Map Puzzles2021-12-18T21:13:03-05:00

Introduction: Student work with maps is useful not only for providing content, but for exercising spatial skills. Solving puzzles is engaging for students and involves integrating information and using several methods of problem-solving.

What to Expect: Although this activity is primarily a means to introduce Earth’s physical geography, it is best done with many different types of world maps, including those showing physical features, sea floor topography, or satellite images. Better still, include different types of map projections besides the familiar Mercator. The students will work with at least three different maps, and become familiar with the type of information on each one. The preparation of the maps by gluing them onto stiff paper may be time consuming, but the pieces will be sturdy and can be reused.


  • World maps of varying sizes, glued onto stiff paper or thin poster board
  • Scissors
  • Stiff paper
  • Glue
  • Envelopes


1. Divide students into groups of 2 to 4 and give each group a world map.

2. Decide on general sizes for puzzle pieces and have at least some groups make pieces the same shape (younger students will find simple shapes such as triangles most practical to cut). Have each group cut its map into puzzle-like pieces.

3. Have each group place the pieces into envelopes marked with a letter.

4. Have groups exchange envelopes and then reassemble the world.

5. As they assemble the puzzles, have students name features on the maps. On the board, make a list of features for all the groups to find, such as specific oceans and seas, the continents, mountain ranges, equator, prime meridian, poles, tropics of capricorn and cancer.

6. Have students create and place in the envelope a list of features specifically found on that map, such as oceanic ridge systems, trenches, islands, and continental shelves for a map showing ocean floor topography; the next group must locate these features. For primary grades, have students trace a few pieces and have the next group try to identify which pieces were traced.

7. Have the students again exchange envelopes and assemble the world, finding the features listed by the previous group.

8. Using a large map at the front of the class, have a geography bee where each group in turn must come up and locate a feature called out by the teacher or a classmate. Each group gains points for correct locations.

Evaluation: Students will be evaluated on their group work reassembling the puzzle, their identification of the required features, and the list of features they compile for other students to find.


1. Use maps that are increasingly less familiar to the students so that they need to rely on finer details for solving their puzzles. They could use a contemporary map and a historical map and compare/contrast geographical and political features.

2. Have students make grids over their puzzle maps and use these to make large-scale replicas of the maps for display. The students can fill in features on the large map in their correct locations.

Based on an idea by Nancy Cande, SEA Experience 1997. Copyright 1998-2008 by Sea Education Association, all rights reserved. Compiled and edited by Pat Harcourt & Bill Meyer.

This project was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation (Proposals # TEI-8652383, TPE-8955214, and ESI-925324), the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Foundation, the Donner Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily of the Foundations.

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