Maps have been used for many purposes, not the least of which is marking the location of "buried treasure."Use map-making and map-following skills to help the entire class finds its reward.

  1. Depending on the age of students, either the teacher or teams of 3-4 students should draw a map of the classroom. Inside a square or rectangle representing the walls of the classroom, depict the teacher's desk, student desks or tables, windows, exits, and any other landmarks (such as computer, blackboards, Fluffy's cage).
  2. Use a compass to locate North, South, East, and West corners or walls of the classroom. Put a compass rose on the map and pieces of paper with symbols for N, S, E, and W on the walls of the classroom.
  3. Ask the teams to quietly decide where they would hide their treasure (a bag of candy bars or a healthy alternative). Don't let the teams hear each other. Mark the treasure's location on their map. Team A marks its bag and map with an "A," and so on, so that searchers will know if they've found the right treasure.
  4. While the other students wait outside the room, have each team hide treasure somewhere in the classroom.
  5. Have the teams exchange maps. Tell them they may only take the "treasure" that is depicted on their map.
  6. Send them on a search. No one eats until all "treasures" have been found.
  7. When they return to their seats, discuss how accurate the maps were and how well students could follow them. What landmarks or reference points helped them to find the treasure? What kinds of information would have been helpful to include? Would knowing the distances between objects have been helpful? Would a legend explaining what symbols meant have helped?
  8. Discuss the fact that if you were a navigator aboard a ship or an airplane in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean it would be hard to tell where you were simply by looking around you, or even by looking at a map, since there would be no landmarks for reference. Global Positioning Systems enable travelers to plot their precise location so they can figure out what direction and distance they must go to reach their destination.
  9. To make this activity more challenging for older students, tape strings across the classroom floor in a grid pattern to represent lines of latitude and longitude.

For example, there could be ten lines running north to south to represent longitude (O in middle of room to represent the prime meridian at Greenwich, England, with other lines running in tens of degrees east and west from that line), and ten lines strung east to west to represent latitude (O in middle of room, running in tens of degrees north and south of the "Equator"). If the classroom has a tile floor, the tiles can be used to create the lines of longitude and latitude. Students then mark the degrees of latitude and longitude where their treasure is hidden on their map.

Where am I?

Locate your town on a globe or map of the world. Then find its latitude and longitude. Follow its latitude line around the world to see what other countries are on the same parallel of latitude. Discuss why, although these countries are an equal distance from the Equator, their climate might be different from your region's. One reason may be the ocean currents that warm or cool their region. We will explore those in a later activity.

Close up and far away

Make a "worm's-eye" view drawing of what you can see of the schoolgrounds while lying on the ground. Make another drawing (map) from the second floor of the school building or from some other high vantage point.

Literary links

Ancient sailors, away from home for months and years at a time, far from the safety of land, often saw (or thought they saw) creatures unknown to landlubbers. Sailors invented sea monsters, mermaids, and other mythical creatures to explain these sightings. Some of these sea monsters were actually whales, giant squid, seals, or basking sharks. Mermaids were probably manatees, which often sit straight up in the water nursing their babies. Read about these animals and describe what sailors were actually seeing.

Refer to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne, and other fictional tales to learn what earlier generations believed about sea monsters.

Write your own sea stories.

Make up or find fanciful maps of fictional places described in books, such as Peter Pan, Winnie-the-Pooh, and The Wizard of Oz. Use these to form ideas to create your own maps of fictional places.

Trace the routes of Phileas Fogg and Passepartout in Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, of Ishmael and Captain Ahab in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, or the shipwrecked hero of Daniel Defoe's The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.

Famous names in map making

Research why these names are important in the annals of map making. When and where did they live and what were their contributions to our knowledge about the earth?

Famous Name Era/Country Accomplishment
Eratosthenes of Greece c. 276-195 BC, Greece accurately calculated the Earth's circumference.
Hipparchus of Nicaea c. 190-120 BC, Greece astronomer, developed system of latitude and longitude.
Strabo c. 63 BC-21 AD, Greece wrote one of the earliest books on geography.
Ptolemy c. 100-170 AD wrote Geography, which included map projections and coordinates of the known world.
Christopher Columbus 1451-1506, Italy explorer who discovered the West Indies as he tried to sail to the Orient in 1492.
John Cabot 1451-1498, born Giovanni Caboto, and became a navigator in the service of Henry VII of England; his explorations established English claims to North America; landed in North America in 1497, probably Newfoundland; he may have sailed as far south as Maine.
Ferdinand Magellan c. 1480-1521, Portugal leader of the first expedition to circumnavigate the world; killed in a fight with the natives on Mactan Island in the Philippines before the end of the voyage.
Gerardus Mercator 1512-1594, Netherlands founded a mapmaking house and established the Mercator projection which used straight lines to indicate latitude and longitude.
Abraham Ortelius 1527-1598, Belgium published first modern atlas in 1570, geographer to King Philip II of Spain.
Lewis and Clark US army officers who traveled about 8,000 miles exploring the western United States from St. Louis, MO, to the Pacific coast between 1804 and 1806.

Inventions that revolutionized map making

Research these inventions and suggest how they aided map making:

  • telescope
  • pendulum clock
  • bubble level
  • aneroid barometer
  • theodolite
  • chromalithography
  • aerial balloon
  • satellite imagery
  • DeLorme MapKit

Find the date each was invented and make a timeline.


  • compass
  • grid paper
  • pencils
  • enough candy bars (or oranges, bags of popcorn) for the whole class