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Among geographers’ many tools, the one likely to come to mind first is the map. Maps provide us with a generalized picture of all or part of Earth’s surface. A large-scale map shows a small area in more detail than a small-scale map that may show Earth’s entire surface, but include only very large features.

A common map that is useful to everyone is the highway map. Highway maps help us find our way from place to place; they often identify parks or sites of historic interest; and they always include a scale to estimate distance.

Learning the Language of Highway Maps

The map segment on the right shows part of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina. Below the map a legend identifies symbols used on the map. Use this map from the National Scenic Byways site at byways.org to practice map reading skills by answering the following questions.

  • What symbol represents the featured scenic byway? How are other roadways identified?
  • What is represented by the “X” just north of the byway, near the center of the map?
  • What towns are connected by U.S. Highway 19?
  • Use the map scale to estimate the distance from Black Mountain to Asheville?
  • What rivers feed into Lake James?
  • What is the elevation of Mt. Mitchell?

Extending the activity…

  • Have students work in pairs to locate other maps on the National Scenic Byways site. Have each pair write 4-5 questions based on the map they have chosen. Then let other students practice their map reading skills by answering the questions.
  • Contact your State Highway Department and ask for a classroom set of state highway maps. Develop questions based on map symbols and map scale that encourage students to learn about their state while practicing map reading skills.

Each year thousands of schools in the United States participate in the National Geographic Bee using materials prepared by the National Geographic Society. The contest is designed to inspire students to be curious about the world. Schools with students in grades four through eight are eligible for this entertaining and challenging competition.

Registration for the 2015 Geo Bee has ended. Schools can register for next year's Geo Bee in August 2015.

School Geo Bees have all been held. Please mark your calendar for the upcoming State Geo Bee on March 27, 2015, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. To find out the location of the State Geo Bee for your state, email us at ngbee@ngs.org.

The national competition of the Geo Bee will be held May 11-13, 2015, at the National Geographic Society’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. It will be televised on May 15, 2015, at 8 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel and NG Wild.

Gain a Global Perspective

The 2014 National Geographic Bee finalists gush about geography.



How to Help

  • Photo: Geo Bee Winners

    Fund a School

    Donations help fund schools to participate in the National Geographic Bee.

Winners' Video

  • geobee-2014-kids-990.jpg

    2014 State Winners

    Fifty-four of the nation's brightest young geography whiz kids gathered in Washington, D.C., last spring to take part in the 26th annual National Geographic Bee.

Student Activities

Teachers can use these activities in the classroom to prepare students for the bee!

  • Photo: Map of the world showing areas of freshwater

    Geo-Scavenger Hunt

    Simply memorizing terms and place locations can be tedious and even boring. One solution is to make the task fun with an atlas-based scavenger game.

  • Photo: Map of languages

    Exploring Diffusion

    The movement of people, goods, or ideas from one place to another is a process known as diffusion, which plays an important role in shaping the characteristics of where we live.

  • Photo: Infared satellite image of hurricane Rita

    Tracking Violent Storms

    Springtime brings the possibility of extreme weather, including violent thunderstorms and tornadoes.

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