Making a Topographic Map
computer exercisehandout exercisesuggested grade levels: 7-9

view Idaho achievement standards for this lesson

A topographic map is a two-dimensional representation of the three dimensional surface of the earth. These maps are used to represent the shape of the surface. Changes in elevation are represented by contour lines. After doing this activity, students should know how to read and understand a topographic map.

1. Students will be exposed to the Topography section of the Digital Atlas of Idaho.
2. Students will construct and know how to read a topographic map.

Poster paper Styrofoam (or any other substance, even a loaf of bread or cake) chunk shaped in the form of a mountain sliced horizontally every 1-inch so the "mountain" can be separated into layers.
Markers A long straight stick that has a pointed tip

This activity can help students as they learn about the topography section of the Digital Atlas.
To get there: Click on Atlas Home, Geography, Basics, then on Topography. Encourage your students to read through the topography section and encourage them to pay special attention to what contour lines are, vertical scales, and gradients. Then do the following demonstration.

1. Place the "mountain" in the center of the paper and insert the rod through the mountain from the tip of the mountain to the bottom. Make sure the rod leaves a mark on the paper. Make sure the rod does not penetrate Styrofoam at an angle. This is done so there is a point of reference to be used as you place each "slice" of the mountain.
2. Trace the bottom "slice" of the mountain on the poster paper using a marker, be sure to center the hole in the slice on the mark on the paper.
3. Repeat this process with every layer of the mountain, going from the bottom to the top. Make sure all layers are facing the same way before tracing.
4. Label each line in inches to represent elevation. Your bottom layer should be labeled zero inches, next layer 1 inch, and so on.
5. Discuss the topographic map just constructed with the class.

Handouts/Activity links:
These are links to access the handouts and printable materials.
geog1ho.pdf | geog1AK.pdf | Topography

Handout Sample:
Use the following questions to stimulate a class discussion.

1. What is the vertical scale on the model just made?
2. What do the contour lines represent?
3. How could we calculate the gradient between two points?

Related Lesson Topics:
Geography: Geography Topics

Lesson plan by James Scannell and Stefan Sommer, 2001
Idaho Achievement Standards (as of 7/2001) met by completing this activity: