Alternatives to Fill-in-the-Blank Maps

When I began teaching Social Studies 4 years ago, I remember handing out a premade map of the 13 colonies. It was a simple label the colonies and color code the regions. The DOK was probably a negative number. I saw the boredom in the students’ eyes. I didn’t feel good about myself handing these blank maps out. As a result, I wondered to myself, “What other alternatives are there for maps?” Before you use a premade map, consider these alternatives….

3 Alternatives to Premade Maps

Annotated Maps – The ultimate goal with these maps is helping students see the connection between history and geography. You start with a driving question. Have the students hand draw and label a map in the center of a page. Yes, hand draw (I hear complaints ALL THE TIME). No tracing. Around the maps, students answer questions that ultimately lead them back to the original driving question. It’s hands on, research is involved, critical and creative thinking skills are used. As a twist, I like to add a Cybersandwich Eduprotocol or Mini-Report to help students with the research part of the map.


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Google My Maps – Google Maps has come a long way since the days of Google Maps Engine. You can use Google My Maps as a scavenger hunt where you set up questions on markers. You can take the annotated map idea from above and make it a Digital Annotated Map. What I really like about Google My Maps is the layer feature. You can have students add layers to a map all year long. Layers can be added, or hidden so they can see the progression of changes through the history of North America. Students can also add place markers, text, and multimedia. Besides adding layers, my favorite feature is the customizable icon – students can upload photos for icons. This is great for creating theme-based maps about economic features of various colonies or regions.

Google Tour Builder – This app is newer to me, but the possibilities are endless. Google Tour Builder is free story building tool which uses Google Earth. A user can place markers around the globe, add text, and multimedia. You can have students use Tour Builder to tell stories about countries and civilizations. Students can also use this to retell events from a chapter or informational text. I used Tour Builder to add visuals to the Louisiana Purchase document set from Stanford History Education Group’s Thinking Like a Historian. The document set begins with a timeline, and I added the timeline to Google Tour Builder. It provided a nice visual to help students understand the places and people, involved with the Louisiana Purchase. My example is here.


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