Teaching Reference Skills Part 3: The Atlas

This is the third in a four part guest series on reference skills by Jimmie from Jimmie’s Collage.  Make sure to check back for the last post in this series next Tuesday.  (She has previously covered the importance of knowing reference skills, as well as how to teach using an index and table of contents.)



With an understanding of an index and the table of contents, the use of an atlas will be easier because the index is usually the first place you turn when you use an atlas to answer a question.

If your children are new to using an atlas, be sure to look at the introductory chapter that helps you understand the maps. Pay special attention to the key since it unlocks the symbols of each map. You may want to bookmark the key and remind your children to revisit it when they forget what the symbols mean.

To gain experience in using an atlas, simply integrate it into whatever you are studying. It’s very easy. Anytime a place is mentioned – a city, a country, a sea, a mountain range, a river – pull out the atlas and have your child find it. Right off the bat, he is using those table of contents or index skills.

Once he has found it, ask some probing questions such as

  • What are some border countries?
  • What continent is it on?
  • What is the capitol?
  • Is that city larger or smaller than ___ city?

Don’t feel you have to turn it into a whole lesson. Just spend two or three minutes naturally exploring what is on the map, referring to the key if necessary to understand the notations.

If you want to take your atlas skills farther into more structured geography lessons, here are more ideas.

  • Draw or trace your own maps.
  • Label printed outline maps.
  • Collect maps cut from travel brochures or newspapers and organize a geography notebook.
  • Make a salt dough map.
  • Have a geography scavenger hunt with an atlas. Better yet, have your children make one!

Any of these activities will hone your child’s skill with reading maps which is a foundational reference skill. Most any standardized reading test includes questions about interpreting maps. And of course, we all use maps in our day to day lives. So keep the atlas handy this week and look for places in your lessons where geography comes up.

In the last post in this series, we shift our attention from maps to words where we talk about using a dictionary.

JimmieJimmie is the mother of one creative eleven year old daughter. Living in China adds a unique dimension to their Charlotte Mason styled homeschool. Besides reading and writing, Jimmie enjoys photography, traveling, Chinese watercolor painting, and cooking from scratch. Jimmie blogs at Jimmie’s Collage.

Angie Kauffman
Angie, a domestically challenged nerd and mom of three very fun kids, is the founder of Real Life at Home.  Angie also listens to music every chance she gets, writes eBookspodcastsloves Pinterestdocuments the little moments in life on Instagram, and occasionally sleeps.