Tactile Maps

Jan Fallis Salisbury School, Salisbury, Vermont

PLAN: Grades 3-8

Introduction: Students will make a map of an assigned area (state, country, etc.) using a 3-D pictorial-tactile representation of the features to be included. For example: for a tactile map of Vermont, the Green Mountains could be represented by using green modeling clay, green yarn, or green construction paper that is made to stand up. Sheep could be represented by cotton balls, corn by popcorn, slate or granite by tiny pebbles. The map can be used as a culminating activity for a written research report on the region, or as the basis for a report itself.



Objectives: The students will

(I) learn to create a pictorial- tactile representation of their knowledge of a region, and

(2) learn the five basic components of a map.

(3) Gather pieces that can be used on the map such as Yarn, Pebbles, Corn. At this point, students are ready to go off on their own.

(4) Remind students to include the five basic components of every map: TOADS (title, orientation, author, date, and scale).

(5) Ensure that every student is responsible for at least some part of the map.

(6) When students say that they have finished, ask them to check if they have included everything talked about in #2 and #4.

(7) Have a sharing time, because students are very proud of their maps and creativity .

Suggested Student Assessment: Set out a journal next to each map for students to comment on particular aspects of the map.

Geographic Themes: All five themes can be covered (location, place, human-environment interactions, movement, and regions).


Geography Standards: Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, and 18.

Time: 2-3 hours.


(1) Resource books, such as atlases, almanacs, encyclopedias.

(2) A box of materials (or treasure box), such as red, green, and brown yarn, felt, ribbons, rice, dried beans, twigs, dried grasses, shiny sticky stars, etc.

(3) Large paper for map. Oak tag is best because it holds the weight of the materials better than construction paper. 

(4) Markers.


(1) Assign the region to be mapped. 

(2) Divide the class into groups of 1, 2, or 3. Have students decide which features to include on their map, and discuss the elements of a successful map.

(3) Introduce the treasure box with a conversation such as the following: "Here is a box of treasures. How would you represent rivers?" "Blue marker." "Yes, that would be very good. Now can you think of something that you could touch that would represent rivers? Look in the box and see if you get any ideas. What could you use blue

Extending the Lesson:

(1) Use the 3-D pictorial-tactile approach to create a tactile cell in a science lesson.

(2) Assign no written report, just have students do the research and make the map.

(3) Make one large map with the whole class, like a jig- saw model. For example, have one student responsible for the mountains, including collecting the material they want to use. Have a second person in charge of rivers, a third in charge of cities, and so on.