Making Maps That Answer Both “Where?” and “Why?”


Maps inherently answer the "where" question. But student-generated, annotated maps can also answer the "who, what, when, and why" questions.

The Interactive Atlas provides plenty of opportunities to hit all of those W's. And a search of the term "atlas" will reveal the over 40 lessons that use the tool to create annotated maps on topics from Lewis and Clark to the Amazon Rainforest.

First, a word  about the ease of “where”: like most map resources, the Interactive Atlas, in both its English and Spanish language versions, is an ideal reference tool. Students explore geography at the world, continent, country, or state level. The drop down menus allow students to choose which labels are visible.


The Interactive Atlas allows students to view multiple layers of information.

If students need to find Andorra and have no idea where it is, they select the World map and use the alphabetical list of countries to zoom in on this tiny nation nestled between France and Spain.


Both the world and continent-specific maps are searchable by country.

With "where" now answered, what about the other four Ws? How can they be conveyed on a map? The draw tools, available on the left panel, transform the Interactive Atlas reference resource into a creative map-making tool.


Annotation tools allow students to add text. lines, shading, and flags.

Tool-Based Lessons with the Interactive Atlas

In addition to the Interactive Atlas itself, SAS Curriculum Pathways offers standards-focused research projects that culminate in students designing online maps to showcase their learning. Students use the draw tools in the Interactive Atlas to create color-coded map labels that illustrate their research findings.

For example, using the tool-based Lesson Colonial Regions: New England, Middle Colonies, and Southern Colonies, students use external research sites and the Interactive Tool William Penn and the Middle Colonies to define characteristics of the three colonial regions.


This annotated student map displays the three regions that made up Colonial America.

Another tool-based lesson using the Interactive Atlas, South American Language Triangle Map, illustrates the potential effects of language on the relationships between bordering countries in South America. Students do research to create a map with triangles connecting countries where the same, or two-to-three different, primary languages are spoken across three contiguous countries. Students also research the colonial influence that explains the variety of languages in this region.

Using this Tool-based Lesson students research and map the languages of South America.

Using this tool-based lesson, students research and map the relationships between languages in South America.

Check out these other social studies and geography tool-based lessons available in Curriculum Pathways.

U.S History

Battles of the War of 1812
Mapping Key Civil War Battles
Lewis and Clark Go West
Colonial Regions: New England, Middle Colonies, and Southern Colonies
Three Routes to the Gold Rush
U.S. Territorial Growth to 1853
U.S. Railroad Expansion: Timeline and Map
Building the Panama Canal
U.S. Territorial Growth to 1853
Woman Suffrage: Pre-19th Amendment Voting
Reconstruction Era Sharecropping
The Great Migration: Who, What, When, Where, and Why

World History

Mapping the Amazon Rainforest
Mapping Australia and New Zealand
Mapping the Sahara Desert
Mapping the Ten Largest Islands
Middle Eastern Monarchies Map
Western European Monarchies Map
Southeast Asia and South Pacific Monarchies Map
South America Language Map
Mapping the Trans-Africa Highway Network
1918 Pandemic: Global Reach of the Spanish Influenza
Elizabethan Exploration: One of Many Accomplishments

Civics and Demographics

The Federal Reserve
European Union: Create a Map and Timeline
Trade Restrictions: Creating an Embargoed Countries Map
U.S. Immigration
South American GDP/Life Expectancy Map
African GDP/Life Expectancy Map
Mapping the World's Most Populous Countries
Mapping the Most Populous Cities


About Author

Molly Farrow

Molly Farrow taught high school history for 11 years in Wake County and Durham County. She also taught at the Taipei American School in Taiwan. She received a M.A.T. degree from the University of North Carolina and a B.S. degree in Political Science from Wake Forest University. Outside work, she enjoys traveling and spending time with her family and their dog, Dante.

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