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October 27, 2014 Quick, Easy, and Multisensory Landform and Map Ideas By Brian Smith
Grades PreK–K, 1–2

    We all have lessons that get us excited. To be honest, I may have more than the average teacher, but one of my all-time favorite lessons is teaching maps, globes, and landforms. I was unaware that I loved this topic until my first year teaching, but as soon as I started planning those lessons way back when, I felt that tingle of excitement about getting up the next morning and getting the day started!

    At this point in my career, I start getting excited about this lesson a month or so before it’s even time to teach it! Finally, when I wake up on that Monday morning and it’s time to really dig down and teach my kids the standards that cover maps, globes, landforms, and our individual places in this world, I smile from ear to ear. I smile because I will get kids excited about the world and hopefully ignite a lifelong love of exploration and real-life experiences.

    We work on the globe as part of our Kindergarten Pen Pals’ Postcard Exchange. It gets my students interested in different parts of our country and the world, and exposes them to the globe in a slow and thoughtful way that makes it a year-long learning experience.

    Like so many of my other lessons, I start this educational journey with literature. My favorite books to start with are Hopper and Wilson by Maria van Lieshout and How to Lose a Lemur by Frann Preston-Gannon.

    Hopper and Wilson are looking for the edge of the world, so these two loving friends set out on a journey to find it. Every great book has its own voice that jumps out at you when you read it the first time. To me, this is one of those great “quiet” books that almost begs to be read in a whisper, as if you are sharing a special secret with your class. These books are few and far between. Karma Wilson’s bear series also falls into this category. Hopper and Wilson is a great book to bring three dimensional shapes into your conversations about globes versus maps.

    Hopper and Wilson CoverHow to Lose a Lemur Cover

    I just recently discovered How to Lose a Lemur and I have to say that Preston-Gannon does a great job of taking simple landforms and positional words, and creating a very engaging story. Reading this book makes me hope that one day, while eating an ice cream cone (a routine occurrence in my life), a lemur takes a fancy to me!

    There are other books out in the literature universe that may address maps more directly, but I love these because they still have a story arch.

    LandformasaurusThere is an activity that is all over Pinterest called Landform Dinosaur and I love it. I modify the activity to cover my grade level’s landform vocabulary and the students take to it every year. The ability for teachers to differentiate this activity is a beautiful thing. I also appreciate how it brings in coloring for the younger grades. Giving students time to color seems like a frivolous activity in this age of accountability, but coloring really works on fine motor skills that transfer to handwriting. Check out more information about this by reading "Causes and Treatment of Poor Fine Motor Skills." I use a larger version of my “Landform-asaurus” as my anchor chart. 

    Another way to get my students to learn their landforms is by teaching them a song. I searched and searched for a song that taught what I needed to teach and couldn’t find one, so I made one up! When I create something I try to make it as multi-sensory as possible so my song also has hand motions.


    Landform Song Lyrics

    Use this printout of my Landform Song to sing along and have fun.


    Southpark Mall MapWhen we begin talking about maps, I pull real maps covering places that my students may know. I have maps of our mall, local museums, and a few amusement parks. I have the students create groups, reminding them to make good kindergarten choices, and then pass out maps for them to share. After all the groups have their maps and have taken a moment to look over it, I begin asking questions about location. “Who can find the Great American Cookies?” “Is Bath & Body Works on the same floor as The Children’s Place?” Displaying a copy of the selected map on your document camera really helps students who are beginning readers understand what they are looking for. Students can develop map skills before they can read if we guide and support them appropriately.

    After exposure to the maps, the next step is to have the students go on a treasure hunt of the school using a school map. I use our school's evacuation map and make copies to share with the students. Obviously, if you teach these skills later in the year, the students will know their way around the school so you can label each room with a letter or number and tell the class that they have to go from room X to room R. Make sure that your destinations are rooms that your students can congregate in and discuss their next destination. Rooms like cafeterias, media centers, book rooms, and computer labs are great locations to have the students find.

    To assess my students' map skills, I have them draw their own maps of our classroom. I do not hold them to drawing the room to scale but I look for locations of different classroom landmarks (my guided reading table, our dance floor, etc.) in their maps to determine their understanding of direction.

    I know there are a thousand ideas out there to teach these skills and you have to be selective with the activities that will get your students to master the desired objectives. I hope you will take a quick minute to share what books and ideas you have used to teach early map and landform skills.

    Let’s connect on Twitter and Pinterest.

    I can’t wait to see you next week.


    Join us for an exclusive video with Taylor Swift about books, and how reading and writing have influenced her.


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