Thematic Map Basics

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11096

"Map, schmap; I'll just tell my GPS where I want to go." But can the GPS tell you the population of Mongolia or the income of your county? Learn about the world from the fun world of thematic maps!



learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

  • Based on your favorite sport, in which country should you live?

Check out this MAP: The most popular sport in every country, from VOX, to find out.

  • Do you know how "happy" your state is compared to the other 50 states?

Look at where your state stands in this Well-Being Index by State, 2014 map created by Gallup.

Not all maps are fun.

Some of them are just useful for travel. However, by learning a few simple guidelines, you can unlock the immense amount of information stored in thematic maps.

In this digital age, you might think you don't really need to read maps any more because you have GPS. Indeed, GPS is a very useful tool; you can just type in an address and it takes you where you want to be. No more need for scribbling down directions or stopping at a gas station to find out where you made a wrong turn.

GPS works for only one kind of map: a reference map. There are many other kinds of maps, maps that gives us many different kinds of information. For these types of maps, your cell phone is worthless!

In this lesson, you will begin to understand the map known as the thematic map.

Using this Thematic map tutorial retrieved from Statistics Canada, locate this information:

  1. What are the two types of maps referenced? What is the difference between them?
  2. List the five parts of a map.
  3. Define each of the parts.

Review the tutorial and share your responses with a parent or teacher.

Next, print a map like this Population Density Map of Africa from the University of Texas Library, or another thematic map you locate on the Internet. Label each of the five parts according to the information you identified in the Thematic map tutorial.

Did you find all five?


  1. Why is each of these five parts important to a map?
  2. What special information does each provide?
  3. Imagine the map of Africa, or another map you printed, without one of those main components; how would reading that map be more challenging?

Write down your answers, then share and discuss with a parent or teacher.

Now, move on to the Got It? section to delve more deeply into thematic maps.

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