Contour Maps

Contour Maps lesson plan

These 3-D topographical maps keep students on top of geography — and its terminology!

  • 1.

    Take a close look at several contour maps. Be sure to find a map of your area. Notice that mountains are shown by irregular shapes that outline the edges of changes in altitude. These shapes appear to be inside of each other. In reality, if you read the map accurately, you'll realize that they are actually stacked, with each smaller shape placed on top of the larger one beneath it.

  • 2.

    Imagine a place that has hills or mountains, as well as lower areas between them. Perhaps your imaginary location has a stream or a prairie nestled among mountains.

  • 3.

    Use Crayola® Fine Tip Markers to draw a contour map that shows the hills or mountains you imagined. Include at least 10 changes in elevation in your map.

  • 4.

    On corrugated cardboard, draw each of the layers of the area that you mapped. The higher the mountain (or lower the canyon or lake), the more layers you'll draw.

  • 5.

    Cut out the layers with Crayola Scissors. Peel away some of the paper on the corrugated cardboard to create a rough, textural effect. Stack layers in order. Glue them to a larger cardboard base with Crayola School Glue. Lay flat to air dry.

  • 6.

    Use Crayola Gel Markers to color your terrain. Add details such as streams, forests, and rocky gray cliffs.

  • 7.

    Write a description of your Contour Map using all the new words you learned. Display the map and explanation together.


  • Students review various contour maps, including local ones, to identify landforms such as mountains and plains.
  • Students create a 3-D contour map of an imaginary location that shows at least 10 changes in elevation.
  • Children write a description of their fantasy location using correct terminology.


  • Students create contour maps at home to involve the entire family in planning, cutting, and decorating the map.
  • Older students create a contour map of a specific area to scale.
  • Read a fairytale, such as <I>Little Red Riding Hood</I> or <I>Hansel and Gretel</I>, or a news story that describes a natural place. Create a detailed contour map of the area, and add small cut-out paper figures of the characters in the story.