How To Memorize The 50 United States On A Map

My fifth grader is having to learn US geography — in particular, to look at a blank map and write in the correct name for each of the states. I think that’s great. I love maps and geography. But that’s a lot of states. I’ve been sharing with him a number of ways I’ve somehow remembered where states are located, and I’m curious to hear what others have to say.

California is easy. I grew up in the state, and he’s already learned it simply because I’d always point to it so much. But look at the shape. See how it’s kind of like a C? So it’s C for California.

Texas is another “letter” state for me. It kind of makes a T shape. Next to it, Louisiana looks like an L.

Then there are states that look like objects. Oklahoma, I always remembered it as being the state that looks kind of like a frying pan. Kentucky always looks like a chicken drumstick to me, appropriate when there’s Kentucky Fried Chicken out there. So that was another one easy to remember.

As I mentioned in a similar post on this topic from 2005, I learned from Laurie Keller’s great book, The Scrambled States of America, that Michigan has a glove shape.

I really got put to the test in helping him with his own real test, however. For some states, it was simply running him through those on the map. Damn, New England has a lot of states! I suggested that Alabama kind of looks like an A. That since he knew at a glance where Florida was, and it began with an F, the state above was the next letter — G — for Georgia.

Getting him to recognize either North or South Dakota or either North or South Carolina also meant he pretty much could get the other. The same was true for Virginia versus West Virginia.

So far, he’s gotten 100% on his two tests (he’s learning by region), so the repetition seems to be working. Still, I wish there were more tips or tricks or funny ways to look at a blank state on a map and know what it is.

I did find some interesting US geography online tools here, and there are some other tips here on how to remember state names and capitals. But those are more ways to remember lists, rather than locations on a map. Heck, it’s just easier to remember the Fifty Nifty United States song (written by Ray Charles, no less!). For those who don’t know it, here you go:

Anyway, if you live in a particular state where you’re taugh a particular way on how to memorize it, I’d sure love to know. Last time I tried this, I learned from a reader that aside from looking like a glove, folks in Michigan also remember their geography by thinking “The High Five State.” That’s cool.

Next, how to memorize the Gettysburg Address. Can you guess which homework lessons fall to me around the house?


  1. yogi says

    Buy your kid a puzzle of the united states – he’ll do it a few times and remember the states for the rest of his life.

    Also, if he’s ok at drawing than you can ask him to draw a map of the states.

  2. patti says

    The great lakes (surrounding Michigan) can be remembered using the word HOMES – with each great lake beginning with one of the letters in HOMES = Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior

  3. says

    Argh, but there’s only 46 states as Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are commonwealth’s 😉

    And I’m a Brit and I knew that. Shhh, I’ll get my coat.

  4. Ela says

    The state of Missouri has eight states that share its borders which makes it unique. It’s also in (roughly) the middle of the country and offers something to build on. However, the way I really learned the locations of the states was by playing with a wooden peg puzzle of the US growing up.

  5. says

    You can also use names to memorize states. Say if your name was marry you could remember Maine or Maryland. You can also make sentences for states too.(:

  6. alex says

    delaware: if you take out the d the first 2 letters make the ”L” sound and delaware looks like a tiny L

  7. Heriberto says

    For Delaware, i think of an a small accessory. and what do people do with accessories? Well they WARE them. Or delaWARE them 😀
    I like to think of Maine as the first state taking into consideration that its the one farthest east.
    The way to remember Arkansas and Kansas is to just simply realize that if you were to draw an ARK on Kansas, or vise versa, you would find Arkansas.

  8. Tyronne says

    For the four states that meet up… remember the phrase, “You can.”
    Utah Colorado
    Arizona New Mexico

  9. says

    Just thought that if he ever does the Great Lakes he might like to know about the word “H.O.M.E.S”. Huron, Ontario,Michigan, Erie and Superior.

  10. Piper says

    For the States along the Mississippi River its kinda of looks like a Guy Minnesota being his hat, Iowa his face, Missouri his body, Arkansas his legs and Louisiana his feet. – To remember those states just remember that his name is “MIMAL”

  11. olikovic says

    tennesee is the top of the T for Alabama.west virginia is easy to remember because it looks like a heart and your heart is on the west side of your body.Kentucky looks like a drum stick si kentucky fried chicken.