Hands-on and Feet-on Geography with Giant Maps


The best way to engage students is to personally involve them. And to get them up and moving. And to create a memorable experience. And to give them time for hands-on exploration. Giant maps combine all these elements to promote geographic education!

National Geographic offers giant maps of states, continents, and the world. Schools can borrow many maps through local Geographic Alliances. We’ve been lucky to host the Giant Map of Colorado for two years in a row at my school.

The first time we unfurled the 14’x21’ map, K-12 teachers signed up for 15-minute time slots to bring their classes. There was a trunk full of materials and lesson plans for all levels and standards. My first grade class began by locating our school and city. We found national parks and other places students visit in the mountains. Then, we read the map key and played Simon Says to practice cardinal directions.

More recently, we laid the giant map out in our gym for an after school family event. I placed a cone on the school’s location, and then invited parents and children to go wherever their socked feet would take them. The unstructured nature invited students to wonder through running and crawling. I learned where grandparents lived, recent family vacation destinations, and favorite ski towns. Kids straddled the Continental Divide, hopped over to one of our seven neighboring states, and flexed their reading skills. By counting out paces to get to the farthest corners of our sprawling state, students gained a sense of scale.

Besides buying or borrowing a giant map, there are many opportunities for large-scale, feet-on lessons across disciplines. What better way to authentically involve students than to let them use their bodies as the materials? I’ve made ten frames on a shower curtain with duct tape and drawn out a circuit on butcher paper. Take your class outside with some sidewalk chalk - the possibilities are endless. Let your students jump into learning in a truly memorable way!