Stories, Maps, and Timelines

This week is Geography Awareness Week. It’s my favorite non-holiday week of the year. Don’t stop reading because you’re not a geography teacher. As I hope you’ll see by the end of this newsletter, digital mapping tools are useful in many subject areas. To that end, here are some digital mapping activities for a handful of subject areas.

Mapping Stories

Since 2009 Google Lit Trips has been one of my go-to examples of using Google Earth in a language arts setting. Lit Trips are Google Earth tours that are based on books that are commonly taught in K-12 settings. Use the model to have students create their own tours or just enjoy the tours that are freely available on Google Lit Trips.

StoryMap JS is another option for mapping stories. It allows students to create maps that display locations in a slideshow-like format. Each location added to the story can include text, images, and hyperlinks. The best part is that students can add dates (optional) to the mapped locations to create a timeline and map combination. Watch this video to see how it works.

Meteorology, Geology, Marine Science

Google Earth Pro (the free desktop version) has many information layers that can be used as the basis for lessons in meteorology, geology, and marine science. The timelapse imagery in Google Earth (in both the web and desktop version) is excellent for viewing the effects of erosion on shorelines. And one of my favorite uses of Google Earth in a science classroom came from a former colleague of mine who had his students create tours of interesting geological features and sites in our state.

Language and Dialect Maps

Have students create maps depicting the distribution of languages, dialects, or cultural idioms. Here’s a fun prompt, where is the geographic line between people who call sugary, carbonated drinks “soda” and those that call them “pop?”

Physical Education Maps

For some people, one of the obstacles to participating in lifelong sports like running, bicycling, and hiking is knowing where to go. Google’s My Maps and a relatively new mapping tool called Felt both enable you to create interactive maps of running, bicycling, and hiking routes. Have students use those tools to create routes around their communities (remember to have a discussion about privacy and not identifying their homes in the maps). By the way, Strava (follow me) also has a similar mapping tool, but it’s not available to people under age 18.


I left this subject area for last because it’s the most obvious fit for digital mapping projects. Students can use tools like Padlet Maps, Storymap JS, and Google Earth to create multimedia displays of things like locations of battles and locations of historic landmarks. One of my favorite uses of digital mapping in the context of history is to use StoryMap JS to tell the story of a historic journey. For example, I used StoryMap JS to recreate the story of Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure. Watch this video for a demonstration of how to use StoryMap JS.

Here are some other tutorials you might find helpful: