This page contains content from the Xpeditions website, which is now archived. The National Geographic Education website,, includes some of our most popular archival content in its original format.

Warning Label

Please note: We are no longer updating the content on archived pages. Archived content may contain dated information and broken links.

photo: Students can trace migration patterns using a map. | << Students can trace migration patterns using a map.

Photo courtesy of O. Louis Mazzatenta

Your Mission

Become a cartographer! Share information about migration in your community by planning and creating a migration map.


One of the things that makes each community a unique place is the variety of people who live there. As people migrate to and from a community, they create a great impact on its history and landscape. One way of depicting this impact is through cartography, or mapmaking. Get ready to see your community in a whole new way as you record its cultural landscape!

Learn About It
Maps are a way of recording how we see the world around us. In fact, we make maps all the time in our own minds to remember the locations of the things in our daily lives. These internal maps, called "mental maps," may not be entirely accurate, but they represent our perceptions of the known world. Visit the Xpeditions Hall Mental Mapper to learn more about mental maps.

Now, draw a mental map of your community. Be sure to include your neighborhood, school, and places where you shop and spend your free time.

Mental maps help us navigate our way around our daily lives. However, when we want to share information with other people or make an historical record, we create actual maps that can share information about a place. You will find that maps can:

  • help people locate places in the community, such as streets, buildings, and other locations;
  • provide information about the people who live in the community (the map can show population data, such as age);
  • depict physical features, such as rivers and mountains; and
  • show people how to get from one place to another.
When making a map, it is important to keep in mind the purpose and audience for the map. The type of map you make will depend on the kind of information you want to share. Your map should be clear, easy to read and use, and should provide the information you want to share. Learn more about maps and mapmaking by reading the Mapmaking Guide for Grades K-2 ; 3-5 ; 6-8 ; or 9-12

Think About It
Now it's time to practice your map-reading skills. Print a copy of the National Geographic Geography Action! Migration: The Human Journey Packet (PDF, Adobe Acrobat Reader required) and examine the maps of human migration in North America. Then read Maps Can Tell a Migration Story: An Interview with National Geographic Cartographers (PDF, Adobe Acrobat Reader required) to find out about the process that created the maps. Then refer to these documents as you try some activities:

  • Compare the data from the four "Migration: The Human Journey" maps in the packet. Why do you think so many groups are coming to North America today? Why is it a site of great in-migration? Why do you think they are leaving their countries of origin?
  • Can all of the information contained in the four maps be merged into a single map? If not, why might that not be effective?
  • Use a colored marker to add additional information to one map, such as population or heritage. What information did you choose to include? Why did you choose the map you selected?
  • If there were a fifth map showing human migration to and within North America, what would it look like? What information would it tell you?
  • Why did Mexico, Canada, and the United States each have their own map? Are their migration stories similar or different?
  • Consider these maps over time. How might they have looked 100 years ago? 500 years ago? How might they look 500 years in the future? Draw arrows on the maps to depict your predictions.
  • Why do you think some people refer to their nationality (American, Canadian), while others refer to their ethnic heritage (such as Irish or Egyptian)? How does migration play a role in national identity?

Do It
Now it's time to practice your cartography skills. Remember the acronym DOGSTAILS and include these important map elements that you learned about in the Mapmaking Guide for Grades K-2 ; 3-5 ; 6-8 ; or 9-12 :

  • Date D When the map was made
  • Orientation O Directions (north arrow)
  • Grid G Locates places on the map
  • Scale S What the map distance is
  • Title T What, where, and when
  • Author A Who made the map
  • Index I Map address of places
  • Legend L What the symbols mean
  • Sources S Basis for map information
First, start by filling in data on a map. Use a printed copy of an Xpeditions map to complete the following activities:
  • On the map, place a blue dot where you were born. Place green dots for your parents' birthplaces, and yellow for your grandparents'. Add different colors for previous generations. For more data to compare, ask friends or classmates to do the same. Can you see any patterns of migration?
  • Look for ethnic restaurants in the community (or search online or in a phone book). Use an atlas to identify countries represented by restaurants, and color in those countries on a blank map. Are there any patterns?
  • List reasons people might emigrate from your state (risk of extreme weather, poor economy, etc.). On a blank map, color in areas people might move to avoid the problems in your area. Why might people immigrate to your state (good weather, beaches, parks)? Use another color to shade in areas from which people might emigrate to enjoy those benefits.
  • Select a group from the "People On the Move" map, or another group that migrated in the past 200 years. Draw their migratory route; note places they lived for any length of time. Why might the groups have emigrated from their original homes (push or pull factors)? Why did they immigrate where they did?
Next, begin by drawing your own map. Consult the Mapmaking Guide as you complete these activities:
  • Create a map of your neighborhood with no key map elements. Then have a parent, friend, or sibling try to use the map to reach a particular destination. Ask them about ways in which the map was difficult to use.
  • Look at a news article in the newspaper. Ask yourself how information in the article might be represented on a map. Create a map showing that information.
Now that you've brushed up on your cartography skills, you can begin planning and creating your community map to tell a story about how migration has helped to shape your local area. As you complete the mapmaking activity described below in the Younger and Older Xpeditioners sections, you can look back at the Mapmaking Guide to help you plan your map. Remember to
  • decide what kind of information you want to share about your community;
  • refer to the Mapmaking Guide to determine the best type of map to share that information; and
  • figure out what map elements you need to include.

After you have completed your map project below, compare your community map to existing maps from previous times. How has the map changed? What does that tell you about your community? Compare your community map to the mental map you created earlier. How are the maps different? Similar? How might your mental map be different than a friend's or neighbor's? Why do you think your mental map differs from the community map and other maps?

F A M I L Y - X  F I L E S

Younger Xpeditioners:
Make a map that shows people how to get to important places in your community. You could choose your community's schools, grocery stores, playgrounds, parks, libraries, or other places that many people visit. Choose one of these and create your map. For example, you can make a map of all the libraries in your town. Use paper and colored pencils to create your map. Decide how much information you want to show and then draw or paste pictures to add detail to your map.

Older Xpeditioners:
Locate and obtain a map of your community. Make note of the types of information this map provides. The map will likely provide the names and location of streets, bodies of water, parks, landmarks, and places of business such as a mall or airport. Think about data that the map does not provide, and then improve the map to share this information. For instance, your improved map could provide information about the neighborhoods in your community and the cultural makeup of the people who live there. Your map might depict places that represent your community's unique history and culture, such as cultural landmarks, ethnic grocery stores and restaurants, religious or cultural community centers, or the location of community festivals and concerts. You might also want to show places in the community where residents and visitors can learn about the area's history—places such as the library and museums. Be sure to label your map, including a title and explanatory text that help tell readers how you are showing a migration story through your map.

Parents: Help your child learn more about maps and how they are used by exposing him or her to a variety of different maps. Some maps you might use include:

Each of these maps has a different purpose, audience, and appearance that you can discuss with your child. Encourage your child to make and use maps to plan a trip, find a place in the mall, create a route, or plan the best path through an amusement park! You can also help your child interpret maps that provide statistical data, such as the maps that show the results of voting. How do these maps represent data? What do the colors mean? What other ways could it show the same information? Help your children use this understanding to tell a meaningful story about the community's migration story.