Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Environmental Studies (MES)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

C. Grant Head

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


Maps are a common and useful tool, yet many people do not know how to use them effectively. Map education has typically been inadequate for teaching people the skills involved in map use and map reading. Map education in schools, where people typically learn their mapping skills, can be improved. This thesis looks at specific ways to improve map education. Based upon previous research, it looks at cartography from a language perspective to determine whether findings from the language research can be applied to cartography, and more specifically to map education. Maps serve to communicate information, and have been compared to a language by several different authors. A discussion of this comparison revealed that there are significant parallels between cartography and language. Cartography can be shown to have a well-established sign system, a grammar system acting for the map, and meaning resulting from the interaction of the signs and grammar. It has also been described as having analogous aspects to the cultural component and spoken form of a natural language. As such, the cartographic language can be defined as a systematic means of communicating meaning or ideas through the use of the set of cartographic symbols, which have understood meaning. An exploration of the literature surrounding second language teaching was undertaken to determine its applicability to cartographic teaching. While language teaching has varied over time, there has been a move towards flexible language programs which focus on using the language rather than teaching about the language. The lexicon, grammar, meaning and the relationships between these, should form the basic content of a language program. The second language literature can be applied, in part. to the cartographic language. In doing so, suggestions for what to teach and how to teach can be provided. Map education should incorporate aspects of the cartographic lexicon, grammar and meaning, as well as how these interact. Some of the specific teaching methods for languages have been adapted in order to teach the cartographic language. By also considering some of the important suggestions from the recent map education literature, a framework for teaching cartography can be developed. Objectives for map education are outlined, and then five successive levels for teaching map comprehension to school children are proposed. Level One is ideally intended for Kindergarten and Grade One classes and teaches early map awareness and appreciation. The levels progress in difficulty until Level Five, which expects map proficiency for Grade Eight and Nine students. Specific learning goals plus suggested activities to achieve these goals are provided for each level. This work can be valuable for educators. it places map education in a new framework and hopes to be able to improve the map literacy of students. Further work is needed to test the effectiveness of the proposed guidelines and to further develop the concepts of the cartographic language.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season


Included in

Geography Commons