Reading Maps

Maps are drawn by special artists who simplify the landscape into a smaller scale picture using symbols. They are made from studying aerial and satellite images of places

example of a map (with a river going into the sea near a coastal settlement)

Maps allow people to:
  • plan routes;
  • work out their current location;
  • find out what places are like in terms of their physical geography and facilities they have.
Most maps point in the direction of North and show this by including a compass in the corner:


Most maps contain labels that name the: countries, settlements, roads and water bodies which are shown.

definition of map symbols

Some maps are divided up into grid squares. People can share grid references to help tell others where to find a place on a map.

grid squares

Some maps have contour lines printed on them which join up all the places that are at the same height above sea level. They can be used to see how the height and shape of the land surface changes:
  • contour lines that are close together show the land is steep;
  • contour lines that are far apart show the land is flat.
 V-shaped valleys and hill example. - types of slope: steady, concave, convex

Mapping the Earth
A globe is a model of the Earth whereas maps show the Earth's surface as a flat sheet.

Lines drawn on a globe, called lines of latitude and longitude help you find where places are:
  • Lines of longitude, or meridians, divide the Earth into segments like an orange. All lines of longitude meet at the Poles. Longitude is measured in degrees (o). The line through Greenwich, England is 0o. It is called the Prime Meridian. Lines either side are measured in degrees east or west of the Prime Meridian.
  • Lines of latitude, or parallels, tell you how far north or south a place is. The Equator, around the Earth's middle, is 0o latitude. Lines of latitude north of the Equator are measured in degrees north (oN). Lines south of the Equator are measured in degrees south (oS). The Poles are 90o north and south of the Equator.
If you want to find a place on the globe, you will need to look up its latitude and longitude. For example, Madrid, in Spain, is 40oN, 3oW. This means it is 40o north of the Equator and 3o west of the Prime Meridian.