johnsons-reef-990.jpg

Image courtesy John Brock of the United States Geological Survey and Wayne Wright of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility  

Download this activity as a PDF.

Teachers know that not every student learns in the same way.  Some learn best by listening; others by reading; and still others by doing. An effective way to help students master Earth’s landforms and cultural features involves tactile learning in the form of 3-dimensional maps that students construct themselves.

Constructing a 3-D Map

a) Divide the class into small groups. Provide each group with a large sheet of Styrofoam and a similar size outline map of the region to be mapped. Secure the outline map over the Styrofoam with poster pins. Then instruct students to use a pencil point to transfer the shape of the region onto the Styrofoam by puncturing the outline of the map.

b) Next, have students spread clay within the outline they have made on the Styrofoam. If the students are creating a topographic map (a map that shows elevations and physical features), they will need to select different colors of clay to represent different elevations.  For example, they might choose green clay to represent elevations near sea level; yellow and red clay for higher elevations; then brown and gray clay for the highest elevations. As the clay is applied, they will need to make the layers increasingly thick to show the changes in elevation and shapes of landforms.

c) When all landforms are complete, students can roll blue clay into thin strands to show rivers and thin sheets to show major lakes, coastal waters, and oceans.

d) Have students complete their maps by identifying rivers, mountains, lakes, and oceans with small stick-on labels.

Extending the Activity

Students can apply the same techniques that they used in constructing topographic maps to create different types of maps.

a) Three-dimensional maps can be used for learning other spatial patterns on Earth, such as climate zones, cultural realms, and economic regions.

b) Students can learn the geography of the United States by creating 3-D maps of the entire country or of individual states.

This activity is based on a idea submitted by Lorraine Stepanek,
St. Mary’s of the Lake School, New Buffalo, Michigan

Watch the 2016 National Geographic Bee Finals

National Geographic Channel will air the final round of the National Geographic Bee Championship at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Friday, May 27. It will also air on public television stations; check local television listings for dates and times.


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About the National Geographic Bee

Each year thousands of schools in the United States participate in the National Geographic Bee using materials prepared by the National Geographic Society. The contest is designed to inspire students to be curious about the world. Schools with students in grades four through eight are eligible for this entertaining and challenging competition.


The national championship preliminary rounds will take place on Monday, May 23, in Washington, D.C. The national championship final rounds featuring the top 10 finalists and moderated by humorist, journalist, and actor Mo Rocca will be held on Wednesday, May 25, at National Geographic’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.


The national champion will receive a $50,000 college scholarship, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, and a Lindblad expedition to Southeast Alaska provided by Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.







Meet the 2016 Champions

National Geographic Bee contestants aren't just geography geniuses. They're also savvy park planners! See where they would create a National Park in their own state.

How to Help

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    Donations help fund schools to participate in the National Geographic Bee.

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