Lesson 7: Reshaping the Nation

Grades 9–12

Strand: Map Literacy

Skills and Objectives

  • bullet Learn how to read and use a cartogram
  • bullet Explore new ways to represent data

Materials: Reshaping the Nation Student Worksheet 7

Time Required: One 40-minute class period

    Getting Started

  1. Inform students that they will now be learning about a particular type of map called a cartogram. Remind them that a conventional map has fixed boundaries, like the border of the United States. Explain that a cartogram changes shape according to the data that it includes.
  2. Provide students with the following example: A cartogram representing the U.S. population would show populous states as very large and low-population states as small, regardless of land area. This means that on the cartogram, Connecticut would be seven times larger than Wyoming, even though Wyoming has 20 times more land than Connecticut! Point out that the population cartogram is not showing the exact numerical data, but instead is representing states’ populations in relation to other states’ populations.
  3. Ask the class to consider why cartograms might be useful tools. Guide them in the discussion by pointing out that cartograms represent information in creative and efficient forms. Cartograms break some rules of fixed boundaries but are able to visually communicate information in new ways.
  4. Ask the class how the cartogram described in the Connecticut/Wyoming example communicates population numbers better than a conventional map. (Possible answers: The data are represented by the size of the state rather than by a number on a map; it is easier to compare state sizes.) Ask how that cartogram might be useful to a presidential candidate or government official who is in charge of distributing social services. (Possible answers: A presidential candidate wants to win the most populous states and needs to use resources most efficiently; a government official needs to know where the most people live in order to serve them.)
  5. Using Student Worksheet 7

  6. Distribute copies of Reshaping the Nation Student Worksheet 7. Have students study the cartogram on the worksheet.
  7. Guide students in completing the questions. Allow students to look closely at the wall map in order to make comparisons.
  8. Wrap-up

  9. Review students’ answers to questions on the worksheet as a class.
  10. Lead a class discussion about how the cartogram compares to the median income map on the classroom poster.

    Answers to Student Worksheet 7

  1. Massachusetts
  2. Answers will vary.
  3. The positions of the states are maintained, while the shapes, boundaries, and land areas are not.
  4. Clusters of high-income states; regional differences in income.