Thursday, July 7, 2016

Comparing Countries with Google Maps

Maps are a powerful tool to help students understand and explore our world. However, maps are never a perfect representation, which can sometimes lead to misunderstandings. For example this could include confusion on how big land masses really are when compared to each other.

A big reason for this is the popularity of the Mercator projection map. This is the map we are used to seeing, which takes the spherical world and lays it out on a flat map. To do this, the map has to stretch out the landmasses as you move further North or South from the equator. As a result, areas such as Antarctica or Greenland end up looking much larger than they really are.

Recently I came across a neat website called “The True Size Of” which is built on top of Google Maps. The site does a great job of helping users compare the real sizes of states and countries, relative to each other. This can help students get a better idea of how large other countries really are and improve their understanding of the world.

See below for a quick overview of how the site works, along with some examples of the comparisons you can make.

The True Size Of...

The website is located at

When you first open the site you will get:

  • A map of the Earth
  • Overlays for the United States, China, and India which you can drag around and rotate
  • And a pop-up window with directions

How to use the site

Here are the directions for using the site:

  • To get an overlay for a landmass, type the name of a state or country in the box in the top left corner of the site and choose the country from the matching list of names.
  • The landmass will be dropped onto the map.
  • You can move the landmass by clicking on it, holding down the mouse button, and dragging.
  • As you move landmasses closer to the equator they will get smaller.
  • As you move landmasses further from the equator they will get larger.
  • You can rotate a landmass by clicking once on it and then clicking and dragging the compass rose in the bottom left corner of the site.
  • To remove a landmass, right click on it.

Ideas for use

Student can use “The True Size Of…” website in many ways:

Accurately compare sizes of landmasses

Because the Mercator projection maps distort sizes as you move away from the equator, it is easy for students to have inaccurate concepts of how big different countries really are. Students can type in countries far from the equator, and then drag the country closer to the equator to compare the sizes properly. Likewise countries near the equator can be moved further North or South for proper relative comparisons.

As an example, see the image below where I have compared Greenland with the United States.

Comparing distant countries

Even if landmasses are not at different latitudes, they can still be far away on the globe. Being a great distance apart can make it difficult to get a fair comparison of size. If students are studying another country, they can drop its overlay on top of or next to their own country to get a familiar frame of reference to better understand its size and the distance between its major cities and features.

As an example, see the image below where I have compared Japan to the United States.


So many excellent tools are built on top of Google Maps, including Smarty Pins, Geoguessr, Geosettr, Tour Builder, and more. The website “The True Size Of” is one more great interactive map tool to help student explore and understand our world.

What other ideas do you have for how this tool could be used in the classroom? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Post by Eric Curts. Connect with Eric on Twitter at and on Google+ at


  1. This is SO awesome! As a history/social studies teacher, understanding geography and being able to compare landmasses and countries is so important in helping students make connections and truly grasp geographic awareness. It is especially important when studying Africa. I always struggle with getting students to realize how huge Africa is! This is going to come in handy this year. Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. I love this. I teach Spanish and am responsible for teaching culture and a bit of geography for the 21 Spanish speaking countries in the world. This adds another dimension to their learning about country size relative to what they know. Thanks so much.