A matter of location: The use of maps in the English class

Maps and language have always been closely related.

Plenty of writers have incorporated maps to their stories so that the reader could create a more definite idea of an area, consider distance or follow a permanently moving plot in an easier way. Some authors created fictional locations, like Robert Louis Stevenson in Treasure Island or Agatha Christie’s fictional village of St Mary Mead for Miss Marple’s stories; others recreated towns, like Thomas Hardy’s new version of Wessex in Tess of the D’ubervilles; and yet others used real locations to set their characters, many of whom have become almost ‘honorary residents’ of the area - Would Sherlock still be Sherlock without London? What about Detective Rebus without Edinburgh?

Maps can be a very important tool in the development of descriptive language. If we can transmit to our students the importance of the setting in a story, we will be able to turn their attention to detail when choosing a location and describing it.

For that purpose, there are several available online resources:

The National Library of Scotland owns a vast collection of maps of many different parts of the world dating from hundreds of years ago. In some cases, you may find the same location portrayed in the past and now. So… why not write about life in an area then and now?  https://maps.nls.uk/

Google Maps and Google Earth help us explore locations as if we were actually there. So, what about a story where students can walk around the neighbourhood and describe some of its features?

CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) activity

Use maps and their satellite versions to study urban, rural or coastal areas.

- Provide the students with all the specific vocabulary they may need to refer to geographical features with precision. Make them identify these words on a map, plan or picture.

- Let Geography be the star first. Then use that knowledge to enrich Language.

- Encourage your students to practise by writing an adventure tale, a detective story, an article for a newspaper… always based on or supported by a map.


Go even further! Challenge your students to create their own maps, label them and write a story. Remind them: ‘Good writers always help readers to imagine’.

By Prof. Karina Castro


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