Thinking Mapping the Colonies

This week, after FINALLY finishing the Columbian Exchange essays and Explorer "wanted posters" (it sure seemed like we were working on those for ages), we moved on to our unit on the 13 Colonies.

After our initial discussion, in which we set the stage for why England chose North America to begin with, the students used their social studies books to create all EIGHT Thinking Maps....relating them to the Colonies in some way.

We first brainstormed ideas for each map. How could we use the Circle Map?  What would be the best use of the Bridge or Brace Map?  How would a Tree Map best be applied?  The kids came up with some creative answers, which I listed on the board, and then set off to execute them.  They had free range to do pretty much anything they wanted from the board.  However I did stipulate that all 8 maps needed to be correctly used.

Now, I have to say, this took f.o.r.e.v.e.r. to do (about a week), but was well worth it in the end.  The kids were applying their new found general knowledge about the colonies in a very specific way.  Instead of just jigsawing and coming together, each of them were digging into the text book and coming out with some great ideas!  I really feel like the Thinking Maps helped to focus them and, as a result, they really have this nice foundation for use to build upon.

The students then cut out and backed each of the maps, creating a poster of the maps.  They fit a few on the front of the poster and a few on the back.  I am displaying them in the window (I am lucky in that I have 4 huge windows with 8 panes each) so people can see the maps from both inside and outside the classroom.  A book would be another way to present them all, if space was an issue.  :)  Here are a few pictures.

 These first pictures are of the front and back of one of the posters.
Front of the poster

Back of the Poster

Brace Map of colonies
Tree Map and Double Bubble

Multi-Flow Map
Bridge Map

 I am so excited about this unit!  I can't wait to see where we go with it this year!

On a side note, we got this amazing new US Map rug from Lakeshore.....and it has been SO SO SO helpful at the beginning of this unit.  I am so grateful to Donors Choose for this wonderful resource.  And, yes, I have a rug in 5th grade.  I LOVE it.  (you can read about it here ;) )


  1. Hey Stephanie,
    I LOVE reading your posts about Thinking Maps since I'm such a huge fan too! These look AWESOME :) You must be super proud of your kiddos! I just wanted to let you know that I made some Thinking Maps Reader's Response Templates for free on our blog if you're interested :) Have a great rest of your day!

    Lisa :)
    Made In The Shade In Second Grade

    1. OHHH...I am off to go check them out Lisa! I love Thinking Maps and everything that has to do with them :)

  2. Steph, these thinking maps are awesome! Looks like a fantastic lesson!

    ❤ Mor Zrihen from...
    A Teacher's Treasure
    Teaching Treasures Shop

  3. #1 I want a US Map rug for my house. My boyfriend wouldn't even be mad!
    #2 You are the best Social Studies teacher ever!
    To The Square Inch

    1. What a thing to wake up to! I don't know about the best...but I do love it so! My favorite words to hear from my students are "I love social studies now. It is so much fun!" :)


  4. This is really great Stephanie. You always have great ideas to get your students interested and they enjoy learning from you. I want to use this idea when I go back into the classroom.

    1. Thanks Bree! And thanks for stopping by. It is nice to see you here :)

  5. I am excited to see this idea! The 13 Colonies was a difficult unit for my kids since there were so many essentials to remember from our standards. I will definitely use this!

  6. I am new to your blog and getting ready to go back to school. I am thinking about re-doing my colonial unit this year and like your maps. However, I'm not sure I understand the criteria for each of your maps. Can you point me to a different post that explains how and when to use each of the thinking maps you used for this project?

    Thanks!! Jess

  7. I came across this idea for the 13 Colonies and and thought my 5th graders could easily handle this. We are working through a basic introduction of the important pieces of how the colonies came to be, then a final project (travel brochure, I'm thinking) to show what they've learned about one colony. Thanks for the great blog!

  8. Did you group /pair the kids or did each create all 8 thinking maps?

  9. Did you do these BEFORE reading the content in the textbook? Or AFTER? Or INSTEAD OF?
    Also, I just finished my unit on the 13 colonies and I found an amazing STEM project that the students complete online. In it, they design and "settle" a new (virtual) colony - they have to decide how much supplies to bring, where to place homes, storage buildings, etc. And then they are hit with a natural disaster of some sort which they see how their colony withstood. They reflect, rebuild, and try again. It's great! You can find it at


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