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Layers With Lines

How are landforms such as mountains and valleys drawn on maps? Learn about landforms and how to draw a topographical map, using lines to show elevation.

  • Grade 3
    Grade 4
    Grade 5
  • 60 to 90 Minutes
  • Directions

    1. The ongoing challenge for every realistic artist is how to make an object drawn on a flat piece of paper look three-dimensional. This is the same challenge faced by cartographers, the people who draw maps. Most people want to know the variations of ground heights before they set out on a hike, dig a tunnel, excavate for a road, or build a house.
    2. Topographical maps show the features of the earth's surface in a number of different ways. On early maps, hills and other features were simply drawn in. Now some maps vary in colors to indicate land features such as mountains or streams. Contour lines on maps join points at the same height in concentric circles. They show not only height but grade (how steep an elevation is) as well. The closer together the circles are, the steeper the elevation.
    3. Contour lines can add dimension to a collage. Invite students to experiment with the optics of lines to see how this works. Tear or cut interesting shapes from colorful construction paper. Using a Crayola® Glue Stick, attach collage pieces to a large white paper. Leave open spaces between the shapes.
    4. Encourage students to take note that the white spaces create new shapes. With Crayola Fine Line Markers, outline the insides of the open spaces. With different colors, draw parallel lines inside the outlines, getting smaller and smaller in the same way as contour lines.
    5. Students look at the lines in their collages. Comment on how the lines make the spaces move either in and down or up and out.
  • Standards

    LA: Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears

    LA: Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

    LA: Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

    LA: Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.

    LA: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.

    MATH: Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec. Within a single system of measurement, express measurements in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit. Record measurement equivalents in a two-column table.

    MATH: Use the four operations to solve word problems involving distances, intervals of time, liquid volumes, masses of objects, and money, including problems involving simple fractions or decimals, and problems that require expressing measurements given in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit. Represent measurement quantities using diagrams such as number line diagrams that feature a measurement scale.

    SCI: Analyze maps showing a variety of Earth’s features and the occurrence of geologic hazards to determine the geographic patterns that emerge.

    SS: Use appropriate resources, data sources, and geographic tools to generate, manipulate, and interpret information.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.

    VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of ideas.

  • Adaptations

    Possible classroom resources include: Introducing Landforms by Bobbie Kalman; Geography from A to Z: A Picture Glossary by Jack Knowlton; The Seven Continents by Wil Mara; What Is a Landform? By Rebecca Rissman

    Students choose one color for each contour line. Observe how the various colored contour lines changes the drawing.

    Use Crayola Model Magic to create a 3-D hill. Bore holes in the hill with a Crayola Colored Pencil all around the hill. Measure the heights of the holes. Wrap different colors of yarn around the hill to join the holes of each row of holes.

    Research local landforms. Create a contour map of the landform using contour lines to reflect the height or depth of the landform.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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