How To Teach Latitude and Longitude

In geography, latitude and longitude are basic terms that students need to know and understand in order to find positioning on a globe or map. If you're a teacher or even just a parent helping with homework, you'll appreciate this guide on how to teach latitude and longitude.

Step 1

Start by introducing the concept. Before you start teaching students how to determine the latitude and longitude of places on the map or globe, they need a general understanding of what the two terms means. Try to simplify it for kids by telling them that latitude refers to the ‘north and south' of a place, and longitude refers to the ‘east and west' of the place. As a teacher, I like to give students easy ways to differentiate between the two terms. Try coming up with a statement like ‘Longitude refers to the long position (or length from side to side). If they can remember this, they'll remember that latitude just refers to the other way.  

Step 2

Refer to a large wall map or overhead. To introduce the concept of latitude and longitude, you'll need a large wall map. But an overhead projection of a map or even a globe will work as well (although it's not ideal). Using a chart on the board, list 2 or 3 different cities on the map and show students how you would find the latitude and longitude of each location. Say something like, ‘when I look at Venezuela, I see that it is positioned at X˚ north/south for latitude and X˚ east/west for longitude'. Don't delve into the mechanics of how you found the position yet. Just show them. Let the students slowly figure out what you're doing for the first few examples.

Step 3

Point out the position of the equator.  Now that the students understand what is meant by latitude and longitude and have sat through a few examples, it's time to help them to determine latitude and longitude on their own. Start by introducing the equator. The equator marks the center of the map. Anything above it is considered ‘north' and anything below it is considered ‘south'. The equator helps to determine the latitude of a location.

Step 4

Discuss the prime meridian. Similar to the equator, the prime meridian helps to determine the longitude of a location. Anything to the left of the prime meridian is considered ‘west' and anything to the right is considered ‘east'.

Step 5

Point out the lines or degrees on the map. Once students know how to locate the equator and the prime meridian, all that's left to determining the longitude and latitude of a location is to teach students about the degrees on a map. Discuss how the map is separated into tiny squares, each referred to by a different degree. If they can locate how close a city is to a certain line or degree (it can't hover between two degrees), and if they know whether it is north or south and east or west, then they will be able to determine the longitude and latitude of the city.

Step 6

Go through a few examples. Once you've given students the fundamentals of latitude and longitude, they should be pretty capable of working through a few examples with you. Pick a few cities, write their names on the chart, and then, as a class, determine the latitude and longitude of the location. Put the position together in the form of ‘X˚ north/south and X˚ east/west', and you'll have successfully taught children how to find latitude and longitude.


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