have assembled in their groups, have them look at the LC map. This map needs more explanation because the legend is very complicated. Lines and names of counties are difficult to find.

a.  Make sure students understand the three components of the legend: outline map, colored square, description.

-  Look at the small Pennsylvania outline maps on the legend  – Explain the black on the outline map is where we find that color/category on the large map (explains land cover)
-  Find some examples of the different colors/categories of land cover on the large map.
-  Description – review vocabulary list and point out the new words in the descriptions.

b.  Make sure EVERYONE can find the county lines and names!

c.  To test the students’ understanding of the map information, have them find their county on this map.

9. When the LC map seems to be clear, each group will complete the following assignments:

a.  Take three minutes to write down things you notice about the DSR map.  SHARE these with small group members. 

b.  Take three minutes to write down things you notice about the LC map.  SHARE these with small group members.

c.  Using the cardinal directions, in the small groups decide which part of the state is the lowest in elevation.  Which map did you use for that information? (Answer: southeast; DSR map)

d.  What colors show CULTIVATED land? Which map did you use to find that information? (Answer: yellow; LC map)

Independent Work

Students should complete the “Read That Map” worksheet independently.

This activity can be extended with “Cool Things to Look For” worksheet. Additional needed materials (per group) for the “Cool Things to Look For” activity include: Overlays (clear plastic large enough to cover the entire map, such as sheets of lamination), wipe off markers, Pennsylvania Transportation Maps

Whole Class Review: 

-   Have the group leaders share some of the observations of each map.

-   What are these maps used for and what information do they give us?

Student Worksheet:

Name _________________________________


You may work in your groups, but each individual is responsible for his or her answers.


1.Use the map key and circle the color(s) that stands for where people live:





2.Put your finger on a large area of red. Name a county or a large city in this red area.


3.Name a county that has lots of cultivated land.


     Why did you choose this county?


4.Name a county that has lots of forest.


     Why did you choose this county?



5.Using the cardinal directions, tell where you found the lowest parts of our state.


BONUS: Write your own question for each map!


Student Worksheet  

Name ___________________________________


A. In the northwest part of Pennsylvania, there is a lot of land used for agriculture. I know this because the key tells me the yellow color means cultivated.  This agricultural land is not in low valleys or plains as the cultivated land in the south central Pennsylvania.  Look at the relief map and tell me what is true about this area that makes it good for farming. (Check your glossary for the name of this physical feature.)   This land is __________________________________.

B. In McKean County (between 79o and 78o longitude, on the northern border of Pennsylvania), right under the “CK” in the word “MCKEAN”, there is a small cross in red.

The red stands for: ______________________________.
Remember that the satellite can pick up areas of paving.
Mark this area on the overlay.
Move the overlay to the relief map.  What physical feature do you find there? ____________________________________
Move the overlay to the transportation map. 
What do you think the satellite saw at this spot? ____________________

C. Using the transportation map, trace the PA turnpike, RT 76.

Move the overlay to the LAND COVER MAP.  You can see the turnpike on this map as a thin red line (see transportation on the key).  Since the transportation map is slightly smaller than the Land Cover map, REDRAW the turnpike, using the first line you drew as a guide to find the turnpike on the Land Cover map.

Move the overlay to the relief map.  Notice how the road follows rivers and goes through mountain passes. For instance:  Just east of 40o latitude and 76o longitude, there is a long ridge (running from SW to NE).  Notice how the turnpike finds the only pass and zips right through it.

Circle 3 places that you can see where the turnpike uses a river valley, a plain or plateau, or a mountain pass to avoid going over mountains.  Be ready to explain the choices to the group.

(JUST A NOTE:  Much of the turnpike was built on a railroad right of way.  Actually the railroad did all the clever planning and the turnpike just used their trail!)