Keywords: topographic map, contour lines, elevation; Lesson Plan Grade Level: sixth through eighth grade; Total Time Required for Lesson: 40-minute class session; Setting: classroom

Goals for the Lesson

  • Students will gain an understanding of topographic maps.
  • Students will demonstrate their basic understanding of how to read a topographic map.

Materials Needed

State Standards Addressed: E & E Standards: Watersheds and Wetlands (4.1)

Subjects Covered: earth science, geography

Topics: introduction to topographic maps

Teaching Model: The 4MAT System: Motivation, Information, Practice, Application.


Have handouts prepared. May want to have potatoes sliced prior to presentation in the classroom.

Doing the Lesson

  1. As part of an ongoing unit on earth science/geography, ask students how one draws a flat, two-dimensional map of a three-dimensional surface like that of the earth. How do maps show different elevations?
  2. If someone does not mention topographic maps, lead the conversation to the topic.
  3. Using the information from Appendix A, demonstrate how the three-dimensional potato can be mapped two dimensionally.
  4. Distribute copies of handout "Reading a Topographic Map A."
    • Read and discuss the information presented on the handout.
    • Have students work together in pairs to answer the four questions on the handout.
    • Review the answers to ensure accuracy of answers.
  5. Distribute copies of handout "Reading a Topographic Map B." Assign Part 1 and Part 2 to be completed as homework.


The quality of students' performance on "Reading a Topographic Map B" will give an indication of their understanding of the concept of topographic maps.


This lesson is followed up with students working with actual topographic maps, identifying various aspects of the landscape.


Hansen, Robert (1996). Trees + Me = Forestry. University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University.


George Ness, BLaST IU17; LaSaQuik Alternative Education Program

The Language of Maps (1983). Pitman Learning Inc.