Photo of Pittsboro courthouse and text

John’s O&M Lesson 3: Whole-to-Part Mental Map

Teach your student to build a strong mental map of the whole area then fill in the details!

This is the third post in a series about John’s non-visual digital map O&M lesson. In Lesson 1, John, a 4th grade student who lives in a small town, was introduced to a simple, non-visual digital map of his town. He learned the basics about how to use the free SAS Graphics Accelerator software to access the map and he learned a few Points of Interest (POIs) about downtown Pittsboro. In Lesson 2, John learned that downtown Pittsboro is laid out in a grid, basic street concepts and the downtown streets near his house. In Lesson 3, John will learn about the main roads in Pittsboro, the “boundary roads” and to build a Whole-to-Part mental map of Pittsboro.

This map of Pittsboro has been expanded to include boundary roads and a key POI on each road. Additionally, the map includes the Pittsboro schools. There are 18 points on this map. The goal of this map is to learn the boundary roads and the relationships between these boundary roads and main areas of Pittsboro.

Whole-to-Part Method

While young students are often taught using the part-to-whole method, meaning you start with a familiar area and expand from that area. In John’s scenario, the familiar area may start from his house (or the Circle in downtown), and then building out to all of downtown Pittsboro. The part-to-whole method, when used long term, encourages rote route travelers, not fearless independent travelers. As the student’s skills progress, the whole-to-part method is often best. “Whole-to-Part” is when you develop a “big picture” or mental map of the larger area and then learn the details. This lesson will focus on the big picture of Pittsboro: let’s start by learning the “boundary roads”.

Boundary Roads

A “Boundary” is a line that marks the limits of an area or simply, a dividing line. O&M students should learn about boundaries early on: the boundary lines in their yard, the boundary lines of their school playground, the boundary lines of their neighborhood, etc. They should use these boundary lines for orientation purposes, such as in Pittsboro, East Street, divides the town into north and south sections. East Street is a busy street without lights or stop signs (except at the circle); therefore, when walking, John is not allowed to cross East Street – John’s southern walking boundary is East Street. 

Boundary lines also help to define the area that the student is learning. With the whole-to-part method, John begins to learn the big picture by developing a mental map starting with Pittsboro’s main boundary lines and the general “shape” of the town. The boundary roads helps to “anchor” the student’s mental map of Pittsboro. When traveling by foot or in a vehicle, when the student crosses the 64 Bypass overpass – the Pittsboro northern boundary line –  he knows that he is entering or leaving the town of Pittsboro. Typically, boundary roads form a rectangle; however, Pittsboro does not have a southern boundary road. We have already learned that 64 Business is a straight east/west road passing through the center of town. 64 Business is also called East Street (east of the circle) and West Street (west of the circle). 64 Bypass forms a half circle around the northern part of town. Shh! O&Ms, do not “tell” your student that 64 Bypass forms a half circle – encourage him to figure it out on his own!  (In Lesson 2, we learned how to identify curved roads using the non-visual digital maps.) Highway 501 (called Hillsboro Street on the north side of the circle and Sanford Road on the south side of the circle) runs north and south through the center of town. Note: Hillsboro Street goes to the neighboring cities Hillsboro/Chapel Hill and Sanford Road goes to the neighboring city of Sanford.

Note: With some maps, the boundary “roads” might be boundary rivers or other natural boundaries.

Screenshot of visual Google Map Pittsboro Whole to Part map, showing the main roads of Pittsboro

Let’s introduce the whole-to-part method by teaching the boundary roads and then filling in the details using the Pittsboro Whole to Part Map.

Pittsboro Whole to Part Map


By Diane Brauner

Back to Paths to Technology’s Home page


Remote O&M instruction for students transitioning to college: Building a mental map

photo of Pittsboro courthouse and text

John’s O&M Lesson 4: Analyzing Map Data

Cartoon girl with clasped praying hands showing distress in front of a computer with text

National Homework Hotline for Blind or Visually Impaired Students: Part 2