You Might As Well Face It You’re Addicted To Maps – GA Conference 2016 Workshop

ScreenHunter_02 Feb. 18 17.49On Saturday April 9th, I ran a workshop at the 2016 GA Conference titled: “You Might As Well Face It, You’re Addicted to Maps”. This session was part of the ‘Student and NQT Pathway’ – aimed at providing NQTs, or others at an early stage in their careers, with a toolkit for teaching quality geography.

The purpose of the workshop was to bombard the audience with a number of different ideas for integrating maps into their teaching. I have my own teaching style, so always point out that the content of my workshops are rather like marmite – some will like them, but others will decide they are not for them. However, by providing a wide range of ideas and activities, I always hope that the people who have given up time to listen to me go away with something they can use themselves.

Link to workshop Powerpoint:

With only a 50 minute slot to work with, I deliberately avoided any lengthy theoretical discussion. I talked briefly about ‘place’ as a key concept, and strongly made the point that all ideas offered need to be given context in a sequence of lessons if they are to have any value. I offered these wise words from Margaret Roberts to back up this point:

“I think that what is studied in geography lessons should be location and places within a wider context. Places, regions, countries and continents do not exist in isolation but are inter-connected; the location of what is studied in relation to other places is significant”

After examining some examples of shockingly awful general world knowledge through a few ‘You Tube’ clips, we got on with the business of sharing ideas about the use of maps.

Picture1The workshop-style at GA conferences tries to incorporate a number of hands-on experiences, so we started with my favourite map exercise – maps from memory, inspired by the work of David Leat in his ‘Thinking Through Geography’ publications. I like to use this technique at the beginning of a unit of work, for example when studying the BRIC countries.



Picture2There was also time to construct some maps on the floor using masking tape – with the suggestion made to ‘map bomb’ the school by producing these in corridor spaces. There is a need here to speak nicely to cleaning staff and caretakers, but I was always surprised by the way students respected these maps – walking around them rather than over them, and replacing any tape that had become unattached. A subliminal love of maps developing here, perhaps? In a longer session, we could have moved on to make desktop maps from crisps, digestive biscuits, M&Ms, strawberry laces, wool and string – but had to make do with some photos from the Powerpoint.


There was time to try a ‘messy maps’ exercise where students draw a real-time map from a story read to them by the teacher – the example used was set in the context of a unit of work on rain forest settlements.

Messy Maps Story

Picture4After looking at a number of different examples of world maps, we examined globe representations, and how simple world maps can be drawn on oranges or inflated balloons. We then moved closer to home and looked at ways to draw maps of the UK – starting with the ‘Witch holding the pig’ that became popular in late 19th Century satirical maps, and moving on to constructing triangle maps, using an idea borrowed from the great David Rogers Esq.


Picture8I only had time for a passing mention of some web resources that can be used in the classroom, and set the audience some homework to check out my list of ‘top thirty’ map-themed web sites which is included below. Many of these have obvious applications within lessons, but some of them like the tracking maps for social media, shipping and animals need the application of a creative brain to make a contribution to student learning. Any new ideas would be gratefully received!

Top Thirty Map Themed Web Sites

Picture6As time quickly ran out, I added more to the homework by highlighting some other key web-based resources for further investigation. I urged new teachers to consider investing in subscriptions to two fantastic products. Firstly, ‘Digimap’, which at around £120 a year (the price of half a dozen textbooks) is tremendous value for money. I found this invaluable in my teaching, and discovered that once the students are familiar with its platform (so simple and intuitive they will pick it up instantly), they will find all sorts of uses for it in their work – not just in the geography classroom. I particularly valued the contribution it made to field studies within all age groups.

Picture9Secondly, I urged the audience to investigate the potential from Esri’s Arc GIS package. A free trail is available, and after that, subscription comes in at only around a hundred pounds. I am still exploring the many possibilities of this software, and have become hooked on the ‘story maps’ function as a way of combining images and text with place maps.

There just wasn’t time to consider some ideas for teaching OS map skills – but perhaps I can return to this in a later blog.

I hope that some (if not all) of the ideas were of use to my patient audience, and perhaps also to readers who did not make the workshop. I look forward to hearing feedback from any ideas used back in classrooms, and would welcome any new activities involving the use of maps in geography teaching.

So little time – so much to cover ……..




About devongeography

Head of Geography and Assistant Vice Principal at South Molton Community College, North Devon. Exeter Chiefs supporter!
This entry was posted in Curriculum, Fieldwork, General Geo, Maps, School, Teachers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to You Might As Well Face It You’re Addicted To Maps – GA Conference 2016 Workshop

  1. Stephen Schwab. says:

    Great share! Thanks,maptastico.

  2. Emma says:

    Well, I’m by no means an NQT, but I really enjoyed your workshop – thanks, lots of ideas to borrow! One of my best map finds is – outline maps of anywhere and everywhere with a choice of blank, labelled, cities, rivers marked etc. all available as picture or pdf files for FREE! Super useful for lessons in geography.

    • Kind words – much appreciated. I am glad you found some things useful, do let me know how they go in the classroom! Thanks for the weblink – I am on to it right away!

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