Contours, keys and symbols

Map reading

To be able to understand maps, it is important to have map-reading skills.

Maps are usually too small to contain lots of writing so instead there are symbols. There is usually a key at the side of the map which explains what the symbols mean.

Symbols and contours

Symbols are generally the same on most types of map. For example, buildings or tourist attractions are shown with blue symbols. Different types of roads are shown in different colours - blue for a motorway, red for a main road and yellow or orange for narrower roads. Dotted green lines are usually used to show footpaths.

Some maps, especially ones that people use to find their way around the countryside, contain brown contour lines. These are lines that show high and low areas of land.

The contour lines join up areas of the same height, and when they are close together it means the hill or mountain is steep. When they are far apart it means the land is gently sloping, or undulating. This is useful to know when planning a route, to see whether it is going to be a hike up a steep mountainside or a walk on flat ground.

Where next?

Maps
Latitude and longitude
Bitesize Primary KS2
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Contours, keys and symbols