Learning about the map's legend

By Susan Foster

Grades 1-2

Social Studies/Geography


Students will be able to draw a map of a room in their house that includes an appropriate legend. Students will be able to orally explain their legend.


*white chart paper or butcher paper

*black marker

*examples of simple maps with good legends

*pieces of paper with symbols from a map drawn on them taped under chairs


1. Before class, tape symbols drawn on a piece of paper under a few of the students' chairs. These symbols coincide with symbols on a map. I will put that map on the wall and have the legend covered up. I will then ask everyone to look under their chair to see if they have a piece of paper taped to the bottom of the chair. I will ask the students who had the pieces of paper to tell me what their symbol represents on the map.

2. We have been studying maps and symbols. We know that these symbols stand for something, but it is hard to guess what they stand for. They could stand for a number of things. We include a legend (or a key) on a map, so that people don't have to guess what these symbols stand for. (Uncover the legend on the map on the wall). This is an example of a legend. Today we are going to learn how to read and draw legends on maps. It is important to know how to read legends because it is the key to reading the map. It is also important that we can draw a legend so that someone else can read a map that one of us draws.

3. (Hang up two or three other maps and point out the legends on them). As you can see on these maps, the legend list all the symbols used on the map. It tells what these symbols stand for. You need to make sure that the legend includes all the symbols because if it leaves one out then the people reading the map wouldn't know what it stands for. When reading a map, you will have to use the legend a lot. As your looking at the map and you come to a symbol you aren't familiar with or double checking one you are familiar with, you simply go to the legend and find that symbol. When you find the symbol, it should say next to it what it stands for. Then when you go back and look at that symbol you will know what it means. When you are drawing a legend on a map, you need to make sure that the symbols are drawn clearly and accurately. If the symbols are drawn sloppy, the people reading the map won't be able to tell if they have found the right symbol on the legend. The arrangement of the legend is also important because it needs to be easy to read. It needs to have some kind of order to it, such as starting with the largest symbol and ending with the smallest symbol. (Point to different symbols on the maps and ask what these symbols stand for. The students will have to use the legend to find out what the symbols stood for. Make sure that the maps are simple with no large words or ideas that the students don't understand.)

4. (Hang up a piece of butcher paper or chart paper on the wall with an outline of the class on it.) Tell the class that you are going to make a map of the classroom with an accurate legend. Together as a class you will discuss what things that you want to include on the map. (Include such things as desks, class library, author's chair, sink, door, etc.). Different students can go to the front of the class and draw different symbols on the map. As a class decide what symbols would be appropriate. After the actual map is drawn, turn your focus to the legend. Discuss where the legend should be to be the most readable. Decide on how the legend should be arranged and which symbols should come first. You can go from biggest to smallest symbol, from most to least used symbol, or other arrangements. Together as a class create a readable legend for the map. Throughout all of this, the teacher needs to answer the students' questions and make corrections if they have misconceptions. The teacher also needs to encourage students to think and give them specific praise for their good thinking.

5. At home, have the students make a simple map of their bedroom or another room in their house. Tell them to include what they think is important. The important thing is to draw clear, readable symbols and to include an accurate, readable legend. You will have two days to work on this.


The students will draw a map of a room in their house that includes a legend. They will have two days to complete this map. The day that they bring their maps back, the teacher will have a short conference (1-2 minutes long) with each student some time throughout the day. The teacher and the student will discuss the student's map. The student will tell the teacher how to read the legend on his/her map. Their map will have a legend that is readable, neat, and includes all the symbols that were used in the map.

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Here is a map I used when teaching this lesson. You can also go to this website for a nice collection of maps: