Training Kit on Participatory Spatial Information Management and Communication. CTA/IFAD

Module M09 - Participatory Scale Mapping and Surveying

Unit M09U01 - Introduction to Scale Maps and Basic Cartography


This Unit introduces scale maps and the basic principles of cartography or map drawing. It explains how maps are made, describes the basic elements seen on all scale maps and demonstrates how to read maps. Standard mapping conventions are used to make credible scale maps and these conventions are described in the principles of cartography.

Practical tools are taught, such as how to measure distance using scale, how to find a location using the map grid and how to read the pattern of the land in the contour lines of a topographic map. These are essential skills for making scale maps.

Unit objectives / expected outcomes

After completion of the Unit the trainee will be able to:

  • describe basic features of scale maps;
  • list the basic elements of a scale map;
  • explain the objective of symbols and legends on scale maps;
  • name two main types of maps and their use;
  • specify the use of topographic maps;
  • describe the characteristics of contour lines;
  • work with scales;
  • explain the orientation or direction on a map and the effect of magnetic declination;
  • describe two common coordinate systems of a map grid;
  • specify the meaning of projections and datums;
  • discuss strengths and limitations of scale maps.

Content outline, main topics covered and suggested sequencing

This Unit focuses on the topics listed below:

  1. Interactive presentation on Introduction to Scale Maps and Basic Cartography (90 min)
  2. Choice of exercises (according to time available, e.g. 2–4 hours)

Keywords / key concepts

Map legend, map symbols, scale, map distance, ground distance, map grid, map orientation, compass rose, types of maps – base maps and thematic maps, topographic maps, contours and elevation

Components of the Unit


Handouts for Trainee (to be distributed in printed format):



3 ½ – 5 ½ hrs

Additional trainer resources

  • Flavelle, Alix. 2002. Mapping Our Land. Lone Pine Foundation, Edmonton, Canada.
  • Greenwood, David. 1964. Mapping. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.
  • Robinson, Arthur et al. 1995. Elements of Cartography. John Wiley & Sons, USA.
  • Basic cartography topic list on Wikipedia – definitions and concepts in basic cartography.

Equipment needed

Equipment for PowerPoint presentations, a table or flat service for working with paper maps in small groups, a 1 metre ruler for each group of six trainees, a 30 cm ruler and a protractor for each group of four trainees (more if possible), a pencil, pen and eraser for each trainee, topographic maps of the local area or region if available, photocopies of sample maps, maps of the local area or region as examples, a globe, index cards, a rock, charcoal, a small ruler, a basin with water in it or a pond, photocopies of materials for selected exercises, a reference map with north arrow, any plate-type compass, a compass or protractor, a large orange or grapefruit, a knife, a permanent marker and (optional) a scientific calculator with geometry functions

Additional downloads

Source: CTA. 2010. Training Kit on Participatory Spatial Information Management and Communication. CTA, The Netherlands and IFAD, Italy (ISBN: 978-92-9081-446-7)