How can maps be used to find out detailed information about a place?
How can an enquirybased activity be used to interpret maps and practice map skills?
Can you write route descriptions, measure distances, give direction, interpret symbol information, and understand relief on maps?
How can maps be used to find out detailed information about a place?
Maps are in effect 2D drawings of what we see in 3D. Certain map skills are required to interpret this 2D information, in order to visualize a landscape and be able to develop a geographical imagination of that place. Maps use symbols to convey this information and there is a key to explain the meaning of each symbol. Symbols fall into thre basic categories; line/linear (for example; roads, footpaths, contours), area (for example; woodland or marshes), or spot/point features (for example; buildings, bridges, masts, places of interest like museums, abbeys).
There are two scales used on most Ordnance Survey maps: 1:50,000 where one centimetre on the map equals 50,000cm or 500m on the ground, or 1:25,000 where one centimetre on the map equals 25,000cm or 250m on the ground. 1:25,000 maps are more detailed as they show field boundaries and the contour interval (see below) is 5m, rather than 10m in some steeper, upland areas. A useful rule to remember is that the distance between the blue grid lines on a map is always one kilometre  this can be helpful when calculating distance (outlined below).
Contours are probably one of the harder map skills to master because this requires translating sometimes detailed and tricky contour 2D patterns on the map, into their 3D shapes and landforms on the ground. At Key Stage 3, the basic rules are as follows:

Contours are lines on a map joining points of equal height

Height is measured in meters above sea level

The distance between contour lines is called the contour interval and is either five metres (in some upland areas of 1:25,000 maps) or 10m

Contours do not all have heights on them, so the contour interval helps us to find out the heights of the lines which do not

Contour lines can tell us about slope gradient  the closer the lines are together, the steeper the land

Contours can help us to recognize simple landform features like hills and mountains and their shapes, valleys, plateaux and spurs. Textbooks and worksheets help students to interpret basic contour patterns by giving them simple diagrams to describe. However, the exercises in this lesson are only concerned with recognizing flatter and steeper ground, and a named hill
How can an enquirybased activity be used to interpret maps and practice map skills?
Map work and teaching map skills is notoriously hard and can also be rather boring. Textbooks vary little in their standard approach to explanations and diagrams, teaching the skill, followed by practice questions from a map extract.
The exercise here follows a more enquirybased approach, where students are presented with an email enquiry from a festivalgoer and they are challenged to ‘solve' the questions posed in the email.
Can you write route descriptions, measure distances, give direction, interpret symbol information, and understand relief on maps?
Describing a route
The first task is to establish clear start and end points of the route. These should be marked somehow or the six figure grid references noted. The trick is to imagine travelling the route and describing it as you go.
Detail is important
The distance of each section (see below for measuring distance), the type of route (footpath, road  road number if this is the case), each turn required (the direction turned  left or right, as well as the type of junction the turn is made at), any prominent features along the way (for example, passing a church or museum) and the general direction of travel (using the cardinal points of a compass).
Measuring distance
Again, a clear start and end must first be established. The route can be measured using a piece of string (easier as it is flexible so can be curved around the corners on the route) or with edge of a piece of paper. For the latter, the start of the route is marked on the paper and another mark made every time a bend is encountered (when the paper is then turned). You end up with a series of marks on the edge of a piece of paper which follow the route  the start and end points of which are the important ones for finding the overall distance.
To convert this length of string or the distance on the edge of the piece of paper into the real distance on the ground, the scale on the map needs to be used. Place the string or piece of paper against this scale and read off the distance in kilometres. You may need to multiply if your length of string is longer than the scale line. Alternatively, the blue grid lines are one kilometre apart and can be used to measure the distance in kilometres.
Direction on the map is fairly easy, as the vertical grid lines always run due northsouth. Once you know which direction north is, it is easy to work out the other cardinal directions.
Symbol information can be interpreted using the key on the map. Symbol charts are also available on the Ordnance Survey website for 1:25000 and 1:50000 maps.
Relief can be defined as the shape of the land, taking into account hills, valleys, etc. It is interpreted using the contour lines  see above.
The OS produce a leaflet, map reading made easy peasy aimed at students (it is currently distributed along with the free OS maps for year sevens). A PDF version can be downloaded from the OS website in English or Welsh.
Interactives

OS map symbol snap

Scale and distance

Contours
True or False?
For this activity you will need to download a map of Glastonbury. Take a good look at the map, which hopefully will be a 1:50,000 map of the Glastonbury area. Use your map skills to answer these true or false questions about the key features of the area.
If your map skills are a little rusty, have a go at the interactive activities to refresh your memory.
For this activity, you will take on the role of ‘Infoman', the general enquiries contact for the Glastonbury Festival. You can find out more about ‘Infoman' and what he does by visiting the Glastonbury website.
Now read the email from L. Smith to Infoman, which asks some questions about visiting the Glastonbury Festival. Your task is to take on the role of Infoman and answer these questions in an email reply. Use the help box and message guidance to help you. You will also need to download the map extract to help you. It is another 1:50000 map of Glastonbury, but this one covers a much larger area.
Your teacher will ask you to share your replies with the class. Check the information on the map resource as other class members share their replies.