I think that every educated person should be able to look up at night, and recognize the face of the sky. We should feel at home under the ceiling of our world. Every educated person should know the constellations, for the same reason every educated person should know basic geography. In school, we make students learn to recognize the shapes of countries and continents in geography class. We want them to know the arrangement of their world, and to be able to find their way around on a map of it. I say we should make students learn to recognize the shapes of star patterns and 'landmarks' in the sky for the same reason. They should know the arrangement of the heavens above, and be able to find their way around on a map of outer space. Educated people should be as familiar with the sky above as the land below, not only for its own sake, but also because the sky above helps you find your way around on the land below. The sky is a ceiling containing a mural, and the mural is a map of the neighborhood of our world, printed permanently over our heads. We can read directions in the sky, if we know the signs on the map.
Geography Class for the Sky
And what's the best way to learn geography? In school, we hand out maps, and we practice labeling things with their names. Maybe we let students color in the countries to help reinforce the shapes. Why can't we do something similar for the night sky? We should have a set of constellation charts that resemble the night sky, and we should give these to students as worksheets, and make them practice labeling stars and star patterns with their names. (And then they should go home and try to find these shapes in the sky, for real, after dark.) To that end, I made a series of maps for what I think are the major constellations in the night sky, the brightest and most recognizable 'landmark' constellations, visible from the northern hemisphere of earth.
In the links below, you can find blank and filled-in versions of these charts, along with a brief guide to the stars and constellations in each one. My school had digital projectors and whiteboards in each classroom, and I would project the blank worksheet onto the whiteboard, and then draw on it with whiteboard markers. I gave students their own copy of a blank worksheets with only stars on them, and then we would systematically identify stars one-by-one and circle them, and then connect the dots to make memorable shapes that we could give names to. It worked beautifully. And I found that this made an educational and all-around popular classroom activity.
I don't have charts for each and every constellation. Some parts of the night sky are vast expanses of darkness, containing a few scattered dim stars. Other parts of the sky contain bright concentrations of brighter and more numerous stars. On a 'world map of stars', perhaps we can think of the dark parts like the featureless oceans of the globe, and the bright parts like the continents, full of the lights of civilization. If we look up at one of the "oceans", one of the patches of the sky where the stars are few and dim, it might be hard to find our way around. If we live in a city, we might look up at the sky and not see any stars at all across big parts of the sky. But we should at least be able to recognize the bright parts, the 'landmarks', so to speak. We should at least give students maps of the bright 'continents' in the night sky, and then those who are interested can explore the darker 'oceans' by going to the library and consulting an atlas of the sky, in the same way they might consult an atlas of the earth. Once you are able to get your bearings using the bright landmarks, you can go hunting for the dimmer stuff. In these charts, I emphasize the bright landmarks.
In geography class, if you want to study specific parts of the world in more detail, you consult an atlas, a collection of close-up maps to go along with your globe. If you or your students become interested in star-hunting, in searching for dimmer treasures among the stars, you will need a constellation atlas. For most people, and especially for children, I recommend the books by H.A. Rey, especially The Stars. For a more precise atlas, suitable for adult hobbyists and amateur astronomers, I like The Monthly Sky Guide. I bought a copy many (ahem) years ago for a college class, and I still have it. (Both of those links are "affiliate links", which means I may earn a small commission if you purchase the book after following the link.)
Each of my charts includes most of the stars in the area, including the dim ones. The smallest may be hard to see on the paper, but they'll be hard to see in the sky, too. Depending on your sky conditions, you might not see them at all. (I found that very young children, say in 2nd grade and below, would very easily become distracted by too many stars. Someday perhaps I'll prepare a second set of charts for younger students, omitting all but the brightest stars.) Also, I designed these worksheets for use in the classroom, which is why they have labeling blanks at the top for name, date, and title.
In my experience, this was always a fun part of the year. Students loved it. However, I have to admit that this was in Southern California, where the skies are almost always clear. If you live in a place where the skies are not often clear...well, learning constellations is an intermittent activity anyway, to be interspersed with other material. You will just have to be "opportunistic astronomers", and take advantage of clear skies when you have them.
Scorpius and Sagittarius
This bright pairing is prominent (to viewers in the northern hemisphere) in the southern skies on late summer and fall evenings, and before dawn in spring and early summer.
The Summer Triangle
This landmark is high overhead in the evenings of late summer and early fall, and before dawn in late spring.
The Big Dipper and Cassiopeia
The constellations near the "north pole of stars" are always up in the northern sky (for residents of the northern hemisphere), and are very useful for finding your way around, both on land and in the sky. This map shows them as they appear in autumn.
Leo the Lion
Leo is visible somewhere in the evening sky from roughly February through July, and is visible in the pre-dawn sky from roughly October through March.
Orion and Friends
The majestic grouping of constellations around Orion is prominent in the evening skies during winter.
The Andromeda Story
The classic legend of Perseus, Pegasus, and Andromeda is illustrated in the sky by a cluster of constellations visible overhead in the evenings of late fall and early winter.
The Winter Hexagon
This majestic fleet of constellations is prominent in the southern sky on winter evenings.