The Amazing Power of Floor Maps

Giant Floor Map Puzzles are one of my favorite teaching tools in upper elementary! 

For many years my biggest struggle teaching social studies was all the things my students didn't know about the WHERE of where they lived.  And that was AFTER I was done teaching them!

"What country do you live in? What city? What continent are we on? Is Paris a country or a city?" It didn't matter what question I asked, they often looked at me blankly.

I tried everything I could think of - the tried and true: maps to label and color in, appeal to the senses: mnemonics and chants - and more.  

This went on for about 20 years. I worked hard all year each year to make sure my kids left me literate in the simple basics of their own geography.  But the results were far less successful than I hoped.  

UNTIL I brought out the large floor map puzzles. My upper grades kids loved them! They begged for floor map puzzle time. But most important - all of a sudden, they were able to answer my questions about the world, and their place in it.

HOW TO USE GIANT FLOOR MAP PUZZLES

I started with a single puzzle that I used as a rotation activity. It was so successful, I eventually collected enough floor map puzzles so my whole class could work on them at the same time. 

WHAT KINDS OF PUZZLES?


My idea was to have a collection of as many different puzzle stations as possible.  I collected world maps, country maps, with some specialized maps thrown in for fun (puzzle maps of the solar system, national parks, etc.) 

MOST IMPORTANT: WORLD AND COUNTRY MAPS


The big ticket items are the world and country maps, as those address the important geography skills I want to target. I like to have 3 country maps and 3 world maps available and want groups to work with these frequently. Though I mix in novelty maps to keep things interesting, it's the world and country maps that make the difference in their knowledge of the world. It's important to make sure students have lots of time with these main maps.



HOW MANY PUZZLES?


One puzzle for 3-5 students works well. For a class of around 25, I like to have about 6 large puzzles. I often add a few small desk puzzles in case a student needs the quiet of working alone for a bit.

HOW MUCH TIME FOR FLOOR MAPS?


I soon discovered how much my students loved working on the map puzzles and how much they were benefitting.

So, I schedule the map sessions into our geography lessons - and also integrate them into our regular routine all year. I keep our floor maps handy, and whenever we have some extra time, or need a quick break, or time to relax, we pull them out.

You can do floor maps for a quick single rotation (when the groups have completed one map, we pack up) or have your groups rotate through 2 or 3 maps in a session. (Groups work on their map until it's complete, then put it away and get another map from the pile. You will need more maps than groups for this system to work.)  

FLOOR MAP MANAGEMENT

I set the basic ground rules: stay with your group, keep focused on the task, talk quietly, etc. The engagement is always high, so management isn't usually an issue. If interest starts to wane on a particular day, I wrap things up after just one rotation.

As the groups put together their puzzles, I walk around passing out $1 bills to engaged workers. (I usually have a classroom economy.) Walking around, observing and interacting is an important component of floor map management.

Something that boosted learning even more was when I let them know I was paying those I overheard saying the names of the (country, state, etc.)

I wanted to hear, "I found Japan." or "Here's Louisiana!" as I walked around. Why is that so important? Seeing the shape and size of the puzzle pieces, touching and putting them in their places, and speaking the names is very powerful learning.

NOVELTY MAPS

Though the main goal is working on the world and country, I like to include some specialized maps thrown in for fun, just to spice things up in the rotation and keep their interest. These novelty maps can be puzzle maps of the solar system, national parks - whatever you can find. You can even have a personalized aerial-view jigsaw map made of your school's hometown!

NOVELTY MAPS: 

THE SOLAR SYSTEM, WOODEN & MAGNETIC MAPS

NOVELTY MAPS: JIGSAW PUZZLES & GLOBE PUZZLES


One type of novelty map my kids really loved was globe puzzles. These and other jigsaw puzzles, however, take MUCH more time than is available in a single map puzzle session. This presents logistics issues. How to find enough time to devote to letting your students finish the puzzle? If you teach more than one class, how to keep the puzzle preserved for the next class - over a period of days?  If your classroom space is limited, how to find a place to store the partially-completed puzzle? For this reason, I save these puzzles for rare occassions and only bring them out as a special treat when I'm prepared to cope with the logistics.

WHERE TO FIND FLOOR PUZZLE MAPS

You can order a nice variety from Amazon. I also found many floor puzzle maps at my local teacher supply store - before it went out of business.  I found a small, state jigsaw puzzle I was able to buy in quantity from my local dollar store.  

WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING PUZZLE MAPS

The MOST IMPORTANT thing to look for when choosing a floor puzzle is: do the pieces correspond to the actual countries or states?  "Pieces Shaped Like Countries!" in the puzzle in the first picture above says it all.  That's what you're looking for.  Some puzzles cut their pieces randomly, with many countries or states lumped together. Be sure to select puzzles that, instead, have pieces cut out for the countries or states individually. 

The reason this is so important: the power of the floor map puzzle play is seeing, touching, saying the name of and placing the individually shaped country or state.  
A map big enough for a group of students to cluster around is also important. 

HAPPY PUZZLING!


Floor puzzle maps can be an important tool to help you meet the basic geography knowledge goals you've set for your students.

Happy puzzling!

P.S.

Be sure to check out some of our other favorite things for upper elementary teachers!

The Polar Express Holiday Book The Little Ladybug Shop


Favorite Classroom Tool // Tried & True Teaching Tools

Favorite Cardboard Cutting Tools // Feel-Good Teaching

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