Handcrafted Landforms

Standard Met: McREL Geography Standard 4 (Understands physical and human characteristics of place)

What You Need: Heavy-duty paper plates, pencils, Crayola Air-Dry Clay (or any air-dry clay), glue, paint, Sharpies

What To Do: The students in Stephanie Van Horn’s third-grade class at Douglass Elementary in Boulder, Colorado, make landforms out of clay and then design environments on plates using the clay creations. Van Horn begins by introducing the concept of landforms to students, including canyons, valleys, and mountains. Then, she gives each student a heavy-duty paper plate. (The thickness of the plate is very important, she cautions.) Students use pencils to sketch the landforms that they want to include on the plate. Next, they use Crayola Air-Dry Clay to sculpt those landforms.

When the clay is dry, students glue the landforms to their plates. Then, they paint geographic features on their plates. For instance, they might paint a body of water blue and mountains brown. When the paint dries, they use Sharpies to label each landform. When complete, kids leave their projects at their tables and walk around the room to view classmates’ projects.

Autobiography Island

Standard Met: McREL Geography Standard 1 (Understands the characteristics and uses of maps, globes, and other geographic tools and technologies)

What You Need: Paper, pencils, crayons

What To Do: Eva Varga, a homeschool teacher from Northern California, likes to make map skills personal. First, she asks her children to fill out a short questionnaire that gets them thinking about important events, items, and activities in their lives, as well as their future goals. Next, she discusses elements of maps, including title, scale, key, location, and borders. Varga then combines the two topics by inviting her children to draw an island that reflects their personal interests.

The children begin by sketching their island on a sheet of paper. (An island can be any shape, but you might suggest students make it in the shape of the first letter of their first name!) Students should create a key with symbols related to their interests, and then replicate those symbols on the map. For example, if a student loves to travel, he might draw an airplane symbol to denote an airport. Varga uses a rubric so that her budding cartographers include all or most of the map elements. After sketches are complete, students can color their maps and then share their creations with classmates.

Map Reading “Scoot”

Standard Met: McREL Geography Standard 2 (Knows the location of places, geographic features, and patterns of the environment)

What You Need: Paper, pencils

What To Do: Lynda Smith, an upper-elementary teacher at Wakefield Elementary in Raleigh, North Carolina, designed a “scoot” question-and-answer activity to get her students moving. She has used the activity to review absolute locations (using lines of longitude and latitude) and relative locations (defining location in comparison to something else).

Smith gives each student a recording sheet to write their answers to questions. Because there are 24 questions in her scoot, Smith labels the sheet with numbers 1 through 24. Then, Smith puts two things on each student’s desk: a scoot card that poses a question and a number card (again, 1 through 24). To begin, students stand at their desks and answer the first question on their cards. If the number card is 1 and the scoot card asks, “Which state is south of Oklahoma?” the student would write “Texas” next to number 1 on her sheet. But time is of the essence! When the teacher calls out “Scoot,” students rotate to the next desk and answer the question there. Play continues until students have answered all 24 questions.

Ready for Regions

Standard Met: McREL Geography Standard 5 (Understands the concept of regions)

What You Need: Food or craft items, poster board, markers, glue

What To Do: The next time you teach your state’s regions, help students internalize the concept by creating tactile maps. Talk about the regions, including location and characteristics. Then, challenge students to make representative maps using food or craft items. For example, if you’re studying regions in California, students can select rice or glitter to represent desert sand. After choosing their materials, students should draw the state’s outline on a sheet of poster board and sketch lines to delineate the regions. Next, they should glue down their materials in the respective regions and add a correlated key. Invite students to draw any additional map features you have studied, such as a compass.


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