Educator Spotlight: Making Mapping Relevant

Elizabeth Ault-Cook incorporated her student’s interests in dance and poetry into an introduction to map vocabulary. She then led her student in a map-reading activity that involved plotting and comparing the locations of sports teams.

Elizabeth Ault-Cook is a homebound intervention specialist with Wooster City Schools in Wooster, Ohio. Photo by Missy Ault

Could you explain your teaching experience and your current position as a one-on-one teacher?

I have been teaching for 11 years. For the first several years of my career I taught preschool. During this time, I fell in love with teaching students with special needs, so I earned a master’s degree and became a special education teacher. I now teach homebound students.

Most of my students are medically fragile, and that prevents them from attending a traditional school. I go to their homes and teach them individually. Currently, my teaching caseload includes students ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade. I am always trying to find ways to get students interested in things beyond the walls of their home. 

What inspired your National Geographic Educator Certification capstone project on map skills?

My goal was to develop my second-grade student’s map-reading skills by using a compass rose and incorporating map vocabulary. First, I pre-assessed my student to understand his existing schema about maps. I knew that I would have to tie the topic into his current interests in order to generate motivation. He is interested in poetry, so we read a poem that incorporates the cardinal directions. I also introduced map words into his vocabulary through dance. We danced along to Youtube music videos, like the “Compass Slide,” that used map-reading words.

After gaining comfort with map vocabulary, we did a map-skills activity. My student is very interested in sports teams’ mascots. He has a collection of 350 mascots from all over the U.S. and Canada. We chose 10 mascots and mapped the locations of the mascots’ teams. Then we compared the locations using cardinal direction and compass rose vocabulary.

Elizabeth’s student has a collection of 350 mascots. Photo by Elizabeth Ault-Cook

Educators: Download full lesson plan here

Why was it important for you to use your student’s existing interests in poetry and dance as a way to engage him in learning about maps?

I knew if he wasn’t interested in the lesson it wasn’t going to stick. My student doesn’t travel often, though he does occasionally go to sporting events with his parents. I knew I would have to find a way to get him interested in the world beyond our city.

What are the opportunities and challenges that come with teaching one-on-one?

Teaching one-on-one affords me the amazing opportunity to tailor lessons, and the curriculum, to each student’s interests and needs. The challenge lies in adapting certain projects that involve socializing or working with a group. When I work one-on-one with a student, I am the one doing all the modeling and having all the discussions with the student. There are times when it would be helpful for the student to hear from peers and learn from their perspectives.

Elizabeth generated motivation for the mapping project by incorporating her student’s interests, including dance, poetry, and mascots. Photo by Elizabeth Ault-Cook

What aspects of one-on-one teaching do you think other educators would benefit from including in their classrooms?

I think all teachers can benefit from incorporating a multimodal approach into their lesson plans. This means using visual and auditory elements as well as activities that use fine and gross motor skills. Doing this helps meet the needs of all the students in a class. I also recommend tying in students’ interests as much as possible. When students are interested in a lesson, they will retain it, and possibly even develop a new interest.

How would you modify your map project if you were teaching it to a whole class?

If I were teaching my map project to a whole class I would retain the main elements of the project but tailor the activities to align with the students’ interests. For the mascot map reading activity, I would sort students into groups according to their interests. For example, if a group of students loved reading, they could plot the settings of different books on the map and compare the locations. Other groups of students would plot other locations on maps according to their interests.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Interested in joining Elizabeth as a National Geographic Certified Educator? Learn more at

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