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Written on March 17th, 2013 , Teaching Artistry Tags: , ,

Calling all Teachers, Artists, and Community Leaders—it’s map time!

Many of you are ‘cartophiles’ like myself I am sure, and all of you probably use map comparison to look at socio-cultural perspectives  of the map makers (What features are notated? What are the illustrations? How are they depicted? Would the different people living there make different maps? Why why why?) and how the cartographer’s viewpoint in turn affects our own (if you doubt that, put ‘world upside down’ maps up!).

Here’s a few on-your-feet activities to go with your history/thespian/community awareness and empowerment project:

* Blindfolded Map Adventures

I’m going to give two examples of this exercise, which is also a fun way to build trust. Both have the first step of “Get a Partner. Choose which of you will be blindfolded do the Cartography, and which will be the Guide (or Ship)”.

      * Island Discovery

In this one, the facilitator/teacher uses mats or furniture or whatever to create a large (more than 12 feet in diameter is best, and if you can make something reeeeeeally big, that’s EVEN BETTER) “island” with a ragged, interesting “coastline”. The participants should not see it ahead of time, as the blindfolded one must make the first draft of the map. Remind the participants to notice how they feel—about not knowing what’s there/what’s coming, and about having to try to draw a map of the island. Have the Ships guide the blindfolded cartographers around the coastline (break them in to two groups if need be). After being guided, the Cartographers try to draw the island. I recommend using that language, and you’ll see why in a minute. Once they have made a first draft, have the Ships take them around again so they can check their work. Afterwards, the cartographers make updates, THEN the Ships add/make adjustments, and then the pair can go around together without blindfolds, making adjustments to their map as needed. If you have time, repeat the exercise with the other member of the partnership having a chance to be blindfolded.

After maps are finished, unpack the experience. Have pairs share the maps—notice what they have in common, how they are different. What information was shared, and how? What would happen if they heard sounds during the exercise, of animals or people or machines? Check in about what they were feeling during the experience. Use the conversation about the unknown to talk about new cultures, experiences, people, etcetera and use the mapping as a metaphor for the process of learning to navigate. This is an especially great conversation to have if you have folks with Asperger’s Syndrome in your group! Use the conversation about the act of mapping to talk about discovery, exploration, history, and perception.

One intriguing alternative is to make the ‘island’ medium sized, split the group in half, and have the blind-folded half discover the island’s contours without a guide—the other half can watch and/or be on ‘safety patrol’. Then have group one draw their maps while turned away from the island, then turn and look when they are done. Switch the island and the groups!

I am, of course, leaving out lots of detail and follow-up work; you are all deeply creative, investigative people, so I trust you go for it!

      *Building and Direction Discovery

In this variation, the Ship/Guide takes the Cartographer around the halls (rooms) of a building (you set the parameters). It can be a place everyone knows—like your own school—or a place new or not as well known. The idea is again to notice and notice what/how you notice, but to create a map whereby someone else can get there. The basic steps of activity and reflection are the same, but if you have done more than one kind of mapping now, you can ask, “How is this different?” and come up with at least 10 ways…which you can then dig into more deeply (Who is the map for? What is the assumed shared knowledge base? Why were those landmarks picked? Can a map be funny?). Having participants develop their maps to include terrain, or ‘industry’ or ‘flora and fauna’ or elevation and a key is a super follow-up activity…with lots of new fun and insightful questions! treasure map!!

A fun variation is to have kids hide pencils or toys or a food treat and create a treasure map for their partner, complete with fun context symbols. Treasure maps are fun because you have to rely on code and exclusive understanding –you want to give enough information for your partner to find the treasure, but not so much that anyone can find it! Fun to unpack these choices.


Hand Land!Lots of options here.

  • Map of ‘my dream’
  • Map of the place (indoors or outdoors) in which the book/play we are reading occurs
  • Map by how people give directions
  • Map with features showing what is important, or who ‘owns’ part of a home or range or street in a book or play or historical moment
  • Map made from a hand tracing! (Hand Land!)


Process maps

  • Maps to Get Lost By (Click here for a story on this!Maps to Get Lost By
  • Map of how I thought the world was when I was little
  • Map of what I want my community/town/school/world to be
  • Before and after maps of events (historical, personal, literary)
  • How I think”, “How I learned this concept”, “Where I am in the land of understanding this”, “My Emotional World”, “How the world looks from my sister’s, father’s, friend’s, person-with-whom-I-am-having-conflict’s point of view”
  • Map of my kitchen(bedroom, living room) from my point of view, then from my dog’s (collage techniques are super fun for this!)

As always, reflect, reflect reflect. Maps are a metaphor on so many levels, and waaaaaay fun. Have to, Cartographers all!

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