How To: Make a World Map

As part of our mission to transform an old classroom into a library and resource center, we created a giant world map! Teachers, students and I all helped draw and paint a 5.5 by 11 foot map on the wall. My best friend, Nora, even came all the way from America and gave her support. The map has brightened our budding library, which is now a place students love to come visit.

Our Library: Before and After

Our Library: Before and After

Here’s what we did in 10 easy-ish steps:

Step One: Make a box.

Sheriffo Badjie measuring the top of our map.

Sheriffo Badjie, grade 4 teacher, measuring the top of our map.

This is easier than it sounds. If the outside border is not perfect, the map supposedly won’t be proportionate. Spoiler alert: Our map looks fine and our outside border is not perfect (It’s pretty dang close though!) Since the walls and floor in the school library are not level, it was especially difficult to measure out four straight lines. At the top of the wall, we taped a piece of string with a coin tied to it and gravity gave us a straight vertical line.

Step Two: Paint the ocean.

Sheriffo and Nora

Here we go!

It’s important that the ocean blue is light enough to see the pencil sketch that you will draw on top of it. Other than that, this is the easiest part. Unless…you are mixing your own colors and don’t make enough paint; duplicating colors is nearly impossible!

Step Three: Draw 1,568 squares.

Sheriffo and my friend Nora: gridmasters!

Sheriffo and my friend Nora: gridmasters!

That’s a lot of squares! The size of the squares depends on the size of your map. My map is 5.5 by 11 feet and each square is 6 by 6 centimeters. There are 56 squares across and 28 down. Dust off your calculator…you don’t want to mess this part up. The grid is the guide for drawing each country to scale. This part took three of us about 8 hours to complete, but we had to start over about halfway because we had measured wrong. This was the exact moment I thought: “What have I gotten myself into?! We can’t even draw straight lines. How are we going to draw THE WORLD?” My advice: Take a break then persevere. You’ll get it!

Step Four: Sketch the world.

Dawda, grade 5 student

Dawda, grade 5 student, draws Antarctica.

Our mapmaking party.

Teamwork at its finest: Mapmaking Party.

We held a small contest and chose the most artistic students to help us draw the map. Mr. Badjie, a fourth grade teacher who is good at art, taught the kids how to draw to scale using the grid method. While the students each sketched a country or two on the wall, I told them a little about the place. A few other teachers also joined our mapmaking party and helped us. Mr. Badjie directed the show, so everyone could contribute a bit. Then, (luckily) he expertly finished it for us. This part took us 4 long days to complete.

Step Five: Paint the world.

Rohey, grade 5 student

Rohey, grade 5 student, paints India

Isatou and Dawda, grade 5 students, paint Argentina (home of Messi!)

Isatou and Dawda, grade 5 students, paint Argentina (home of Messi!)

There are eight colors on the map we used. Since we were on a limited budget, we used white water-based paint then mixed all our own colors using red, blue and yellow colorizers. We decided to paint one color at a time to make sure we didn’t paint next to still-wet borders. We invited the students to help us and they did a great job despite the face painting that also took place. This part took us 5 days to complete.

Step Six: Double check it.

Me checking and correcting

I check and correct.

It’s important to double check everything before moving on to the next step, especially if children or novice geographers are involved. Create a system for checking each section and remember two pairs of eyes are always better than one! When I did the checks before we started painting, I noticed a few countries that hadn’t even been drawn. Sorry Hungary! It was also important to brush up on any political changes that have shifted borders, since the guide we used was out-of-date.

Step Seven: Touch it up.

Sheriffo and I add the finishing touches.

Sheriffo and I add the finishing touches.

Touch ups take a lot longer than you would think. First, you have to erase all the pencil gridlines, which is quite the arm workout. We decided to touch up the ocean blue over some of the gridlines you could still see and in some places where we had made errors. This was either the best or worst decision depending on when you asked me. We didn’t have any of the ocean blue paint left, so we attempted to mix it again and try to match the color. Of course, it wasn’t the same so we had to go over nearly everything again. At this point, I thought: “Oh no! We have completely ruined all of our hard work. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. It’s culturally inappropriate to cry right now. Don’t cry.” After a few unanticipated hours of repainting the ocean, it actually looks a lot better than it started out. We also decided to add the Gambian flag, Peace Corps symbol and a border. To tie the map into the library, we also painted the Dr. Seuss quote: “The more you read, the more you will know … the more you learn, the more places you will go!”

Step Eight: Play a game.

Maimunia, Grade 6, finds her country on the map.

Maimunia, Grade 6, finds her country on the map.

Your map is nothing but a piece of decoration if you don’t use it. There’s a million ways to incorporate the world map into your classroom lessons, not to mention all that can be learned in the mapmaking process. At our school, the favorite activity is “Where in the World are the Famous Footballers?” What are some other games we should play?

Step Nine: Make your mark.


Isatou signs her name.

We held a small signing ceremony for our mapmakers. Everybody signed their name underneath the map and then we added the date. The whole project was a great confidence-builder for the students, who never have the chance to participate in an activity like this. Adding their names has allowed them to take ownership and therefore, take care of not only the map, but the whole library. The students who helped are especially proud to show their friends, which is one great way to get a conversation about the world started.

Step Ten: Take silly pictures.

We did it!

We did it!

Finishing the world map was enough to make even the Gambians smile! Although the country is known as “The Smiling Coast of Africa,” Gambians typically don’t smile in pictures. We sure did have a lot of fun posing in front of our map masterpiece though.


Bring the world to your school! Download the Peace Corps step-by-step guide to painting a map and get started today.