Where is that feature on a map?

Mike Phillips, Illinois Valley Community College

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

Students are shown a map or aerial image of a location that will be discussed in class and asked to click on the location. 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 identify the location of features on a map.

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 lecture or lab where students will discuss the location of features or phenomena such as volcanoes, faults, rivers, upwelling, etc. Instructors often assume that students know where the features they mention in class are located on a map; this assumption should be checked to ensure students understand the context of class discussion.

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

Prior to discussion of a geographic feature in class, the instructor displays a map or aerial image of the area. Students are asked "Do you recognize this area?" and, if some do not, a brief explanation should be provided.

The instructor asks students to click on the location of a general or specific feature which will be important to the ensuing discussion. This can be reiterated with different features until all students are clicking on the correct location.

For example:

  • At the beginning of the semester, an unlabeled map of the world could be displayed and students asked to click on specified continents or oceans.
  • Prior to the beginning of a discussion of subduction, a satellite image of South America could be displayed and students asked to click on the west coast, the Andes Mountains, etc.
  • Prior a discussion of hot spots, a satellite image of the Pacific Ocean could be displayed and students asked to click on the West Coast of the U.S., the Hawaiian Islands, etc.

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.
  • If the clicker software displays responses real-time, the instructor may wish to display a blank screen until all students have responded.
  • 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.


This is primarily useful for self-assessment prior to the instructor using maps and imagery to discuss features associated with various phenomena.

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.