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        3-5, 13+

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        Montana | Activity 1.3: The Borders of Montana

        Study a map of Montana’s terrain. Students learn about natural and manmade boundaries, label the major features of the state, and pick which area of Montana would be best for settlement and explain why.

        Lesson Summary

        Study a map of Montana’s terrain. Students learn about natural and manmade boundaries, and label the major features of the state. Students pick which area of Montana would be best for settlement and explain why.

        This lesson is part of "Great States: Montana | Unit 1: Introduction to Montana" which will give students a nuanced introduction to the state of Montana. Students will be introduced to key events and people from Montana, as well as learn how boundaries are established and maintained, and how culture influences one’s perspective and experience in the world.

        Time Allotment

        20 minutes

        Learning Objectives


        3.2: Locate on a map or globe physical features (e.g., continents, oceans, mountain ranges, landforms) natural features (e.g., flora, fauna) and human features (e.g., cities, states, national borders). 

        3.5: Use appropriate geographic resources (e.g., atlases, databases, charts, grid systems, technology, graphs, maps) to gather information about local communities, reservations, Montana, the United States, and the world.

        Supplemental Standards: 

        Helena District 3.1: Name and locate continents and oceans using maps and globes; locate the seven most populous cities in Montana; locate the seven Montana Indian reservations. 



        1. Distribute the Montana’s Border handout. First, ask students to make general observations about the terrain map. Review the names and location of the states and Canada that surround Montana.
        2. Then, ask students to figure out why three of Montana’s borders are straight, and only one is curvy. 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, northern, and eastern borders of the state are clearly drawn according to precise calculations, but the border along the west/southwest is a natural boundary. Point out where the Bitterroot Mountains separate Idaho from Montana.
        3. Project the map, Montana’s Borders. Have students label the state’s major features: Bitterroot Mountains, Yellowstone River, Missouri River, Milk River, Flathead Lake, Fort Peck Lake.
        4. Next, ask students to determine which regions of Montana would be most and least conducive to sustaining human settlement (valleys and along rivers). Point out the location of Billings, emphasizing that this most populous city is in a relatively flat area along the Yellowstone River. Review the grid system on the map and have them determine the squares that contain Billings, Missoula, Great Falls, Bozeman, and Helena, which are the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th cities by population, respectively.
        5. To conclude the lesson, ask students to imagine they had to move from their current home to another part of Montana. Which square would they want to move to and why? What are the natural features of that square? If the square contains a state or national border, does it appear to be a natural boundary or not?

        Answer Key

        1. 2a contains Missoula; 2b contains Great Falls, Helena, and Bozeman; and 2c contains Billings.
        2. Most squares contain rivers, valleys, or both. Straight lines denote state or national borders and curved lines indicate natural boundaries (i.e., each square in row 1 has the national border between the United States and Canada).


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