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        Idaho | Activity 1.2: A River Runs through It—or Not: How Borders Are Determined

        Unit 1: Introduction to Idaho 

        This Unit will examine seemingly objective terms and concepts. Are “wilderness” and “civilization” opposites or something more complex? How are “boundaries” established and maintained? Do words like “wealth” and “liberty” mean the same thing to everyone? How does culture influence one’s perspective and experience in the world? The materials and activities in this unit will give students a more nuanced understanding of how to set about learning about their state.

        Lesson Summary

        Students build map-reading skills as they observe and describe the difference between natural and man-made state borders. By examining a terrain map, they will see that the Snake River separates Idaho from Oregon and that the Bitterroot Mountains form the border with Montana. They then learn that Boise, the largest city, is located in a flat area along a river, a region conducive to human settlement.

        Standard: 4.SS.2.1.3 Use a number/letter grid to find specific locations on a map of Idaho. Describe the physical regions of Idaho and identify major natural resources.

        Time Allotment

        20 minutes



        1. Distribute or project the Idaho terrain map. First, ask students to make general observations about the terrain map. Review the location of the states and Canada that surround Idaho.

        2. Then, ask students to hypothesize why some of Idaho’s borders are curved and others are completely straight. Explain that some borders are determined by natural boundaries (based on a physical feature) and other borders are not. Students should note that the borders in the southern and northern regions of the state are clearly drawn according to precise calculations, but the borders near the center of the state are based on natural boundaries. Point out where the Snake River separates Idaho from Oregon and Washington and how the Bitterroot Range separates Idaho from Montana.
        3. Talk about what a group of people needs to settle in an area, such as water to drink and places to farm. Next, ask students which regions of Idaho might be easier to settle in and which would be harder and why (Easier: valleys and along rivers such as the Snake River Plain; Harder: steep mountains, areas without easy access to water, harsh terrain). Point out the location of Boise; explain that it is the most populous city in the state, and that it is in the Snake River Plain. Review the grid system on the map and have them determine the square that contains Boise.
        4. To conclude the lesson, ask students to imagine they had to move from their current home to another part of Idaho. Which region would they want to move to and why? What are the natural features in that square? If the square contains a state or national border, does it appear to be a natural boundary or not? 


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