Using Google Maps in Language Teaching

This is the first post in a series on using technology in the language classroom.

A quick idea that language teachers can use both in and outside the classroom using something that we all probably use every day: Google Maps.

I’ve always loved maps, and having Google Maps at my disposal has only increased my propensity to stroll virtually the streets of different cities: I can go down memory lane by “visiting” places I’ve frequented in the past and I can explore new cities before I go there in person. I’ve recently incorporated the digital, interactive maps of different Spanish-speaking cities into lessons on the imperative mood. This is best used after students have some city vocabulary and when students have been introduced to the imperative but may not yet be ready to generate output: they can recognize the imperative when they see it, but might need some more practice before they start conjugating the verbs on their own (see the input hypothesis for more information about why lots of input without requiring much initial oral output can be a good thing). Students receive input through listening to or reading instructions in Spanish; their output is limited, requiring them to supply one-word answers. In addition, they are exposed to cultural information by becoming acquainted with some of the local hot-spots, both old and new, of Hispanic cities.

An example: Start in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid.



You can either use a zoomed-in view of Google Maps or the Street View, which I like, because it gives a sense of being in the city:



Give the students a list of directions using the familiar () imperative. Give them simple questions to answer after they’ve followed your directions to verify that they’ve understood your commands. Some ideas:

Empieza en el Kilómetro Cero en la Puerta de Sol.

Gira a la derecha y baja (hacia el sur) por la Calle de Carretas hasta la Calle de Atocha. ¿En qué plaza estás (cómo se llama la plaza)? (Plaza de Jacinto Benavente)

Al oeste de la plaza, gira a la derecha otra vez y sube por la Calle de Esparteros (hacia el norte) por dos cuadras. ¿Qué ves a la izquierda? (various possible answers)

Gira a la izquierda y camina tres cuadras. ¿Qué plaza ves delante de ti? (La Plaza Mayor)

Sal por el lado sur de la plaza. Camina una cuadra y dobla a la izquierda. ¿En qué calle estás? (La calle Lechuga)

And so on and so forth. I like to boldface or underline the verbs to help them notice the grammatical form and to associate it with the imperative.

If you teach in a 1-1 laptop classroom, you can have students do this in class together; if you have limited technological resources inside your classroom, it is easy to assign this type of exercise as homework. If the places through which the students are virtually passing are culturally or historically important, I will give them a handout after they complete the exercise with brief explanations – usually in English – of those places.

You can then review their answers to assess whether or not they understood the assignment. As a follow-up exercise, you can have students choose a city/neighborhood and make up their own short list of instructions to help a friend find a particular locale.

Want more examples? Let me know in the comments!

2 Comments on “Using Google Maps in Language Teaching

  1. Hola Laura.
    I love this idea of using Google Maps! I’ve used maps before with my students (all adult learners of Spanish) who are learning to communicate with the Spanish speaking residents in our community. I have a question about vocabulary, however. Most Mexicans that I have heard use: “de vuelta” instead of “gire.” (They also tend to use the formal “usted” more frequently than “tu.”) What do you think? Should I teach both?

    • Hi Nancy,

      Gracias por visitar y comentar. So sorry for the delay in my reply. The differences in vocabulary that you mention provide a great opportunity to discuss how the same things are said in different ways in different Spanish-speaking parts of the world. Something you could try would be to teach “gire/gira” when practicing with maps of Spanish cities, and “de/da vuelta” when practicing with maps of Mexico. Of course, you should teach what you’re most comfortable and familiar with, but I always like to mention that while I might say one thing, other Spanish-speakers may something different; neither one is more “correct” than the other. Hope this helps!

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