Map Skills

Term Definition
Compass Rose A circle with points or quarters printed on a map to show direction. North is usually toward the top of the map—but not always!
Cardinal Direction One of the four major points on a compass: North, South, East or West. “Cardinal” means essential or crucial. On a map, north is usually up.
Intermediate Direction The points on the compass between the cardinal directions. Northwest (NW) is halfway between North and West. SW, SE, and NE are intermediate.
Legend or Key An explanatory list of the symbols on a map or chart. A little picture of a picnic table indicates a picnic area. Symbols may also indicate size.
Scale Map scale is the relationship between a unit of length on a map and the same length on the ground. One inch on a map might be 100 miles on the land.
Latitude The lines running around a globe like a series of higher and lower belts. On a map, lines of latitude run east-west. The equator is the 0-degree line of latitude. Atlanta is at 33?N of the equator. One degree of latitude is 70 miles.
Equator The line around the globe at an equal distance from the North and South Poles, like a belt around the middle of the earth. The equator is the 0 degree of latitude. It divides the globe into two hemispheres, northern and southern.
Longitude The lines running around the globe through the north and south poles, as if slicing the globe into apple wedges. The prime meridian is at zero. On a map, lines of longitude run north-south.
Prime Meridian The line of 0 degrees longitude divides the globe vertically into two halves. This system was devised in Greenwich, England in 1884, so 0? goes right through Greenwich. “Prime” means first in importance.
Political Map A map that shows the boundaries of countries. It may also show counties, cities and towns, and highways. Political maps show how people divide land.
Physical Map A map that shows landforms and water features. Colors and shadings show mountains or deserts. Physical maps show spaces that exist in nature.
Relative Location A location of place in relation to another place. “Next door” and “southwest of France” are relative locations. Relative location is imprecise and confusing.
Absolute Location The exact position of a place on earth. A street address is an absolute location, or it can be indicated with longitude and latitude. Inman is at 33?24’37”N, 84?24’53”W.
Hemisphere a half of the earth, usually as divided into northern and southern halves by the equator, or into western and eastern halves by an imaginary line passing through the poles.

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