Published 25th May 2021

playing outside map reading week

Hey you! Yes, you! Get up off that couch!

We know it’s comfy and warm, but it’s time to get outside, find adventures and make memories!

As teachers of English as a Foreign Language, we are adventurous by our very nature. We tend to be drawn to visiting new countries and exploring new destinations. As anyone who has upped sticks and moved abroad will tell you, exciting does not begin to describe the thrill of moving to another country.

Read more: 7 Unexpected Outcomes of a TEFL Life

If you find yourself double-tapping on gorgeous landscapes you see on Instagram, subscribing to adventurous YouTubers, or pinning travel blogs for “one day”, then you’re likely a good candidate for a TEFL career. But if we’re really honest, sometimes we’re also guilty of living vicariously through our favourite travel vloggers. It’s quite comfy being an armchair traveller.

But no more, we say! This week is National Map Reading Week, and we’re down for it!

What is National Map Reading Week?

Run by the UK mapping organisation Ordnance Survey, National Map Reading Week aims to encourage us to venture outside and explore the beautiful world around us. Hiking, walking, mountain-climbing, cycling – anything and everything that requires an elevated heart rate, involves breathing fresh air and is rewarded with a spectacular view is just what the doctor ordered this week.  

Unfortunately, hard-core thrill-seekers aside, it seems many of us have lost the motivation to turn off Netflix and get up off the couch. Even though there is likely a gorgeous outdoor adventure waiting for you on your doorstep (or close by), many of us prefer to see it on social media rather than go there ourselves. After all, watching a documentary on the Lake District from your living room is much easier (and cheaper) than going there yourself. All this means that we no longer get outside as much as we used to unless it involves walking to the pub.

friends reading a map on map reading week

The real outside adventures are those which immerse us in nature, free us from technology, and help us stay sane. In other words, going for long walks on the beach, going hiking in the mountains, or going cycling with friends. Because we are now more used to going to the gym than taking a walk outside, we have lost touch with nature. Bear Grylls would be ashamed of us.

Most telling of all this is that we have forgotten some of the most basic survival skills, one of which is reading maps. In fact, recent research has shown that 60% of millennials rely on their mobile map apps to get around. Of course, technology has been developed to help us in our daily lives, but what happens when your phone dies or you don’t have network coverage? Besides, all the most Insta-worthy places are not on a map!

This is why National Map Reading Week hopes to encourage people to learn map reading or brush up on their current skills.

What are map reading skills?

Map reading skills incorporate a range of skills. On a basic level, they are exactly what it says on the tin: the ability to read a map. But maps can be simple or they can be quite complex. You might need to read a map to find out how to get to a particular destination or to help you find your way when you are lost. You can use a map to identify the geography of an area without setting foot there. Walker and hikers use maps to venture off the beaten track without getting themselves into danger.

There are many advantages to having good map reading skills. Being able to read a map teaches you spatial awareness and how objects relate to each other. Learning about contour lines, gradients, grid lines, map scales and distances does wonders for your maths skills.

pointing out a location on a map

How to get involved in National Map Reading Week

Now for the fun part. Read a few articles and teach yourself the basics of map reading – the Get Outside website is a good place to start. Once you’re familiar with the fundamentals it’s time to practice. Get yourself a map and a compass and get ready for the adventure to begin.

We encourage you to start small, just in case your map reading skills need more work! Find a local short walk that is nearby. Choose one that is already clearly sign-posted. Then find a paper map of the same route. Follow the route on the map to make sure your direction decisions match up with the signposts.

Once you’ve conquered that, you can grab a bunch of friends – preferably one or two with experience reading maps – and try something more remote. The fresh air, Vitamin D and exercise will do wonders for your physical and mental health and well-being and you might even find it addictive. Even better, if you are in a foreign country there will be loads of different walking paths, hiking trails or cycling tracks that you can explore and be rewarded with the most amazing experiences and views.

National Map Reading Week in the EFL classroom

If you’re already teaching English as a Foreign Language, you might want to introduce map reading to your classes. Young Learners can start by following simple treasure maps to find some hidden surprises. They can even make their own treasure maps. Older learners can do listening exercises involving maps to solve mysteries or crimes. Adult learners can draw maps to explain to their partners where they live in relation to the school.

As you can see there are many different ways to incorporate map reading into your life and your classroom. Map reading skills might seem like a forgotten art, but let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. You never know when you’ll need to read a map. So get up and go – but don’t forget your sunscreen!

    1. Hi there Mariëtte, it’s great to hear that you liked the article! If you every have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in back touch with us.

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