Students study a map of North Dakota’s terrain. Students learn about natural and manmade boundaries and then label some of the state’s major features.
This lesson is part of Great States: North Dakota | Unit 1: Introduction to North Dakota where students will examine seemingly objective terms and concepts. The materials and activities in this unit will give students a more nuanced understanding of how to set about learning about their state.
4.1.1: Interpret and compare maps (e.g., political, physical, thematic) of North Dakota.
4.5.3: Identify the location and characteristics of significant features of North Dakota (e.g., landforms, river systems, climate, regions, major cities).
4.5.4: Explain how the physical environment (e.g., rainfall, climate, natural hazards) affects human activity in North Dakota.
- Class set of North Dakota’s Elevation Map handout
- Image: North Dakota Map
- An interactive whiteboard, projector, or other type of screen to project images to the class
- Distribute the North Dakota’s Elevation Map handout. First, ask students to make general observations about the map. Review the location of Canada and the states that surround North Dakota.
- Then, ask students to figure out why three of North Dakota’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 western borders of the state are clearly drawn according to precise calculations, but the border along the east is a natural boundary. Point out where the Red River separates North Dakota from Minnesota.
- Project the North Dakota Map image for the class. On their handout, have students label the state’s major features: the Red River, the Missouri River, Devil’s Lake, Lake Sakakawea, and the Badlands.
- Next, ask students to determine which regions of North Dakota would be most and least conducive to sustaining human settlement [most: valleys and along rivers such as the wide part of the Missouri River; least: high elevation mountains in the Badlands].
- Point out the location of Fargo, emphasizing that this most populous city is in the Red River Plain. Also show Bismarck, the second most populous city and the state capital that sits on a wide segment of the Missouri River. Review the grid system on the North Dakota Elevation Map and have students determine the square that contains Fargo [3d] and the square that contains Bismarck [3b].
- To conclude the lesson, ask students to imagine they had to move from their current home to another part of North Dakota. Which square 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?
Advanced Activity: 8th Grade Version
Study maps of North Dakota’s terrain and population distribution. Students learn about population distribution as it relates to natural forces and the changing patterns over time.
8.1.1: Interpret current North Dakota thematic maps (e.g., soils, climate, vegetation, water, climate) to identify where people live and work, and how land is used.
8.1.2: Use various primary and secondary resources (e.g., historical maps, diaries, speeches, pictures, charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines specific to North Dakota) to analyze, and interpret information;
8.5.2: Describe the characteristics, distribution, and effects of human migration within the United States during different time periods (e.g., Westward Expansion, post Civil War, Industrialization, urbanization)
8.5.3: Compare human characteristics (e.g., population distribution, land use) of places and regions (i.e. North Dakota)
- Class set of North Dakota’s Terrain map handout
- Class set of North Dakota’s Population map handout
- Class set of North Dakota’s Population Over Time chart
- Notebooks or loose-leaf paper
- Project or distribute both the North Dakota’s Terrain map (showing physical features and water bodies) and the North Dakota Population map. What patterns are noticeable in terms of where people live at the highest and lowest densities.
- Distribute the chart of North Dakota’s Population Over Time. Ask students to make observations about how population grew over time in North Dakota.
- Ask students, at computer stations or at home, to research North Dakota’s history in order to determine what historical events led to fluctuations in the state’s population. Have them write take notes on what they find.
- Back in class, discuss some of the main points. Here are some examples of what students might find in their research:
- 1862 – Homestead Act signed, bringing settlers and immigrants
- 1890s – Difficult economic times; terrible farming years due to low wheat prices and several years of bad harvests
- 1898-1915 – “Golden Age of Agriculture,” Many railroads were commissioned and built
- 1930 – Population peaked as the nation faced the Great Depression
- 1950-1960 – Population stabilizes as America is prosperous post World War II
- 1980 – Oil boom
- 2006-2010 – Another oil boom
For more information: NDStudies.org