Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Cognitive Site Mapping: Placing Yourself in Context
Originator Susan W. Hardwick1 and Elizabeth Renfro2
Department 1Department of Geography and Planning, Universtiy of Southwest Texas State, San Marcos, Texas, 786666
2Department of Geography and Planning and Co-Coordinators, University Literacy and Learning Program, California State University, Chico 95929-0425
Tel. +1 512-245-1724
Fax +1 512-245-8353
E-mail and

The activity described here offers a menu of ideas for using cognitive site mapping theory in an introductory geography class. Contemporary scholars since humankind's beginning have recognized that we as humans socially construct certain foundational truths through which we interpret everything in our world. Much current social and educational theory has drawn from the discourse a picture of dominant systems of belief and practice that stifle, silence, and disempower alternative visions and meaning-making systems. This case study summarizes a one class module that centers on the use of cognitive site mapping that attempts to empower every student in the classroom by tapping into each person's individual set of experiences and culturally constructed identities.

Cognitive site mapping helps students recreate their own mental maps on paper, either in spatial mapped form or in narrative form. This activity grounds each students' complex web of interpersonal relationships, feelings, and attitudes that in turn directly and indirectly affect the way in which they perceive or understand geographic content.

Time: Anywhere from 45-60 minutes (up to several hours depending on follow up activities used).

Requirements: We like using an overhead projector or computer screen and PowerPoint to share group work. but the exercises may be done with only handouts. Students need no advance preparation and the exercise works equally well with students of very diverse backgrounds and/or with a more homogeneous group of students.

Instructions: Students first spend 5-10 minutes drawing their individual maps of the local area; they then share their maps in pairs or small groups speculating on differences and similarities on the various maps. The teacher then shares culture-specific maps to illustrate the connections between place and culture. We've used maps of medieval Europe, Yurok Indian maps of the worlds, and maps drawn by different ethnic and racial groups of the Los Angeles area. We note the shared and distinctive features on each of the maps and ask students to consider how people construct their own realities of place and space. Then we return to small groups and ask students to discuss their own maps in terms of what they might reveal about each of the people who created them (e.g. lifeways, values, concerns, power interplays). This activity may also be used to move students from an explicit use of cognitive site mapping to a more implicit use of this theory by accessing their mental map knowledge through the use of in-class speculative writing. Follow up work may be done throughout the school year/term by applying this activity to any of the texts and subjects being studies (e.g. settings in literature, historical settings, political situations).


Cognitive site mapping
Group work
Mental maps

Keywords can be used to search for specific topics
Abstracts are also listed by Originator

Resource Database Home Page

Page created 21 April 1997
Database pages maintained by Phil Gravestock