Making a Map From Our Own Model Islands

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SWBAT develop a map to show the kinds of land and water in an area.

Big Idea

We've created models of our own islands. Now what do we do with them? We can use them to make maps of the area, just like scientists do.

Teacher Notes

Activity Description

The children have the opportunity to become cartographers in this lesson!  They will use their very own landform model that they built in a previous lesson to create their map.  Their map will depict at least 7 different types of water and landforms.  Their map will have a map key and a compass rose on it as well.

NGSS/Common Core Connections

In the NGSS, one of the performance expectations is for the children to develop a model to represent the shapes and kinds of land and bodies of water in an area.  In the science practices, the children also must develop and use models.  This lesson will help them understand that process.


making a map from our model worksheet--1 per student

models of islands-- created in this lesson

crayons or colored pencils and scissors

Literature Connections

Me on the Map by Joan Sweeney

Maps and Globes by Knowlton


10 minutes

I try to get the children interested in the lesson by explaining a real-world job.  Whenever I bring a real-life topic into the classroom, the children respond favorably and their interest level rises and their learning accelerates!

Today you are going to be a cartographer!  A cartographer is a person who studies and makes maps.  Cartography combines science, art and technology.  We are going to be mapmakers today.  We are going to take our landform models that we made and make them into a map. I bet you already know a lot about maps.  I would like you to turn and talk to your partner and discuss what you know about maps.

By talking over ideas with peers, it helps them learn from each other.  What one student knows might fill in the gap of another.  Even a knowledgeable student can benefit by having a conversation about a topic we are about to study.  It helps bring the ideas to the forefront and prepares them for the lesson.

During this time, I also walk around and listen to their conversations.  It helps me assess what they already know about maps and what they might need to learn.  Many of them will remember our discussions about maps in the classroom and some can relate their own experiences that they have had with maps.


10 minutes

I give the children their landform models that they have previously built.  I also pull up this map on the Smartboard.

Using your landform model as a guide, you are going to be making your very own map of your island.  Remember how I showed you a map of the United States yesterday that had a box with symbols in it?  You are going to be creating a map with symbols on it that looks very similar. 

We are going to take a look at the interactive map, then I will show you how to create one similiar to it and then you will use your model to create your very own map.

I like letting the children know up front what we will be accomplishing in this lesson.  It helps them to understand the purpose and guides them to a more clear understanding.  Also, relating a past common experience to our new learning is beneficial.

Let's take a look at this map.   This shows you the plains are designated by being green.  So we know when we see green on this map there are plains.  The Great Plains have yellow with diamonds on it.  Who can point to where you see plains?  What color are the highlands?  How do I know that there are mountains?  (They have upside down V's and the color purple).  Using upside-down V's is a common symbol for mountains.  When you make your map, you might want to consider using upside-down V's for mountains.  

Having them practice locating and connecting symbols from the map key to the actual map helps them understand the idea that there is a one-to-one correspondence.  They need to understand that maps show information about where things, such as bodies of water and types of landforms,  are located.

To make this map key, I first need to start by looking at the landform names on my yellow flags. I need to write those landform names on my map key in the larger space.  Then I need to think of an appropriate symbol to represent each of those landform names and draw it in the smaller space.  

By having the children focus on writing only the names that are on their flags keeps them organized.  It is a natural tendency for the children to start to create a map with every landform that we have studied.  So by doing this it helps them represent only what they have on their map.

Let's say I have a volcano on my landform model and have written this on my map key.  Maybe I want the symbol for volcano to be an orange triangle.  Next to it I would draw a picture of a triangle and then color it orange.  

I continue to model until my I have finished modeling each of the landforms on my island.  Then for the next part I used one of the student's model for my example.  

Next I want to show how my landform model island looks by creating the rest of the map.  My map needs to look the same as my model.  So I am going to begin by drawing a shape that looks like the shape of my model.

I demonstrate this on the board so they get the idea that I am trying to portray.  

Then I need to use the same symbols that are on my map key to draw the landforms on my map.  I need to look carefully so I draw them in about the same place on my map as to where they are actually located.  This is important since I want my map to represent my model.  It needs to look that same since maps show exactly where things are located.  

If I have 5 mountains on my landform model, how many mountain symbols should I draw on my map? Why?

I demonstrate by drawing the rest of the symbols on the map.

Then I pull up a Map of Faber Island sample so they can see how it should look.

This is my example. Notice that I do not have the word mountains written on my actual map.  I have shown what symbol stands for a mountain in the map key instead. The symbols that you are putting on your map are used in place of the words. The map key is the key that tells us what each symbol stands for.

I always show a sample of the finished product.  It helps the children get a vision of the task before them.  It also helps them to understand the directions more clearly.

Creating the Maps

30 minutes

Next the children get to try their hand at making their own map.  I review the basics of what they are to accomplish.

Now it's your turn to make a map.  

I give the students each a making a map from our model worksheet and a page with the map key and compass rose on it. 

The first thing you will need to do in this process is to name your island. Since this is your creation, you have the power to name your island whatever you wish.  You could name it after what it resembles, after yourself or maybe what it reminds you of.  When you are naming your island you will be using a proper noun.  What do you know about proper nouns?  The beginning of each letter of each word needs to be a capital letter.   At the top of this recording page it says "The map of...."  In that space you will be writing the name for your island.  Each word should start with a capital letter.

We have been studying about proper nouns in ELA, so this is a great tie-in.  In this way, they can see an authentic way to use proper nouns. 

Who remembers what the next step is? (writing down the landform names from the yellow flags).  You will need to write small and neat. Then you will need to draw the symbols that you want to use to represent them.  Just like how we used upside-down triangles for the mountains.  You may also add color to represent the landforms.  For example, I colored the square blue for the ocean.

 I give the children about 5 minutes to make the map key.  I start the process of map making with creating a map key since I think it keeps them focused on what I want them to do.  Also, I can give directions for making the map key to the entire class and everyone is able to finish it within about the same amount of time.  In this way I can give directions for the next step to the entire class, since they will all be ready about the same time. 

Now you are ready to begin to create the rest of your map.  First you need to draw your island's shape.  This outline should look like the shape of your island.  If you model island is shaped like a boot, then you should draw a boot shape on your paper.  Make sure your island is facing the same direction as your paper.  Draw your island as large as you can on the paper.  You will be putting a lot of symbols on it and you want it to be large enough to do it.

Beginning with the outline of their island is a natural place to start since it gives them a form and keeps things organized.

Look at your model to see where your landform is located on your island.  Then look at your map key to see how you need to represent it.  Then draw your symbols on your island in the same way that you showed on your map key in the correct location.  Continue on until you have represented each of your landforms.  

Finally you can color your island map.  I would suggest you start with the water forms.  Color you ocean, lake(s) and rivers.  Then you can move on to your landforms.  Then you may color the remainder of your island green.

It is important to make sure the children see the correspondence with the map key symbols, their models and the map.  This all helps with the children understanding the idea that maps show where things are located.  Also, that we can map the shapes and kinds of land and water in any area.

 When you are done you may cut your map key and your compass rose out.  Then find a good spot on your map for them and glue them down.

I have the map key and compass rose on a separate sheet for a purpose.  I could have arranged them on the same worksheet as the island itself, but I wanted the children to have the flexibility to place those items where it fits the best without covering anything up.  Also, I wanted the children to clearly understand that these are important parts any map.  Creating them separately, cutting them out and gluing them down gives them ownership in the process and also makes it stand out better in their mind.





5 minutes

To end this session, we discuss what we have learned.  Since the maps are visual representations, the best way to share is to hang them up for others to view.

I use this grading sheet to evaluate their maps.  Since our report cards use a system of 1-3, I use that same system for this project.  I write each of the students' names on the sheet and then evaluate their map with a simple 1,2 or 3 in each of the appropriate boxes.   For the total column, I find the mode of their numbers and write it in that box.  However, you can adjust and use this grading sheet to fit your needs.