Many Ways to Name a Place

Many Ways to Name a Place

Students analyze maps of places from neighborhood to world and then create maps for the locations of their own homes at multiple scales.


2 - 4



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Learning materials

This lesson is part of a collection called Map Skills for Students.

Find model student work for this activity.


  • Prior Knowledge: maps as models or representations of areas on the Earth
  • Materials You Provide: clay; construction paper; glue; a cardboard base; paints; tissue paper; other art supplies (optional)
  • Required Technology: Internet access; 1 computer per classroom; 1 computer per pair; projector
  • Physical Space: classroom
  • Grouping: large-group instruction

Geographic distinctions have been created to interpret the complexity of our world. We all live in many places. Depending on the place where we live, we may be located in a home, a neighborhood, a city, a state or province, a country, a continent, and the world. Our lives are rooted in each of the places we inhabit. Each place has its own physical and human characteristics. By learning to distinguish these places from one another, students will develop a better sense of location, both absolute and relative, as well as a better understanding of their own place in the world.

Geo-technologies such as interactive maps and geographic information systems (GIS) enable us to look at the places where we live in innumerable ways. Giving students opportunities to work with these tools will inspire them to explore and learn about places virtually and through direct experience.

Students will:

  • identify a location in a neighborhood, city, state, country, continent, and the world
  • describe the map features at different scales
  • identify their own location in the world

Teaching Approach: learning-for-use

Teaching Methods:
discussions; information organization; visual instruction

Skills Summary
This activity targets the following skills:


1. Introduce the concept of living in one place that can be identified by many different names.
Tell students that we all live in many places at this moment. Clarify that you are not talking about people who move from one place to another at different times. Ask students for ideas of what these places are. List their ideas on the board. Guide students to the understanding that they live in a home, in a neighborhood, and also a town or city, and a state, a country, a continent, and on Earth.

2. Compare several maps showing a “home” at different scales.
Use the provided gallery Ali's Location to take students on a tour of one girl’s location. Explain that as the area seen on these maps changes, we are seeing the place where Ali lives at different scales.

  • Project the map with Ali Fong’s address and neighborhood. Have students describe what they see on this map of her neighborhood (streets, park, railroad, location of library, school, Ali’s house).
  • Next, move to the map of Ali’s state, Missouri. Have students find Ali’s city, St. Louis, and describe what else they see in the state. Ask: What river runs along the eastern border of the state? (Mississippi River) In what part of the state is St. Louis? (the east) What is the capital of Missouri? (Jefferson City)
  • Move to the United States map, showing Ali’s country. Have students find Missouri on the map, and describe what else they see (the fifty states, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Gulf of Mexico, large rivers, Great Lakes, Canada and Mexico to the north and south). Have students point to their own state on the map.
  • Move to the map of North America and explain that this is Ali’s continent. Ask: What else is part of this continent? (Canada, Mexico, Greenland, the countries of Central America and the West Indies)
  • Move to the world map and have students find Ali’s place in the world. Ask: Is her home closer to South America or Africa?

Show students that each place they see on the map is larger in the real world than the one before it. We call this a change in the scale of the map.

3. View students’ many places on an interactive map.
Open National Geographic MapMaker. Using the search and zoom tools, find the location of your school. Click on the Sketch icon in the navigation bar to add a symbol to your map as a “school” marker. As with the maps in Step 2, have students describe the map of the neighborhood around your school.

Ask students to imagine you are all in a rocket flying straight up into space. Gradually zoom out on the interactive map so you can see your city. Use the Sketch tools to outline the location of your city or town. Demonstrate—gradually—the movement further out in scale to state, country, continent, and world.

4. Have students map their home at multiple scales.
Divide students into pairs. Distribute one copy of the Many Ways to Name a Place worksheet to each pair. Have pairs work at computers to analyze the map of their neighborhood, city/town, state, country, continent, and world. Direct students to use the search feature on the map for help finding their home address, city, or state. On the worksheet, have them describe the features they see on the map for each. Discuss as a whole class the similarities and differences among the maps. Ask: How does the map change when there is a change in the scale of the map, for example, from town to state?

5. Have students create their own atlases of their home at multiple scales.
Have students create their own atlases of their neighborhood, city/town, state, country, continent, and world. Have them create, mark, and save maps using MapMaker. Allow them to be creative with choosing the base maps or satellite imagery and adding labels and color to the map.

Informal Assessment
Evaluate the completed worksheet Many Ways to Name a Place to check students’ understanding.

Extending the Learning

  • Have students work in pairs or small groups to create their own “Many Ways to Name a Place” atlases for a series of global landmarks, such as Mount Rushmore, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, and other places. Assign each group a landmark. Have them create, mark, and save maps using MapMaker. Allow them to be creative with choosing the base maps or satellite imagery and adding labels and color to the map.
  • In small groups, have students create a series of 3-D maps of their school’s many locations. Assign each group a different scale. Provide students with clay, construction paper, tissue paper, glue, paints, a cardboard base, and other art supplies.

Tips & Modifications

  • Have students read Me On The Map, by Joan Sweeney, or Mapping Penny’s World, by Loreen Leedy, to introduce or reinforce the concept of mapping where you live at different scales.

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

National Council for Social Studies Curriculum Standards

  • Theme 3: People, Places, and Environments

National Geography Standards

  • Standard 1: How to use maps and other geographic representations, geospatial technologies, and spatial thinking to understand and communicate information
  • Standard 5: That people create regions to interpret Earth's complexity

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy

  • Reading Standards for Informational Text K-5: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, RI.3.7
  • Reading Standards for Informational Text K-5: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, RI.4.7
  • Reading Standards for Informational Text K-5: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, RI.5.7

The College, Career & Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards

  • Geographic Representations: Spatial Views of the World: D2.Geo.1.3-5: Construct maps and other graphic representations of both familiar and unfamiliar places.


  • Leedy, Loreen. Mapping Penny’s World. New York: Square Fish, 2000.
  • Sweeney, Joan. Me on the Map. Dragonfly Books: New York, 1998.

Adapted from National Geographic’s Map Essentials: A Comprehensive Map Skills Program

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Audrey Mohan, Ph.D.
Lindsey Mohan, Ph.D.
Anne Haywood, Program Consultant, Environmental & Geographic Education, Geographic Education Consultant
Sean P. O'Connor
Christina Riska Simmons, National Geographic Society
Christina Riska Simmons, National Geographic Society
Educator Reviewer
Lydia Lewis, M.Ed., Grade 5 U.S. History/Geography Educator; National Cathedral School, Washington, D.C.
Last Updated

January 22, 2024

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