Locating self on a map or aerial image

Mike Phillips, Illinois Valley Community College

Author Profile


Formative assessment questions using a classroom response system ("clickers") can be used to reveal students' understanding of where they are on a map or aerial image.

Students are shown a map or aerial image of a location where they are or will be working and asked to click on their location, the north edge (or other direction), and/or other features such as landmarks. The results are displayed with points or as a heat map at the front of the class and then discussed.

Learning Goals

Content/concept goals for this activity

  • Students will be able to locate their position on a map or aerial image.
  • Students will be able to create a reasonably accurate sketch map of an area.

Context for Use


This activity is used as a formative assessment in an introductory-level geoscience course.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is used as a formative assessment within a lab or other activity where students will use a map or aerial image to record locations of observed features such as rocks or sample collection sites. It may also be used prior to students creating sketch maps of an area.

Maps and aerial images should be introduced and key features discussed in class prior to beginning this activity.

Description and Teaching Materials

Example of how to implement this exercise in the classroom

Students are shown a map or aerial image of an area with which they are (or should be) familiar such as an area of the school/college grounds.

Students should be asked "Do you recognize this area?" and, if some do not, a brief explanation should be provided, such as "This is the area between the building we are in and the student center."

The instructor asks students to click on their location or on a feature with which they would be familiar such as a sculpture, the front door of the building, a bench or picnic table, parking lot, etc. This can be reiterated with different features until all students are clicking on the correct location.

After each iteration, the class should discuss the responses displayed with a focus on how students figured out the correct location and why some students mis-located the position. The discussion should include direction, distance/scale, and features used as reference points.

To orient students to cardinal directions, ask students to click on the north side or corner (as appropriate) of the map/image, then the east, west, and south sides or corners.

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • The class will need to have access to software (e.g., a web-application) and hardware (e.g., a smart phone, tablet, etc.) that allows students to click on displayed imagery.
  • Maps and aerial images should be introduced and key features discussed in class.
    The exercise can be incorporated as part of a lab or class exercise where students will need to locate their position on a map or aerial image.
  • This exercise can be completed without clickers by providing students with printed maps/aerial images and asked to place their finger on their location (without looking at other students' maps). The instructor can then walk around and check, share the correct location on a display, and/or students can check with each other.
  • Using both maps and aerial images can allow students to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each.
  • Sketch maps produced by the instructor and/or students can be scanned and used as well and can prompt additional discussions of features included and excluded, scaling (or lack of scaling), and other characteristics that are helpful or confusing.


This is primarily useful for self-assessment prior to students using maps to indicate features observed in the field and/or creating sketch maps as a part of other class/lab activities and assignments.

References and Resources

On-line mapping sites such as https://www.google.com/maps or https://www.mapquest.com or The National Map can be used to display maps and aerial images.