Topographic Map Project Ideas

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The best way to learn about topographic maps is through hands-on projects. These projects are designed to be adaptable to most classrooms and grades, but can help your students learn to read and use topographic maps.

Topographic Maps

Topographic maps are detailed representations of large-scale space, usually using contour lines to denote elevation. These maps can be challenging to read but are very useful in conducting land surveys, studying physical or human geography, or simply planning a backpacking trip to the mountains. These projects are not designed to teach students the basics of using topographic maps, but instead are meant to help them practice and refine these skills. Please make sure you've introduced concepts like contour lines and how to orient a compass prior to beginning these projects.

Topographic Map Project Ideas

Scale Models

Provide students with a topographic map of a place, as well as lot of poster or foam board. Using rulers, calculators, and precision craft knives, students are going to create a 3-dimensional scale model of their topographic map. Students will start by identifying the lowest elevation on the map and using that as the base sheet of paper, and drawing a grid over it to help determine the relative scales of the map and the model. From there, they will build up the map by adding layers of poster/foam board, reflecting the features on the topographic map. When they are done, students can paint their models to resemble the mountain or other natural feature it depicts, and present them to the class.

  • Materials: Topographic maps, foam/poster board, precision craft knives, rulers, calculators, glue, pencils/pens, paints if desired

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