Introduction to maps

Home learning focus

Learn how to read a map and use a compass.

This lesson includes:

  • two videos demonstrating how maps can be used

  • two activities to build map skills


Sue Venir is planning a visit to a castle in Shropshire.

Watch along with this clip to find out how she uses a map to find the way.

What is a map?

A map is a two-dimensional drawing of an area.

Maps can show the countryside, a town, a country or even the whole world.

They are used to help plan routes from one place to another, or to find certain features such as castles or hills.

Different types of map are used for different things depending on whether you are walking, driving or even flying somewhere.

Maps can be on paper or on a mobile phone, tablet or computer.

How to use a map

The top of most maps is north and a compass can be used to find which direction north is. Compasses show four directions - north, east, south and west.

The needle always points north, so when that is lined up with the map it is easy to see in which direction things are.

Maps are not drawn to the same size as the ground because they would be far too big! Instead they are drawn to a smaller scale.

The scale on a map is a set of numbers that can be used to compare distances and can be written, for example, as 1:25,000.

This means that the actual size of the ground is 25,000 times bigger than it is on the map.

The same scale can also be written as 4cm to 1km, so every four centimetres on the map is one kilometre in real life.

Tour guide Tess, is practicing her map-reading skills.

Watch this clip to see how Tess uses string to measure the winding roads on a map and calculate the distance from Ben Nevis to Aviemore in Scotland.


There are lots of fun ways to practise map-reading skills.

Here are a few you could try.

Activity 1

Label the compass

Help Sue find her way to the castle by labelling the compass.

Activity 2

Draw a map

Have a go at drawing a map of your street or local area. Download and print out the activity sheet below.

This resource is from Twinkl.

Map activity sheet

There's more to learn

Have a look at these other resources around the BBC and the web.

KS2 Geography
7 - 11 Geography
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