St. Stanislaus Elementary (Omaha, NE)
Background: Topographic maps show changes in elevation over
an area of land. Many topographic maps are prepared by the United State
Geological Survey. Many people use topographic maps such as engineers,
geologist, hikers and pilots. The landscape represented by topographic
maps is interpreted by reading the contour lines. Contour lines spaced
very close together represent land areas that are steep. Widely spaced
contour lines represent flat land areas. Contour lines do not cross. If
they did, they would indicate that two different elevations exist at the
same spot. In addition to geologic information, topographic maps also include
geographic and demographic information.
Objectives: Students will use their knowledge of topographic
maps and contour lines to construct a cross section diagram showing the
changes in elevation represented by a cookie island. They will also construct
a model using topographic lines on paper. Then they will label geographic
features on their island map. This activity helps students visualize what
a topographic map represents and demonstrate their understanding of contour
Materials: A chocolate chip cookie, a napkin, pencil, metric
ruler, and drawing paper for each student.
- Tell the students to pretend that their cookie is a Pacific Island
surrounded by water and they are to construct a topographic map of the
- First they will draw a profile of their cookie island showing changes
in elevation by observing the cookie from the side. They should make this
drawing as accurate as possible, using a ruler to determine the highest
point and diameter of the island in centimeters.
- Below this profile the students will trace around the edge of the cookie
on the paper. This circle represents the shape of the island and an elevation
at sea level.
- Using a ruler vertically beside the cookie, determine how many centimeters
the highest point is on the island. Convert the centimeters to hundreds
of feet to make your scale and determine contour intervals.
- Represent the landscape of your island with contour lines withing the
outline on your paper. Be sure to label elevation in some manner.
- Indicate 3 different landforms on your map.
- Where would you build a house on this island? Why did you choose this
- 8. Give your map a title, a compass rose, a scale and a legend.
Data Table: The map construction.
- What is the contour interval on your map?
- What area of your island has contour lines that are farthest apart?
- What kind of land form has lines that are closest together?
- What can one learn about your island from the topographic map you constructed?
- How was the map helpful for you to choose a place to build a house?
This activity has been copied, with permission, from the
Nebraska Earth Science Education Network server to ours, to allow faster
access from our web site.
We encourage you to explore the original site.
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