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Topographic Maps and Mountains Lesson Plan

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Lesson Plan #: AELP-GLG0202
Submitted by: Anthony (Tony) Nastasi
Email: tonynastasi@yahoo.com
School/University/Affiliation: Niagara University, Niagara Falls, NY
Endorsed by: Dr. Thomas Schiera
             Niagara University, Niagara Falls, NY

December 8, 2000

Grade Level: 5, 6


  • Science/Geology
  • Science/Earth Science

Duration: 1 hour 

Description: In this activity, students construct topographic maps of papier-mache mountains. Students learn about the uses of topographic maps and the people who use them. 

Goals: Students continue to develop an understanding of mountains and topography by making a topographic map of a mountain they have made.


  • Students will demonstrate their understanding of the concept of mountains by creating a topographic map of a papier-mache mountain.
  • Students will be able to discriminate shapes on a topographic map of their mountain.
  • Students will identify uses and users of topographic maps.
  • Materials:

    • papier-mache or other student-made mountains
    • sample of a topographic map
    • ruler
    • hacksaw (to be used by the teacher)
    • colored markers
    • pencil
    • posterboard 
    • 1/4 rod 


  • topography – The surveying of the features of a place or region.
  • topographic maps – Graphic representations of the surface features of a place or region on a map, indicating relative positions and elevations.
  • Procedure:  

    [ Author’s Note: Any lesson about mountains can precede this activity, such as how mountains are formed, mountain ranges of the world, mountain ranges under the sea, etc.]

    Introduce the activity with a review of mountains. Ask students, What is a mountain? Do you know where the tallest mountain is?  Next, introduce topographic maps by displaying a sample map. Ask students, What does the topographic map show? Who would use a topographic map? Explain how a topographic map represents the unique features of a mountain, and discuss how topographic maps are used by professionals.

    Inform students that they are going to make topographic maps of the mountains they made from a previous lesson (papier-mache mountains). Each group of students will need a ruler, colored makers, pencil, and a piece of posterboard. (The posterboard should be at least 3 inches larger than the mountain, all the way around.)

    Using a ruler and a marker, students indicate 1 intervals on their mountains (horizontally, starting from the bottom). With teacher assistance, a 1/4 rod is put through the center of the mountain from top to bottom to indicate center (remove the rod). Next, students mark one side of the mountain to indicate a constant side. On the posterboard, students draw a line lengthwise down the center of the posterboard and put a dot in the center of the line. The teacher uses a hacksaw to cut each mountain horizontally at the 1 intervals (This would be a good activity to have parent volunteers to assist!).

    After the mountains have been cut, students trace the outlines of each piece on posterboard (using different colored markers for each piece). Students should start with the top piece, making sure that the center rod hole is on the dot and the marked side is on the line (so all pieces are facing the same way relative to each other). Students continue this procedure for the remaining pieces. When completed, all maps are posted on a bulletin board.

    Assessment: At the conclusion of the lesson, check for understanding by having students play a game. Each group will be given another group’s mountain. The students will study the unique characteristics of the mountain and figure out whose mountain it is, based on matching the characteristics of the mountain to its topographic map.

    Useful Internet Resource:
    * TopoZone
    Type in an address to view a topographic map of an area in the United States.

    Special Comments: I am a graduate student at Niagara University and presented this lesson in my Methods class. Although it is designed for grades 5-6, even graduate students who did not know anything about topography were able to make topographic maps and discriminate between them. The unique feature of this lesson is that students are constructing maps of mountains that they have made themselves, and the assessment involves students analyzing maps and comparing them to see which group’s map belongs to which mountain. This activity gives teachers another lesson to incorporate when teaching the concept of mountains.