13+ geography mapwork: finding your way to success
By James Dale-Adcock
03 Oct
Developing and advancing pupils’ ability to understand how to use maps and how to apply map skills is more important today than ever before. Of course mastering map work skills is intrinsic to success at Common Entrance, but moreover it brings a heightened level of spatial awareness that has been linked to higher levels of attainment in non-verbal reasoning and several areas of the maths curriculum. Even better, they might actually be able to find where they are going when the sat nav crashes and the phone or wifi signal is no good!
So what can parents do to help with this area of Geography? Firstly, and it doesn’t always go without saying, parents should make sure they are familiar with the core map work skills that are detailed in the Common Entrance syllabus. Both Galore Park Geography books begin with chapters focusing on Geographical skills including map work. Only if you as a parent understand how to: use grid references, use scale bars and ratios to measure distance and estimate area, use the eight point compass, use contour lines and spot heights to measure height and recognise relief features, can you then truly help your child to master and apply these skills.
Unlike many areas of Geography, map work is a skill that needs practising as opposed to material content that needs rote learning. This is a real plus for pupils as they don’t have to ‘learn stuff’ and it can be really exciting and practical if you think outside the box. Try some of these ideas:

  1. Challenge them to beat the sat nav by planning their own route on a journey using a map. Encourage them to measure distance and use the eight point compass when using direction. Obviously sat navs take the quickest routes but are they the best compared to a ‘human planned’ route?
  2. Let them plan and lead a country walk. They should plan the route using the key to identify areas of interest to look at on the walk and contour lines to plan navigation of relief. Depending on the map skill level of your child, and how far you are prepared to walk and how much time you can afford, you will need to get them to talk through their plans ahead of departure!
  3. Set up a basic orienteering course for them. This can be done in a group and form an exciting challenge which examines their speedy use of core map skills in a fun setting. If you are unfamiliar with how orienteering works have a look at which will point you in the right direction (pardon the pun!)
Some children really struggle with map work and parents will need to build up their child’s confidence with repetitive tasks testing the same skill (eg: six figure grid references) before moving on to the next skill. If your child is a map work wizard then there is no end to the creative opportunities to test and advance their skills. For example, think about building developments in your local area. Numerous geographical considerations will have been part of the planning process, including drainage topography, infrastructural developments necessary and impact on environment. A little research with your child can then lead them to working on a map skill based project focusing on potential future developments; a holiday project which will advance their map skills while covering other areas of the Geography syllabus.
The internet offers a wealth of resources for map work skills but, as stated at the start of this article, two dimensional digital approaches to learning and applying map work are not the best learning solution at this age. A practical ‘hands on the map’ approach will give pupils the foundation they need to take mapping skills in any future direction.


James Dale-Adcock is the author of our 13+ geography textbooks.

Geography for Common Entrance: Human GeographyGeography for Common Entrance: Physical Geography 

We also sell 13+ geography revision resources for Common Entrance.

Geography for Common Entrance 13+ Exam Practice AnswersGeography for Common Entrance 13+ Exam Practice QuestionsGeography for Common Entrance 13+ Revision Guide


Tags: 13+, 13, geography, mapwork, plus, skills

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