Google Custom Maps

Custom Google Maps are a fun and interesting way to get students involved in map reading, measuring distances, learning about historic places or connecting places and literature.  There are so many ways you could incorporate Google Maps into your subject area - either by using existing maps made by users or creating original ones.  Consider using the Distance Measurement Tool to calculate the distance from one location to another in a custom map or check out some of these Google maps (need a Google account to view custom maps):

  1. Earthquakes in the Last week -  
  2. Famous places in USA - made by VCS 8th Graders
  3. California Missions - (This is actually a Google Earth file but can be opened in Google Maps too),-119.817402&spn=8.488761,11.733398&z=6
  4. Horatio Alger's New York - These are the places referenced in Ragged Dick, or Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks - 11th graders,-73.988854&spn=0.123562,0.183334&z=12
  5. Presidential Historic Sites -
  6. Map your Clean Up the World Activity- A cool Google Map project
  7. Google Lit Trips -
  8. GMdir:  an unofficial Google Maps Directory -

There are also some cool gadgets you can add to your Google Maps to view clouds, contours, virtual tourism videos, crop circles, Wonders of the World and more at

Creating a custom Google map is easy. Here are the basic steps (you need to be logged into your Google account).  These are selected directions from My Maps User Guide :

Creating a Map

Creating a map is easy. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Go to Google Maps.
  2. Click My Maps > Create new map.
  3. Add a title and description for your map. You can make your map public or unlisted. Learn more.
  4. Use the icons in the the top right corner of the map. These include:

  5. Select button Selection tool. Use this to drag the map and select placemarks, lines, and shapes.
    Placemark button Placemark tool. Use this to add placemarks. Learn more.
    Polygon button Line tool. Use this to draw lines. Learn more.
    Shape button Shape tool. Use this to draw shapes. Learn more.

You can return to your map at any time. Just go to Google Maps and click My Maps. Sign into your Google Account and select the map from your list of maps.

Adding and Editing Placemarks

To add a placemark to your map:

  1. Create or open a map.
  2. Click Placemark button. Your cursor changes into a placemark icon with an "X" crosshairs. The crosshairs indicate where the placemark will fall.

    Placemark icon
  3. Move the cursor to the appropriate location. If you want to dismiss this placemark, press the Escape key.
  4. Click your mouse button to place your placemark. It should bounce into place.
  5. Add a title and description.
  6. You can also change the icon for your placemark by clicking the icon in the top right corner of the info window.
  7. Click OK to save your placemark.

To move or edit a placemark:

  1. To move any placemark on your map, drag and drop it to the new location. Note that you can only edit or move placemarks on your maps, not others.
  2. To edit a placemark's title or description, click on it to open the info window. Edit the title and description and click OK.

Adding Rich Text or HTML Descriptions

By default the descriptions of your map items are in plain text. However, you can use rich text or HTML. To do this:

  1. Create or open a map.
  2. Click the appropriate placemark, line, shape. The info window appears.
  3. Click Edit.
  4. Choose Plain Text, Rich Text or Edit HTML.
  5. To edit rich text descriptions, select the text and use the icons above the description field:

    Rich text icons
  6. To use HTML descriptions, add HTML in the description field. Some HTML may be stripped from the description if it is considered unsafe or malicious.
  7. Click OK to save your changes.

Adding Photos

You can add photos to your map, as long as they are hosted online. Please use a service such as Google PicasaWeb or Flickr to put your photos online.

To add photos:

  1. Create or open a map.
  2. Click the appropriate placemark, line, shape. The info window appears.
  3. Click Edit.
  4. Choose Edit HTML.
  5. In Edit HTML mode, use the <img> tag to add photos. For example, <img src="" width=150 height=55> adds the Google Maps logo to your map with a width of 150 pixels and a height of 55 pixels.
  6. Click OK to save your changes.

Sharing Maps

Once you have created a map, you can share it with others. To do this:

  1. Open the map you want to share.
  2. Click Link to this page in the top right corner of the orange title bar. This will put the map's URL in your browser navigation bar.
  3. You can share this URL with your friends by sending it in an email or posting it on your blog or website.
  4. You can also click the Email link in the top right corner of the orange title bar to open your default email client with the map URL in the email body.

Public and Unlisted Maps

  • You can choose to make your maps public or unlisted.
  • Public maps are maps that you want to publish and share with everyone. Public maps will be included in the search results on Google Maps and Earth.
  • Unlisted maps are maps that you only want to share with a few select people. Unlisted maps will not be included in the search results, so they are accessible much like an unlisted phone number -- anyone who knows the specific URL of the map can view it, but there's no directory or search for finding unlisted maps.

Viewing Your Maps in Google Earth

If you have Google Earth installed on your computer, you can view your maps in Google Earth. To do this:

  1. Create or open a custom map.
  2. Click the KML link or icon in the orange title bar. Google Maps uploads a KML file to your computer that you can open in Google Earth. How cool is that???

More information at My Maps User Guide.

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