I reinforce this using my arm while saying, "Latitude tells how far north or south of the equator, and longitude tells how far west or east of the Prime Meridian."
If you're new to teaching this set of concepts (or just need a refresher course), head to Latitude 34 North for concise yet thorough discussions of latitude and longitude, as well as important named circles of latitude (equator, Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, Arctic Circle, and Antarctic Circle), the Prime Meridian and International Date Line. In my experience, it's important to bone up on specific information before teaching so you can answer questions like this one that popped up in my class: "Is it named Topic of Cancer because you're more likely to get cancer when you cross it?" (Great thinking, but no.)
I like linking the reason for seasons to this discussion. My decrepit globe comes out of the closet, and the path around my room becomes the path of Earth around the sun each year. The lucky student in the center of the room becomes the sun. This 30-second You Tube video is a shortened version of the movement and discussion that then transpire in my classroom. We review this three times during our school year: at autumnal equinox, winter solstice, and vernal equinox. Repetition helps students to remember and conceptualize how Earth's tilted axis causes seasons.
Now's the perfect time to explore patterns of sunshine at daylightmap.com. How cool! My class likes to display this all day long. It's interesting and thought-provoking. You can manipulate the calendar to show the equinoxes, solstices, and everything in between.
Teaching latitude and longitude can't be rushed. The preliminary conceptual background discussed above generally takes one full period or longer. Then we move on to locating specific places using latitude and longitude. Each student needs only one resource: an atlas, which can usually be found in his/her social studies book.
The pointer finger on the right hand scans up and down along the labels for latitude, and the left pointer scans across on the labels for longitude. The teacher calls out the latitude and longitude; students locate them with their pointers and slide along the lines until their fingers come together.
My students respond best when starting with a map of our state. Since we're in the western hemisphere, I have to explain how and why the lines of longitude increase from right to left (instead of from left to right as we normally read a page). We find the latitude and longitude of our city then discuss the range of latitudes and longitudes for our state. Finally, we locate the closest crosshairs for our capital city.
After exploring our state, we move to a map of our country, the USA. I call out latitudes and longitudes, wait until everyone's hand is in the air, and ask them to shout out the name of the state.
Finally, we work on latitude and longitude in all four quadrants using the world map. In years when I tried teaching with a world map first, my students were confused. This year, however, after using state and country maps first, they were ready to take on the world!
To ensure mastery, several days of full-class practice are necessary. Then students can hone their skills using games like these:
- Latitude and Longitude Map Match Game, KidsGeo.com
- Treasure Hunt, ABCYa.com
- Latitude and Longitude, Purpose Games
This site from the Oswego City School District also provides a great student-centered review of latitude and longitude.
My social studies book provides one page of text, one map, and one worksheet for teaching latitude and longitude. That's just not enough! Do you have a clever way to teach this skill? If so, please share!