Google maps is nothing new. I’ve been using it for years for directions, seeing what is around me, finding stores, activities, etc. and to look at my surroundings. I trust it significantly more than Apple Maps, and it is always one of the first apps that I download on any new device that I purchase because it is so useful.

Google MY Maps is a customization tool that wasn’t a part of the regular Google tools until just recently. My Maps allows you to create your own maps, using Google maps information. You can search for a particular place or landmark, and with one click, add it to your map. You can also create your own pins on the maps. There is a tool for drawing shapes on the maps (essentially outlining), and a tool for measuring distances. All of this put together can create a pretty powerful digital tool for visualizing information in a new way for students.

What’s especially great about using My Maps, is that it works just like Google docs in terms of sharing, and finding your maps. Maps that you create are stored in your Google drive, and ones that are shared with you cant be found in the same place. Like with google docs, you can share editing privileges with others, and even embed the map into websites.

All of this is great, but like anything else, it’s only a tool. It’s how the tool is used that makes a difference. So let me share some examples of Google My Maps being used in the classroom.

Literature Trips

This isn’t a new idea. Jerome Burg and Carol LaRow (among many others) has been doing this for years. Usually using Google Earth, but the addition of custimizable maps makes it possible without having to install Google Earth.  Take a story that you are reading with your class, or individually, and plot the important places on the map. You can follow the paths travelled by characters, see places where particular events took place in the story, and more.

Take the story “Esparanza Rising” which follows the story of a migrant grant worker as she travels to the US from Mexico. Students can work in pairs to identify the key elements and aspects from the story and plot them on the map. They can study the path that Esperanza took to the US, and even use Maps to research and plot an alternate route for the protagonist.

Check out a ton of great Google Lit Trips here. 

US States

In my area in 5th grade, the study of the US states is a large part of the curriculum.  This year, a teacher at one of my schools decided to try to use My Maps with her kids for their states project. Students were each assigned one of the 50 states. Their research of the state helped them plot the state capital and a number of locations that the students themselves choose as historical and cultural landmarks. Included in the map was information about the state like the population, major exports, state bird, etc. this gave the students the opportunity to research and do some writing about their state, while still utilizing My Maps as the tool to put it all together. At the conclusion of the project, students shared with their peers, why they choose the landmarks that they did, and some key facts about their state.

The best part of this project? At the conclusion, the class had created an interactive database containing information about all of the 50 states of the US. It is embedded in their class website, and shared with others, but the students take a special pride in that they created it themselves.

A project like this is very easy to differentiate for students of varying levels in your classroom. In fact, the teacher at my school who created the US States map, told me that one of her favorite things about the map was how easy it was to modify or change the assignment for different students.

Here is the final product that you can explore. (Remember, created entirely by elementary students)

Foreign Language

Here is one more example of a way to integrate this tool into something meaningful that you may already be doing. A Spanish teacher at my school is always looking for different ways to allow her students to practice their Spanish in an authentic environment. Working with her, we developed a project that would be ongoing throughout the entire semester.

The teacher created a shared map and students would add to it every time something relevant in their class came up. So they plotted all of the Spanish-speaking countries in the world. Then they read a novel that takes place in Mexico. They plotted the main points of the novel. They learned about Jugo Chavez. Students pinned the important points of his life. Each time something new is done in class, the students will pin or lot it on the shared map. By the end of the semester, they will have created a living/ evolving document that contains information about literature, pop culture, art, historical figures, and more… All in the language that they are learning.

Remember, it’s not about the tool. It’s about what the tool makes possible that wasn’t before! Google My Maps is simply a collaborative mapping tool. But how you use it can make a huge difference.

Some other ideas for Google Maps in your classroom.

  • Examine and plot historical places in your home state
  • Map all of the places that students have travelled over summer break
  • Mark locations of the most influential inventions of the 20th century
  • Plot the course that a student trip is going to take to share with teachers and parents.

For more great examples of Google Maps projects, check out the gallery that Google has created.


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