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        Montana | Activity 2.1: Montana’s Geographical Features

        Students study photos of Montana’s unique geographical features. They learn about how the land formations impacted land use, and describe various historical geographic features of Montana.

        Lesson Summary

        Students study photos of Montana’s unique geographical features. They learn about how the land formations impacted land use. Students describe various historical geographic features of Montana.

        This lesson is part of "Great States: Montana Unit 2: Geography", which will introduce students to Montana’s unique geographical features and how they have changed over time.

        Time Allotment

        20 minutes

        Learning Objectives


        3.1: Identify and use various representations of the Earth (e.g., maps, globes, photographs, latitude and longitude, scale).

        3.3: Describe and illustrate ways in which people interact with their physical environment (e.g., land use, location of communities, methods of construction, design of shelters).

        3.6: Identify and distinguish between physical system changes (e.g., seasons, climate, weather, water cycle, natural disasters) and describe the social and economic effects of these changes. 

        Supplemental Standards:

        Helena District 3.3: Explain how the physical environment affected the land use, location, and development of Montana; determine how location affected the choice of food, clothing, and shelter for Montana’s native tribes and early settlers. 

        Helena District 3.6: Identify physical system changes in Montana; explain how those changes affect the citizens of various Montana communities; and compare the ways in which Montanans in different communities interact with their environment. 



        1. Show students the photos of Montana’s geographical features noting the text below the photo:

          1. Glacier National Park, Montana

            This photo was taken in Glacier National Park. The receded glacier, seen to the left between the two peaks, used to cover the entire valley. As the glacier receded, the valley filled with water, creating lakes that provide fish to eat and irrigation for agricultural fields.

          2. National Bison Range

            In this image, you can see bison grazing on the grassy hills adjacent to high mountains in western Montana. Native peoples of Montana hunted bison that roamed over the entire state. They used bison meat for food, and its hides for clothing and shelter. Today, bison meat is again popular—and Montana, thanks to its abundant grasslands, is home to numerous bison and cattle ranches.

          3. Stacking Hay in the Judith Basin

            At the start of the 20th century, many settlers were drawn to the ample plains of central and eastern Montana. Homesteaders, who received more than 25 million acres of free Montana land from the US government in exchange for farming it, grew wheat, sugar beets, and flax. Other businesses moved in to service the homesteaders, and towns across the plains sprang up. Montana’s population and prosperity grew. Today, agriculture is Montana’s largest industry, with nearly 28,000 farms and ranches.

          4. Charles M Russell National Wildlife Refuge

            Montana’s geographic beauty and abundant wildlife are huge draws for tourists. In fact, tourism is now Montana’s second-largest industry after agriculture. National parks, state parks, and wildlife refuges attract around 10 million visitors each year. Montana’s geography now plays a big role in the state’s economy, development, and popularity.
        2. Have students describe the geographical features they see in the photos, and discuss how these features might have impacted land use and development of Montana. Answers should include:

          • Geographical features: rugged mountains, lakes, valleys, glaciers, grasslands, meadows, alpine tundra, plains, rolling hills, and rivers

          • Impact on Montana land use and development:

            1. Retreating glaciers left lakes for fishing and irrigation, and rich soil deposits for farming.

            2. Grasslands and rolling hills provide food for grazing bison. Native peoples relied on bison for food, clothing, and shelter. Today, bison and cattle are raised for meat, which contributes to Montana’s agricultural industry.

            3. The US government gave the eastern and central plains to homesteaders, who came to farm the land. Their presence brought additional services to Montana, resulting in the growth of its population and the development of its economy. Due to the abundance of farmable acres, agriculture is currently Montana’s largest industry.

            4. Montana’s unique geography itself currently plays an important role for the state. Tourism is the second-largest industry, drawing in over 10 million visitors each year, and providing a lot of income.


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