A Map Is Worth a Thousand Words

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11097

What can you say about a map? If it's a thematic map, it can say a lot to you! These maps can get you thinking about the stats you observe, and you will practice making conclusions in this lesson!


Civics, World

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

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Pictures are a quick and easy way to convey a lot of information. Humans are visual beings, and we often understand things through our sight. That may be why we say, "I see!" when we have understood something.

Take a look at this picture and describe what you see:

family dinner

  • What do you think is happening?
  • What can you learn about this family just from the image?
  • What words would you use to describe the content of the photo?

You pulled a lot of information from that single photo! Let's harness that power and learn how to use maps the same way!

Just like the image you viewed in the opening section, thematic maps store a lot of information.

The question is, "How do we get to that information and interpret it?" The first step is to understand what we are looking at.

If you missed the first lesson in this Thematic Maps series, or would like to review it, access it under Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar.

Let's use this map, Total Population by State: 2000, produced by the U.S. Census Bureau. Open the map, then examine the title, the key, the geographic area, and other features. Once you have a good look at it, read this short paragraph and see if it describes what you saw:

This map describes the total population for each state in the United States in the year 2000. It color-codes each of the states according to its population in millions in four categories: less than one million, one to five million, five to ten million, and ten or more million.

Does that description match up nicely with the content of the map? Is there anything you think could be improved or added? Write a revision of that short paragraph in your notes in your own words.

Our short sample paragraph provided the basic outline of the information. But what we really want to do is interpret the information. What conclusions can we make based on the information on the map? We might say:

The states with a population of ten-million or more tend to be concentrated in the Northeast. The one-million-or-less states tend to be concentrated in the northern Mountain/Midwest region. Several of the ten-million-plus states also seem to be much larger, so they probably have fewer people per square mile.

Are those conclusions supported by what you see on the map? Is there anything you think could be improved or added? If you think so, write a revision of that short paragraph in your notes.

Share the map with a parent or teacher. Discuss:

  1. Do they see anything else in the map they think should be included in the description?
  2. Are they able to reach other conclusions based on the information provided?
  3. What exact words would they use to describe their observations or conclusions?

This exercise is more about seeing and thinking than it is about writing. But the writing part is critical, because it forces you to be specific and clear about your observations.

Now that you've practice the observation part, we can turn to writing about your observations in the Got It? section.

Elephango's Philosophy

We help prepare learners for a future that cannot yet be defined. They must be ready for change, willing to learn and able to think critically. Elephango is designed to create lifelong learners who are ready for that rapidly changing future.