Thematic Map Interpretation and Narration by Fifth and Eighth Graders




Middlebrook, Nancy Newborn

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Thematic maps are integral features in social studies textbooks at all grade levels. However, little research has been focused on how students assess the content of maps, especially thematic maps, and how they use maps as intellectual tools. Data were gathered from 36 fifth and 44 eighth graders using a general map information survey, pre- and post-intervention thematic map reading skills assessments, and individual student interpretations of three thematic maps of Africa taken from standard ninth grade world geography textbooks. An intervention, comprised of short, weekly thematic map lessons focusing on bounded area, choropleth, repetitive point, and line symbols, was presented in a single theme-different region versus multiple theme-single region map format. Fifth graders were used as subjects to provide baseline data on students' interpretive abilities. It was assumed there would be a significant difference in thematic map reading and interpretive abilities between eighth graders and fifth graders. The results of the study found that even though fifth graders were not able to clearly define or describe thematic maps, they were adept at using them. Pre-intervention, eighth graders did better than fifth graders at assessing data from graduated circle, dot, and isoline thematic maps. Post-intervention, there was no significant difference between fifth and eighth graders on the thematic map assessment. The different map lesson formats had no significant impact on the student interpretations of the three individual thematic maps of Africa, within or between grades. Results indicated that individual students "see" maps differently, with some students focusing on base elements of the maps and other students focusing on patterns within the maps based on legend classifications. Many students experienced difficulty in developing map narratives without being given specific questions to answer about the maps. It is suggested that formal instruction in interpreting thematic maps begin prior to the fifth grade and that students should be taught how to "ask questions" about the messages inherent in maps to better evaluate the content of thematic maps.



map reading, geography, elementary students


Middlebrook, N.N. (2006). Thematic map interpretation and narration by fifth and eighth graders (Unpublished dissertation). Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.


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