Street Maps


In this unit students use street maps as the context to learn about grid references, and for giving and following instructions involving directions and distances. In this unit students use street maps as the context to learn about grid references, and for giving and following instructions involving directions and distances.

Achievement Objectives
GM3-5: Use a co-ordinate system or the language of direction and distance to specify locations and describe paths.
Specific Learning Outcomes
  • Find and describe the location of an object using co-ordinates
  • Follow and give directions involving turns (left and right), compass directions (N, S, E, W)
  • Follow and give instructions involving distances by interpreting simple scales
Description of Mathematics

In this unit students are introduced to the Cartesian co-ordinate system, which uses horizontal and vertical distances from a fixed point to describe the location of an object on a map. Students use grid references, for example E5 to locate objects and to describe the location of objects on maps. Students give and follow directions using the compass directions of north, south, west, and east, and turns to the positions of left and right. The unit introduces students to the use of simple scales on maps.

Required Resource Materials

Local street maps on grid references

Copymaster One: introduction to grid references


NZ map and index page


Getting Started

  1. Give the students a copy of a street map of the area around the school.
  2. Help the students to orientate themselves with the map by asking them to locate some local features. For example ask the students:
    Mark the school on the map
    Mark the local park/sports ground.
    Mark a local shop (dairy, petrol station, bakery, church etc)
  3. Ask the students to describe the locations of the school, sports field, shop. Students may describe the location using street names (the dairy is on Somerville Street), or using other local features (the church is beside the Bushlands park). Explain to the students that grid references are a useful way to describe locations on a map because they define what part of the map the location is in.
  4. Give the students Copymaster 1 as an introduction activity to using grid references.
  5. Show students an index page from a map book which uses co-ordinate grid references. Some maps are more specific M12 NW means the location is in the northwest sector of the M12 grid.
  6. Have the students write the grid references for 5 locations on the map. They may wish to include their house if it is shown on the map.
  7. Pairs of students then swap their grid references and see if they can find each other’s  locations.  


Over the next few sessions students will explore following and giving directions to find locations on a local street map.
  1. Give the students a copy of a street map (doesn’t need to be local). Ask them to draw on it some buildings or parks.
  2. Model for the students how to give directions that include the direction and the distance using street blocks. For example, leave the school at the Lanely Street gate and turn left, keep going south for 2 blocks until you get to Smith Ave, turn left in to Bank Road the community hall is on the left.
  3. Have the students work in pairs to give and follow instructions using the street map.

Exploring scale

  1. Give the students a copy of a street map (doesn’t need to be local) with some locations marked on it, and a simple scale of 1cm = 1 km. Discuss with students why scales are necessary on maps.
  2. Give the students a piece of string to measure with. Ask the students to find the distances between locations by measuring with a piece of string then lining the string up on a ruler. Using the scale the students can work out the distance.
  3. Ask the students to mark a 5km bike circuit on their map.
  4. Ask the students to write instructions for their bike route. Encourage the students to use compass directions of N, S, E, W and turns to the left or right in their instructions.
  5. Ask the students to work in pairs and swap their bike route instructions and then compare the routes.

Exploring Maps

  1. Give the students a map of New Zealand. The map should have a scale, and grid squares  but remove the place names from it. Provide an index page with place names and grid references.
  2. Ask students to use the index page to mark places on the map.
  3. Ask the students to use the scale to work out approximate distances between places.


In this session students design a map for their own imaginary town. A 3 by 4 street block would make a good size. Have students mark features on the map, for example houses, petrol station, dairy, bakery, hall, parks etc.  
Using their own map students write instructions using compass directions and orientation instructions. In pairs the students follow each other’s instructions. The activity can be made more challenging by asking students to include an appropriate scale on the map.

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