People interact with landforms and water bodies all the time—whether they are running up a hill, swimming in a lake, skiing down a mountain, or fishing in the ocean. Landforms and bodies of water are natural features of Earth’s surface. For billions of years, movement inside and on Earth’s surface, deposits of sand and rock from erosion, and weathering events have been shaping the landscape by carving features of various sizes and shapes across the planet.
Maps are tools that help us connect to our world. They can give us a snapshot of distinctive landscapes in smaller local regions as well as expanded world regions. Local resource maps can help people find mountain hiking trails or boating and fishing resources in an area. Physical maps can help people locate landforms and water bodies in all parts of the world. Most maps include map symbols—small icons, lines, dots, or colors—that are used to represent larger things in the world. Map symbols help us locate and focus on places in relation to other things, such as major landforms and water bodies. Building on students’ experiences with maps and having them explore how landforms and water bodies are represented on a map will help them identify and describe these features in different locations on the surface of Earth.
Grade Level: K-2
Standard: ESS2.B: Plate Tectonics and Large-Scale System Interactions
- Maps show where things are located. One can map the shapes and kinds of land and water in any area. (2-ESS2-2)
Science Practices: Ask questions; Construct explanations; Obtain information; Communicate information, Develop models
Big Question: How do maps help us find landforms and water bodies on Earth?
One 30-minute class period
Two 40-minute class periods
- Students can identify landforms and water bodies from both ground-level and overhead views.
- Students can use and describe symbols that represent landforms and water bodies on a map.
- Students can use a map key to locate landforms and bodies of water on a map.
- Students can develop a model (map) representing landforms and bodies of water.
Prep for Teachers
The instruction in this lesson plan assumes:
- Students have had an introduction to landforms and bodies of water and can identify and describe different kinds of landforms and water bodies. Note: The Plum’s Island Explorer: Land and Water interactive game in this lesson was developed to help students: 1. identify landforms and water bodies; 2. identify and represent landforms and water bodies on a map.
- Before beginning this lesson, have students play the interactive game to activate prior knowledge and review landforms and water bodies.
- This preview will also give students an opportunity to become familiar with the island game before they focus on mapping skills in this lesson.
- Students have had an introduction to basic mapping skills. You may want to use this resource to review student’s basic mapping skills:
Before the Lesson
To help you prepare to implement this lesson in the classroom, you may want to follow the suggestions below:
- Preview all the media assets in the lesson.
- Familiarize yourself with the Plum’s Island Explorer: Land and Water interactive game by using the tutorial. This tool provides step-by-step instructions on how to use the keys and mouse (or trackpad) to navigate around the landscape, pick up items, and even jump!
- Press the PLAY button on the screen to meet Plum and activate the tutorial.
- Once you are familiar with the navigation, continue to play the interactive game to gain familiarity with the content, game instructions, and navigation and to help you anticipate students’ questions.
- As you play, you will explore the island, collect trash, and open checkpoints containing information, such as images and videos on one of the landforms or water bodies on the island. Once you have opened all eight checkpoints, Plum will reappear and your mission will be complete. Have fun!
- Make sure the interactive game is loaded and opened in full-screen mode on each student device. Note: Use Chrome or Firefox for best results. If you're using iOS devices, a free app version of the game is available here.
- Preview the Landforms and Water Bodies Key Vocabulary List. Use the vocabulary list to familiarize yourself with key terms in the lesson.
You may choose to include the following ideas to make students’ learning experience richer:
- Display different types of maps around the classroom. These may include a classroom map, a neighborhood map, and local and world physical maps.
- Create a three-dimensional model (including landforms and bodies of water) of your neighborhood.
- Display images of landforms and water bodies around the classroom. Designate an area for local features (look online or in local newspapers) to help students familiarize themselves with local landforms and water bodies.
- Set up a “Landforms and Water Bodies” book corner for students to access on their own or with a partner. Include fiction and nonfiction landform, water bodies, and mapping books. (See the Landforms, Water Bodies, and Map Book Ideas handout for suggested titles.)
- Chart paper/marker
- Classroom map
- Device (with keyboard) for each student or student pair
- Landforms and water feature images
- Various maps (community, world, etc.)
- For the Teacher:
- Plum’s Island Explorer Navigation Controls
- Landforms and Water Bodies Key Vocabulary List
- Landforms, Water Bodies, and Maps Book Ideas
- For Students:
This lesson plan consists of three parts:
- "Part 1: A Look at Maps” includes opportunities for students to activate prior knowledge about various types of maps and to become familiar with the interactive game.
- "Part 2: Represent Landforms and Water Bodies” includes the interactive game exploration of landforms and water bodies and offers an opportunity for students to create map symbols that represent landforms and water bodies.
- "Part 3: Map the Landforms and Water Bodies” includes hands-on exploration opportunities for students to create a 3D model island and to map the island using their map symbols.
Instructions for leading each part are explained below.
Part 1: A Look at Maps
(30-minute class session)
Students activate prior knowledge about maps, compare different maps, and describe how things are represented on a map. Students explore the tutorial for the Plum’s Island Explorer: Land and Water interactive game.
Note: If you have displayed maps around the classroom, you may want to encourage students to reference them throughout the discussion.
Generate interest in maps by using the first 10 to 15 minutes of the session to activate students' prior knowledge about maps. Allow them to share their experiences with maps. Ask questions such as:
- What is a map?
- Have you ever seen a map? Where?
- Have you ever used a map or seen someone use a map? For what reason?
- What do maps tell us?
- What questions do you have about maps?
Then project the Compare Maps image from the Map It! resource onto the wall or screen. Elicit students’ understanding that people use maps to locate different places on Earth, such as in a local community or in the entire world. Explain that a map is a model, or a small representation of a much larger place on Earth. Reinforce how different maps represent different. Ask questions such as:
- How are these two maps the same? How are they different?
- What does each map represent? How do you know?
- Why would you use the neighborhood map? Why would you use the landforms and water bodies map?
- How do you know where the [playground] is located on the map?
Note: If students need help understanding what a model is, hold up a small, familiar object, such as a toy bus. Have students describe the object and identify similarities and differences between the small model and the larger real object. Before moving on, make sure students grasp the concept that a model is a small version of something much larger—like a map is a small version of a much larger area.
Draw attention to the map key on the landforms and water bodies map. Give students an opportunity to describe the key. Elicit that a map key is a guide to reading a map because it identifies the symbols used on the map. Ask students: Why do you think the neighborhood map does not have a map key?
- You may need to explain that some maps do not have a map key because they use symbols that are easily recognizable, such as the buildings and playground slide on the neighborhood map. Other maps represent larger areas and use symbols such as colors, icons, different line weights, or dots to represent things such as roads, lakes, or mountains. A map key is the guide that helps us understand the symbols on a map.
If students are having difficulty understanding how symbols represent things on maps, you may want to do this short activity:
- Explain that looking at a map is like looking down on a place from high above. Have students sit in their seats and look at a paper cup on the table. Then put the cup on the floor and have them look down on it from directly above. Ask: Does the cup look different when you look at it from above? How is it different? What symbol might you use to represent a cup on a map?
Once students can interpret a map, have them use the remaining minutes of the session to work through the tutorial for the Plum’s Island Explorer: Land and Water interactive game. Students can work on their own or with a partner as they practice navigating with the tutorial.
Note: If you have students who would benefit from a non-visual support for this game, use NV Support: Plum’s Island Explorer: Land and Water. Walk students through the different elements of the game and the types of images they will be learning about when you work through the game in Part 2.
Project the tutorial for the Plum’s Island Explorer: Land and Water interactive game onto the screen or wall. Check that all students have the same image, in full screen, on their devices. Note: Use Chrome or Firefox for best results.
- Before explaining the goals of the game, introduce the PLUM LANDING series. You can say: Plum Landing is an online science web series. Plum is an alien explorer who stays on her spaceship and works with five earthling friends as they gather evidence and observe and explore our amazing planet. Plum will help you explore different landforms and water bodies on the island.
- Have students work through the tutorial to become familiar with the mechanics of the game, such as moving around the island, picking up items, and jumping.
- Make clear to students that today they will focus on getting familiar with the game experience so they will be comfortable with it and ready to focus on learning about the landforms and water bodies in the next session. Tell students that in the next session, they will play the game and journey around the island and learn information about various land and water bodies. This information will help them create symbols to represent landforms and water bodies on a map.
- Encourage students to use the remaining minutes in the session to just get to know the game and have fun.
Note: Encourage students to work with a partner as they familiarize themselves with the game in the tutorial. Move around the room and be available to answer questions. You may want to enlarge the Plum’s Island Explorer Navigation Controls handout and display the sheet so students can reference it as they play the game.
Part 2: Represent Landforms and Water Bodies (interactive)
(40-minute class session)
Students explore the Plum’s Island Explorer: Land and Water interactive game as they identify, describe, and record characteristics of landforms and water bodies. Then they create map symbols to represent the landforms and water bodies. If you have students who would benefit from a non-visual support for this game, use NV Support: Plum’s Island Explorer: Land and Water.
Before students use the interactive game
Project the Plum’s Island Explorer: Land and Water interactive game onto the screen or wall. Check that all students have the same image, in full screen, on their devices. Review with students how their first encounter with the game went as they practiced in the tutorial in the previous session.
- Have students describe their earlier experiences in the tutorial.
- Review how to navigate around the island. Point out the list of keyboard commands.
Students work on their own or with a partner to collect data about landforms and water bodies as they explore the Plum’s Island Explorer: Land and Water interactive game.
Point out the aerial view of the island. Have students note their position on the aerial view and then let them observe what happens in the aerial view as they move around the island.
Set the goals for the interactive play:
- Explore the island, engage with and carry out up-close observations of landforms and water bodies, collect and record data, and use that data to create symbols to represent the features on a map.
- Pick up trash along the way and open each of the eight checkpoints that are filled with information about landforms and water bodies. You’ll earn a badge at the end of the game for picking up the trash!
- Record information and characteristics about landforms and water bodies that you learn at the checkpoints.
- Use the information you recorded about landforms and water bodies to create a symbol that represents each feature to use on a map.
Distribute the Landforms and Water Bodies Recording Sheet most appropriate for your students:
- Landforms and Water Bodies Recording Sheet (younger student option)
- Landforms and Water Bodies Recording Sheet (older student option)
Have students explore the island on their own or with a partner. Move around the room as students work and assist as needed. As you circulate, you might ask questions to spark student’s curiosity, such as:
- How do you think the [river] might have formed [in the valley floor]?
- What information does the aerial view of the [mountain] give you that the ground-level view does not? What information does the ground-level view give you that the aerial view does not?
- Why do you think it is important to know how landforms and water bodies look from above?
Leave enough time (about 10 to 15 minutes) at the end of the session for students to share their observations and map symbols with the class.
Once the island exploration time is up, gather as a whole group. Have students share their island observations as you ask questions such as:
- How would you describe a valley to someone who has never seen one?
- How is a lake like a river? How is it different?
- How do you think hills are formed? What about lakes?
- How do lakes accumulate water?
- How is the overview image of the island like a map? How is it different?
- Why do people use maps?
- Why do maps have symbols?
- How is a map of your community different than the real place? How is it the same?
- How is a map of the world different than the real world? How is it the same?
- What things do you still want to know about mapping landforms and water bodies?
Collect the Landforms and Water Bodies Recording Sheets before the class is over. Explain to students that you will redistribute them during the next session.
Part 3: Map the Landforms and Water Bodies (hands-on exploration)
(45-minute class session)
Small groups make a 3D model of a landforms and water bodies on an island. Then they use their recording sheets from Part 2 of the lesson to create a map of their island.
Map Our Island
- Art materials for creating a 3D model, such as foam pieces, glue, modeling clay, newspaper, watercolor paints, ribbon/yarn, foam chips
- Large cardboard sheet for the model base
Preparation: Place a large sheet of cardboard for each group in a place where students can work on it. Outline a map of the island on each cardboard base.
Before the Activity: Distribute students’ observation recording sheets. Have each student share something new that they learned about a landform or water body during the interactive game.
- You may want to have the Plum’s Island Explorer interactive game open, with the aerial-view image enlarged on the screen, so students can use it as a reference when they begin to map their islands.
Begin the activity by dividing the class into small groups. Have each group gather around a map base. Explain that each group will create a model of landforms and water bodies on the island.
- As a group, students will determine what landform or water body each member will be responsible for creating. Before they begin, encourage students to look at their recording sheets to see what characteristics they will include in their model. Direct their attention to the art materials and encourage them to work together and use their creativity. You may prompt them to be creative naming their islands as well! (They can make a label on the cardboard base.)
- After about 20 minutes, gather students and distribute a My Island Explorer Map handout to each one. Instruct students to create a map of their island using some of the map symbols from their island observation.
Allow time at the end of the activity for students to view one another’s island. Leave the islands and maps on display for students to come back to on their own.