Map Basics

A map is like a bird's eye view of a place taken from directly above. Typically, it will show the roof tops rather than the walls and sides of buildings. The use of a bird's eye view makes it easier to get a quick overview of an area.

Most maps show physical features such as rivers, lakes, mountains etc. These maps are called physical maps. Maps can also represent man-made features such as towns, cities, roads, railways etc. Maps can also show counties and countries. These maps are called political maps. The boundaries these maps show do not actually exist on the landscape. For example, there is no actual line or boundary on the landscape dividing one county or country from another. Political maps continue to change and the political map of Europe has changed many times over the last 100 years.

All maps require certain basic items of information so that they can be read. These items include:

TITLE: Like any book, newspaper or film a map needs to have an accurate title. Titles might include "Political Map of Ireland" or "Physical Features of Ireland".

DIRECTION: In order to know which part of the map points north, the person drawing the map must show north on the map. Using this information, the person reading the map can then be sure that they are reading the map correctly. It also ensures that are not going south instead of north! Before drawing a map, first of all, you have to establish which way north is. The only real way to do this is by using a compass. Once you have established which way north is, it is easy to work out all of the other directions.

SCALE: Because a map is a representation, it needs a scale so that all the features can be shown accurately. For example, if a school building is 50 metres long and a nearby house is 10 metres long, the map must show the house to be one fifth of the length of the school if it is to be accurate. The person drawing the map must decide on a scale - e.g. every metre will be shown on the map as 1 cm. The bigger the scale the more detail can be shown on the map.

SYMBOLS: Map makers often use symbols on their maps. This makes it faster and easier for people to read maps. For example, the map maker might decide to use a particular symbol to indicate wet marshy ground or steep cliffs. Likewise, different lines and colours are used to show railway lines, primary and secondary roads. The use of different colours is also very effective for showing heights. In this way, someone reading a map can immediately see for themselves where the mountains are and also get an idea of their heights (See Maps Today for some examples).

To Do

1. Draw a simple map of your desk. Give it a title, scale etc. Show simple objects such as a copy and pencil case.

2. Now draw a more detailed map of your classroom. Establish a scale and draw items such as desks and the teacher's table using this scale. Remember to show features such as windows and doors also.

2. Print out a blank map of Ireland by visiting this website: