State Capitals Lesson: Non-Visual Digital Maps

Students typically learn the 50 state capitals as part of the 4th grade curriculum. This is a fun digital map lesson that can even be taught remotely!

Tactile Maps

Students should have been introduced to and have a general understanding of what states are, the shape of the US, the shape of their home state, etc. before learning the state capitals. Mainstream wooden puzzles of the United States are used to teach the shape of each state and the spatial relationships between states. The American Printing House also has a variety of puzzles and tactile US maps available. When learning new technology skills, students should first be introduced to a tactile model, then pair the tactile model with a digital format before introducing the digital format. Once the student understands the concepts using a digital format, he/she can apply these skills without needing a tactile model.

What is a state capital? The capital of a state is its administration center where the government resides; the state capitals are often a center of culture and history for their state.

State Capital Map Lessons

Students typically memorize each state's capital. This state capital map activity can be expanded to teach many additional things. Let's take a look at some sample state capital lessons.

Learning Non-Visual Digital Map Skills

If your student has not used a non-visual digital map previously, start the lesson by teaching the tech skills and commands required to access a non-visual digital map. To open the accessible version of the map, you must install the free SAS Graphics Accelerator for Google Chrome. This is a Google Extension and only works with the Google web browser. Remember, the non-visual digital map does not visually look like the traditional visual Google Map; non-visual digital maps are auditory!

  1. Install SAS Graphics Accelerator for Google Chrome
  2. Open the State Capitals map (which is the traditional visual Google Map).
  3. Click the Accelerate button on the map (bottom right corner) to open the accessible non-visual digital map.

Once the non-visual digital map is opened, visually, there is a large circle with 50 points. These points are very close together.

  • Zoom in by pressing the "+" (plus key)

Now, the range is 2,500 miles (instead of 5,000 miles), showing 49 of the 50 points. Explore the map.

  • Sweep the virtual cane: press Page Down (Windows) or FN + Down Arrow (Mac) 

Stop on Indianapolis, Indiana. 

  • Make Indianapolis the center of the virtual circle. Jump to Indianapolis, Indiana by pressing the Enter key. Now the center of the cirlce (where you are virtually standing) is Indianapolis and the bearing (direction) and distance (miles) is in from Indianapolis.

Find Sacramento. Sacremento resides in which state?

Which direction is California's capital from Indianapolis? Use stereo headphones/earbuds to hear the tone in the left ear. Listen to your screen reader announcing the bearing (9 o'clock). Note: The non-visual digital map always faces north, so 9 o'clock is west.

  • Change the Directions from clock face to cardinal directions by pressing "I". Now the bearing announces cardinal directions instead of clock face directions.

Is California closer or farther than other states? Listen to the pitch of the tone. The higher the pitch, the closer to the center - in this case, Indianapolis; the lower the pitch, the farther away. Listen to your screen reader announcing the distance. (1,884 miles) Note: The miles are "as the crow flies" and not actual road miles.

Find your state or a random state. What direction is that state from Indianapolis? How far is it from Indianapolis? Make your state the center of the map (Enter key). To confirm what state is currently the center of the map, press "/" (forward slash).

Find the capital of Maryland. Make Maryland the center of the circle. In order to better explore the states in the north east, zoom in again; the range should now be 1,000 miles. Explore the north east.

Use the State Capital Map to Answer Social Studies Questions

Once the student understands non-visual digital map concepts and the commands to navigate and access the map, the student can answer these social studies questions:

  1. What states border Nebraska?
    • What are the capitals of the states that border Nebraska?
  2. What three states are west of Nebraska (hint: Zoom in)
    • Which of those three states west of Nebraska is the farthest away?
  3. How many miles is it from Jackson, Mississippi to Madison, Wisconsin?
  4. How many extra miles is a road trip from Albany, New York to Tallahassee, Florida with a stop in Charleston, West Virginia?


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