Map Scale Lesson for Kids Video

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  • 0:03 What is a Map Scale?
  • 0:49 Determining Map Scale
  • 1:38 Using a Map Scale
  • 3:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michelle Zimmerman

Michelle has taught 4th and 5th grade and has a Master's Degree in Elementary Education.

A map scale sounds like something you use to weigh a map, but it's actually a tool for measuring distance. Let's learn how to determine scale and how to use a map scale.

What Is a Map Scale?

Have you ever used a map? Some people use maps to guide them to unfamiliar places, and some people use them to learn about faraway lands; but maps are smaller versions of the real thing. Imagine if you unfolded a map of your hometown and it was as big as the town itself! It would be virtually unusable. That's why cartographers, or people who make maps, use map scale.

Map scale is the relationship between distance on the map and distance in real life. That means that distance on the map always has a constant ratio with distance on the ground. For instance, a map scale might say that 1 inch is equal to 1 mile, so if you measured from one point to another and it was 2 inches on the map, it would be 2 miles in real life.

Determining Map Scale

So how do you determine the scale on a map? The map scale can usually be found in one of the bottom corners of the map, and it looks like this:


Most map scales provide the scale in both miles (abbreviated Mi) and kilometers (abbreviated Km). Miles are used in the United States, while kilometers are used in most other countries throughout the world. As you can see, each notch on the scale is 1 mile, and the entire length of the scale is 5 miles.


Keep in mind that different scales can use different distance ratios. For instance, on a map of a small city, a half-inch might represent 5 miles, but a map of an entire country might use a half-inch to represent 100 miles. Every map is different depending on what it's showing, but as long as there's a scale, we can determine distance on the map.

Using a Map Scale

Map of Argentina

On the map of the country of Argentina, the map scale is in the bottom right corner, and it shows that one whole line length equals 400 miles, and half the line is 200 miles. To use the map scale, start by using a ruler to see how long the line is. In this case it is 1 inch, so 1 inch equals 400 miles. This will serve as a guide when measuring from one point to another.

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