1. Map your family!
Locate on the map (e.g. with stickers or thumbtacks) the country or countries from which your family immigrated to the United States.Then, explore your country(ies) of origin by:
A) Using National Geographic’s “Travel and Cultures” portal and national tourism board websites. Have younger kids research general encyclopedic information like total population, total land area, major cities, major geographic features and natural resources. Have older kids research more specific topics such as economic indicators (e.g gross domestic product), dominant cultural groups, and demographic trends (e.g. changes in population size over time).
B) Looking through family records, if available. Encourage older kids to conduct a more extensive genealogical investigation using resources like www.familysearch.org/ and the Library of Congress.
C) Conducting informal interviews of older relatives who may have emigrated from other countries (parents, grandparents, etc.).
D) Discussing and participating in family cultural traditions. Cook an ethnic meal together, plan a holiday celebration, or play a traditional sport or game.
2. 20 Questions
Play 20 questions with your world map. One person thinks of a location, e.g. city, country, landform, etc. and others ask “yes or no” questions–no more than 20–to guess what it is. Encourage kids to practice using directional and other geography terms (e.g. “Is it north of____? ” “Is it close to___?” “Is it a body of water?”)
3. Name Game
Take turns naming a world location for each letter of the alphabet–and point to it on the map. You can do this for varying scales and types of features: e.g. cities, countries, rivers, mountains, etc. Keep going until you get stuck; then reach for an almanac.
4. Map your community
Look at a variety of maps of different scales on National Geographic’s Maps website and the University of Texas, Austin, Perry Castañeda Map library. Then, create a map of your neighborhood with a title, legend (key), scale bar, compass rose, and other appropriate map conventions. Decide what type of information to include on your map (e.g. houses, businesses, streets, bodies of water, trees, elevation, land cover types) and what details to leave out.
5. Talk About Maps
Help younger students learn how to read a map. Explain that the compass rose identifies the directions of North, South, East, and West, and talk about local places that are north, south, east and west of your home town (e.g. Maine is north of Massachusetts; Buffalo is west of Boston.) Then, help kids understand the concept of geographic scale by pointing out the scale bar on the map. Explain that one centimeter on the printable wall map represents 500 miles in the real world, and use a metric ruler to find places that are 1000 miles from your location on the map. Compare the scale of the wall map to scales of other maps you might have in at atlas or globe. Look at the legend to talk about what information is shown on the map (e.g. political boundaries, physical feature such as mountains and rivers) and what information has been left off of the map (e.g. small cities, information about animal inhabitants).
6. Map Animals and Environments
Most kids are familiar with maps that show political boundaries and major physical features such as mountains and rivers, but many are less familiar with maps that show different environments or biomes. Take a close look at the My Wonderful physical map of the world. Have kids identify different types of environments like deserts, rainforests, and tundra, and talk about how these environments are related to geography (e.g. tropical rainforests occur close to the equator, tundra is found near the poles).
To take the activity one step further, have kids pick their favorite animals to place on the map; they can draw by hand or represent with symbols or stickers. Add an animal icon to each world region or biome where the animal is found–you may have to use an encyclopedia!
7. Map Toot & Puddle
Use your world map while playing the National Geographic kids’ game Toot and Puddle Tour the World. First, kids choose their favorite sports, activities, and foods; then they travel all over world to explore where they come from. Along the way, children will learn how to say “hello” in multiple foreign languages, and they can print out postcards from each location visited.
Extend the learning with your world map by placing the printed postcards around the border and drawing lines from the postcards to corresponding countries–or use thumbtacks and string.
Alternatively, print two copies of each postcard. Save one to pin up on a wall or bulletin board. With the other copy, help kids cut out the food, music, and activity symbols. Use tape or glue to stick the symbols on their appropriate countries on the map. With older children, make it more challenging by playing a game of memory. Lay the world map on the floor and mix up the food, music, and activity symbols. Have kids pick up a symbol at random, identify it, and place it on the correct country.
8. Locate Earth’s Physical Extremes
Maps4Kids provides a series of “top 10” lists about the Earth. Have students use the lists to locate some of the world’s physical extremes on a map (e.g. largest mountains, rivers, lakes, and country areas.) An atlas could also be used for this activity, and also to identify examples beyond just the top 10 (this may be especially appropriate for expanding the study of mountains, for example, since the top 10 are located in a geographically limited area of Asia).
9. Locate Earth’s Political Extremes
Maps4Kids provides a series of “top 10” lists about the Earth. Have students use the lists to locate some of the world’s political extremes on a map (e.g. most populous countries and cities, most widely spoken languages). An atlas could also be used for this activity, and also to identify examples beyond just the top 10.
10. Seven Wonders
Use the lists at Maps4Kids to have students locate and research the history of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Students can also locate and research the history of the Seven “new” Wonders, voted on by over 100 million citizens around the world. What makes these places so special and unique? What do they have in common, and how are they different? Check out the New 7 Wonders website for a description of the contest and the wonders.
11. Top 10 lists
Have students use other available resources to research and compile their own “top 10 lists” and locate them on the map. Be creative! For example: 10 tallest man-made structures, 10 most-traversed roadways, 10 most popular tourist destinations, 10 coldest cities, 10 most land-locked cities.
12. Map evolution
Discuss maps as a source of information that changes through time. Look at old maps of the world and new maps on National Geographic’s Maps website, and discuss changes in the maps. Change can be political, e.g. moving boundaries and changing names. Maps can also change through exploration: More detail is shown in areas as we know more about them. Check out your town website or take a visit to the library to investigate the evolution of maps of your community, which show a finer scale of detail. Can you see changes in the numbers and locations of houses and businesses over the last century? Can you see changes in the surrounding environment (land cover and land use)?
Got more ideas of things to do with the My Wonderful World wall map?
Send your wall map activity suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll post our favorites on the My Wonderful World blog!
Photos by Chris Johns (Japanese food), Michael Nichols (elephants), Barry Bishop (Everest), Bates Littlehales (Machu Picchu), and Gerard van Schagen (world map).