A colored map with a toy car and truck

Map Activities for Spanish and World Languages

If you’re a teacher you may think of maps as a Social Studies activity, or a tool to prepare for travel. In fact, if you’re a World Language teacher, there are so many reasons to use maps in the World Language classroom:

  • They are culturally authentic
  • They provide visual clues with little text, so they can be accessible even to novice learners
  • They are interactive and can be interpersonal
  • Students can create them

Below are a few of my favorite map activities. If you use maps in the classroom, comment and let me know how you use them.

Map of an Ideal City

City map
Students draw a map of an ideal city

A great way to start a unit is to have groups of students create a map drawing of their ideal city.  Using big butcher paper always makes it more fun and ensures that all students can participate at the same time.  With novice learners, it’s helpful to scaffold by making an example on the board first, asking students simple questions about what the city should have.  Students are given a vocabulary list but are welcome to draw anything they want.  Once in their groups, I usually require that students label at least 15 things in their city in the target language and then orally present their city to another group or the class.  It’s nice to hang up the maps so your students’ work becomes the vocabulary wall for the unit.  

Beware the city monster!

Driving Directions

A few lessons later we use the maps again, this time to practice with directions.  Each group gets a plastic car or truck to drive through the city and students need to ask each other how to get to places in their city.  Even high schoolers love driving toy cars!  Following along with a physical car seems to help their ability to follow directions, too.  Small plastic cars are available at dollar stores for $1 or at garage sales.  

Map with cars

3-D Classroom Maps

If you are blessed with a small class or a large classroom turn your entire classroom into a map!  Chairs and desks can define roads, or clear furniture and make roads out of painter’s tape on the floor.  Print pictures of various places in the city and put them around the room for students to direct each other.  Or, make a scavenger hunt where students have to read about places and they go and find that place.  Information on the back of the card will tell them if they are right.  

Digital map of Madrid

Digital Maps 

Google Maps and Google Earth are great ways for students to be able to actually see cities around the world.  After learning about a city students could make their own Google Map, pinning important places, choosing pictures, and writing about each location that they choose.  Alternatively, the teacher can make a Google Map with directions and the students follow the directions to visit the locations and respond to questions.  These work well for intermediate and advanced levels, including heritage speakers.  Check out this pre-made map and questions for Madrid.   

Pin the Airplane on the Country

Think pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, but use a paper cut-out of an airplane with something sticky like Blu-Tack on the back. Have a student approach a large wall map blindfolded or with their eyes closed. The teacher will name a country and the student will try to stick the airplane on the country. Have another student or the whole class yell out directions. You can use either North-South-East-West or Right-Left-Up-Down for directions, depending on which vocabulary words you want to emphasize.

If you don’t already have a wall map in your classroom, this large wall map in Spanish or this map in French would be helpful.

If you liked this post check out Activities for Teaching Spanish Slang and Dialects.

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