Reading Latitude & Longitude

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12750

Have you seen anyone use a GPS to find their way to a strange place? Before GPS, people drew imaginary lines on the Earth, using maps and globes, to find a location. Earn your "degree" in map reading!

categories

World

subject
Geography
learning style
Visual
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

This picture of the world looks like a big grapefruit. What do the lines running up and down and side to side on the map represent?

What are latitude and longitude?

The entire world is covered with invisible lines, called "lines of latitude and longitude." These invisible lines were invented thousands of years ago by ancient cultures. The lines were used to help people figure out where they were.

The lines that run up and down on a map are called "lines of longitude." You can remember that longitude lines go up and down because longitude starts with the word “long.” Since longitude lines go up and down, they appear to be longer.

longitude

Lines that run from side to side are called "lines of latitude." You can remember latitude lines go from side to side by remembering the phrase “lat is fat.” Latitude lines are like the belt of the earth, going around from side to side.

latitude

How do you read lines of longitude?

Longitude lines tell how far a place is located from east to west. They are spaced the farthest apart at the equator, and all the lines meet at the poles, on the opposite ends of the earth.

Both lines of latitude and longitude are read using degrees (°). The 0° longitude line runs through Greenwich, England. This line is referred to as the "prime meridian." Put your finger on the 0° line on the map below. What major city is the line close to? Tell your teacher or parent.

In both directions, east and west, the number of degrees grows. The farther away you get from Greenwich, England, the greater the longitude. Notice how the lines on both sides of 0° say 5°? 5° to the left of the prime meridian is 5° W, and 5° to the right of the prime meridian is 5° E. Lines of longitude go up to 180° in both directions. This is because if you add both halves together, you get 360°. 360° is always the distance around a circle or sphere.

To read longitude lines, put your finger on the location. Then, run your finger up or down to find the degrees longitude. If the location is west of the prime meridian, make sure to say it is degrees west. If the location is east of the prime meridian, make sure to say it is degrees east. Find Florence, which is located in Italy.

  • What is the longitude of Florence?

Tell your teacher or parent.

map of italy
By Dodd, Mead & Company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

You probably noticed that Florence does not line up exactly with one of the longitude lines. It is a little to the right of 10°. Therefore, we can estimate that Florence has a longitude of about 12° E.

How do you read lines of latitude?

Latitude tells us how far a place is located from north to south. The 0° latitude line is the equator. The farther north or south you go, the greater the line of latitude. To read latitude lines, put your finger on the location. Then, run your finger right or left to find the degrees latitude. If the location is above the equator, make sure to say it is degrees north. If the location is below the equator, make sure to say it is degrees south. Find Florence again on the map.

  • What is the latitude of Florence?

Tell your teacher or parent.

map of italy
By Dodd, Mead & Company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Once again, Florence does not line up exactly with a line of latitude. Therefore, you can estimate Florence has a latitude of about 44° N. Now, put the longitude and latitude of Florence together to find its exact location.

You should have said Florence’s exact location is about 44° N, 12° E. Traditionally, when writing latitude and longitude, latitude is always written first. The numbers should be separated with a comma. When latitude and longitude are written together, they are called "coordinates.'

Now that you have learned a little about latitude and longitude, discuss with your teacher or parent why latitude and longitude are important.

Then, move on to the Got It? section to practice finding latitude and longitude.

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