This guest post for Schoolswaps was written by Professor Simon Catling, who is a Professor of Education and tutor in primary Geography education at the School of Education at Oxford Brookes University. His specialist interest is in children’s geographical learning and he has written much on the subject of geography and map learning for teachers and children and is an avid collector of postcard maps!
The following teaching activities can be used with or adapted to a wide variety of postcard maps. They are suggested to encourage children to look out for postcard maps and to collect them, to see what they show and how features and information are represented, to recognise the diversity of types of postcard maps, and to use them to communicate with other children.
There is an incredible variety of postcard maps to collect. They can show places at all sorts of scales and in many ways, and can be found all over the World, but be more available in some places than in others. Postcard maps can be used imaginatively and for fun too! Here are twenty types of maps (and space views of Earth) which postcards can show:
- Space photographs of the Earth
- Satellite photos of large or smaller areas of the Earth
- Globes, focused on different continents
- World maps as outlines, or showing physical features or countries
- Globes and World maps to show where a country or city is in the World
- National maps
- Parts of countries, such as states in the USA or Australia or counties in the UK
- Regions in countries or across several countries, such as The Alps in Europe or The Cotswolds in England
- Tourist areas, such as National Parks
- Islands, such as Malta or Singapore
- Cities and towns or just city centres, such asBrisbaneorLos Angeles
- Street maps of cities, eg Oxford, London or Paris
- Panoramic views of mountain regions
- Imaginary places, for instance of 100 Acre Wood (Winnie-the-Pooh) or Narnia
- Comic maps that might show a sheep looking at a map
- Fun maps, such as ‘The map of Love’ or two very young children hugging a globe
- Maps shown in paintings
- Historical or ‘old’ maps
- Maps to show routes, such as of airlines or of ocean liners
There are more! Look out for them. If you Google ‘postcard maps’ you will find that there are many sites which display and trade postcard maps. You can see how varied the types of postcard maps are, and that postcard maps come from many different parts of the World. See if you can find a postcard map you have been sent on a website.
To be able to send a postcard map you have to have bought one! It is best to buy two or more, so you can retain a copy of each one you send. Before you send your postcard map you can undertake most of the following activities, just as you can when you receive a postcard map. They can be undertaken as individual, group or class activities, depending on how you want to work. You might use two or three of these teaching ideas in one lesson, or you might use just one idea in part of a lesson.
The idea is that you use them to help children learn about places and about how maps represent places. Children can learn about the nature and variety of maps and ways to show places on maps. They can learn about what places are like from the information provided in the postcard maps. Children need also to think about what may not be shown by considering whether everything in a place is shown, and then consider why some things are included and not others. They should think about what it is practical to include on a postcard map as well as how postcard map producers and sellers want the postcard maps to look. In this way children are learning about cartography and geography, as well as about commerce.
Twenty ideas for teaching geography and about maps using postcard maps.
1. My local postcard map
Find a postcard map of your area, preferably two or three – you should keep one. It might be a city/town or an area of country which includes your school. Identify/mark where you are on the postcard map and find your location on a national map and world map. Write your full address and keep it with your postcard map, perhaps in a display. When you send the card write a description of your place as your message to the person/class/school you are sending it to. When you receive such a card, also find it on the national map and World map. Discuss what the description tells you about the place it has been sent from.
2. Making our own postcard map
Perhaps there is no postcard map that shows your area or you are not happy with those which do so. Why not make your own postcard map? You can create a map, eg using Local Study, on your computer and print it on card, then send it. Alternatively you can draw it by hand onto a blank postcard. The important thing is to discuss and agree what you will include in the postcard map, taking account of how big an area it shows and how much detail you want to include, as well as the sorts of map symbols or plan shapes you want to use to draw it. Which local names will you include?
3. A postcard map display
As you collect postcard maps make a display of them around a World map or a national map to show where they represent. Use cotton or string to link the postcard map to where in the World or in your country it shows. See how large your collection grows. Consider which parts of the World have been better represented and why. Have you got contacts in less well represented areas who you can ask to look out for a postcard map to send you?
4. Different scales
You may collect or receive maps that show places at different scales, from a town’s streets to a whole country. Do the postcard maps show the scale? How will you work out they are at different scales? Which scales might these be? How can you use local maps, national maps or atlas and World maps to help you? Just how big an area is shown in each map? How are the places in the postcard maps shown at different scales? Why are there differences (or sometimes similarities)?
5. What can we work out?
You have received or found a postcard map of a real place. Perhaps it has some information written on the back of the postcard. This might tell you something about the area. What else can you work out from the postcard map? What do the symbols tell you is there? Is there a scale bar to help you see how large the area is? Which direction is north, or east? What sort of place is this? Has the postcard map be made for a specific reason? Who would buy such a postcard map to send (apart from the person who sent you this one)? So, what do you think might not be shown about the place on the postcard map?
6. Are all postcard maps the same?
If you have received or collected a variety of postcard maps, you will notice that they are not all the same – not because they show different places but because they show places in different ways. What variety of symbols are used to show the same or similar features or places? Are the same types of places shown by different sorts of symbols? Why do you think this is the case? What does it tell us about maps and the mapmakers? Is it okay to have this similarity or variety?
7. Where is it from?
Where has your postcard map come from? Is there an address from the sender? Is there a postage stamp and/or a franking mark which has a name on it? Is there a caption on the card which tells you where the place is? Is there even a small outline map which indicates where in a country or in the World this place is? Can you find it on one of the maps in an atlas? Mount it with its address and a location map to show where in the country or World it is and put it on display.
8. Sorting postcard maps
When you have built up a collection of postcard maps you might sort them into different sets of maps. You should decide on the criteria you want to use. These might be by: similar scales, similar types of places, similar ways the places are shown by symbols. You need to explain why you have created the sets you have and why the cards in each are in those sets. Could you use overlapping venn diagrams if some postcard maps really could go into more than one set? (Perhaps overlay hoola-hoops to help you do this!)
9. A contrasting place
Select a postcard map which shows an area that is different to your own area. If you have a postcard map of your own area, you can put the two side-by-side and compare them. What features and places shown on the map are different from or similar to your own area? Create a display to show the similarities and differences.
10. What else do you want to know?
Your postcard map will give you some information about a place. It may show you particular things, such as sites tourists might like to visit or what the main features in the landscape are. But there will be much that it does not show you. What else do you want to find out about this place. Based on the postcard map, list a variety of questions that will help you find out more. The use a range of sources to see which questions you can answer. You might use other maps, or a place gazette, or website information from the internet.
11. A Google Earth view
Can you find the place shown in your postcard map on Google Earth? You need to work out where it is in the world, then you need to use the facilities in Google Earth to hunt it down, going through the scales to see how much you can see. You might be able to look inside the area at a larger scale to find out more about the features and landscape and what it is like there.
12. Comparing maps
Compare a postcard map with a variety of other maps that show the same place. How do the paper or web-based maps show this place? Does the postcard map show it in the same way? Do some of the maps show more features or places or less? If they do, what extra information about this place can you find from the maps that show more about the area? Why do these maps show more?
13. Why buy and sell postcard maps?
You have a selection of postcard maps. They were all bought in shops. What types of shops sell postcard maps? What else might they sell? Who buys the postcard maps? Why do you think they buy postcard maps? What else do shoppers need to buy or find to be able to send their postcard maps?
14. Few and many postcard maps
In some places you can find lost of different postcard maps, perhaps ten or twenty different postcard maps. In other places you find perhaps only one or two. It may be because some shops like to sell them and other shops do not. But there may be other reasons. Can you list what some of the reasons might be? Does it have anything to do with the tourist trade or whether the government does not like to have maps widely available?
15. Tourists buy postcard maps
Why do tourists buy postcard maps? Why are postcard maps produced for tourists to buy? What sorts of maps might be ones which tourists tend to buy? If you have been on holiday or you know someone who has and who has bought a postcard map, find out why they bought and sent a postcard map. What type of shop did you/they buy it in? Who did you/they send it to? Do you/they know how long it took to reach its destination? What might the person who received it have thought about when they received it?
16. Planning to visit
You have been sent a postcard map which includes a number of places which look to be interesting to visit. Decide which three places you would want to visit. Use the intranet or books and other maps to find out what you can about them, so that you can describe what you would see and do in those places. How would you get there and where will you stay? Work out a route so that you could see them all in one day or on consecutive days and say how you would travel and how long it will take you to get from the first to the second and so forth.
17. Different features
Collect a variety of types of features shown on postcard maps. These might be coastal areas, the centre of cities and towns, National Park areas, hilly or mountainous areas, and so forth. How varied is your collection? What does your collection tell you about the variety of places for which postcard maps are made? Can you identify reasons why postcard maps are made for these particular places?
18. Who produces the postcard maps?
In many cases there is information on the back of a postcard map which tells you who produced the postcard map, the name of the manufacturer. Not very often it may give their address or say where their company is based. If there is not enough information google-search the name of the company on the web to find a postal address or contact email address. Write to the company asking them why they produce postcard maps and what variety of postcard maps they publish. Who are their customers? Why do these customers want postcard maps? Why do they produce the postcard maps to look as they do? You might even be able to find out information about the postcard maps and the company in another part of the World, especially if they can reply to you in English.
19. Linking picture postcards and postcard maps
Find a postcard map of an area local to you. Find and collect picture (photographic or painted) postcards that show features and sites in the area shown on the postcard map. Create a display to locate the features and sites that the picture postcards show on the postcard map.
20. National postcard map images
If you find or receive a postcard map that shows your own or another country look to see what is shown on the map and how it is shown. Quite often national postcard maps want to show particular images of their country. What sorts of features are included? Why do you think they have been marked on the map? Can you find out what some or all of them show or represent? If you were to create a postcard map to show your country, what would you put on it, and why would you put these images on? Make your own national postcard map.
Schoolswaps would like to thank Professor Catling for his great ideas. If you have any more ideas for how to use the postcard maps you receive from The Great Bif School Swap #2 – Map Swap, please add them to the comments below!
Professor Catling would love to receive a map postcard from you too – if you do have one spare, do drop one in the post to him at
Professor Simon Catling
Professor of Primary Education,
School of Education,
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences,
Oxford Brookes University,