Earth Space Science: Topographic Maps

UPDATE: We have moved to You’ll find this topographic maps post there.

We read the second chapter in the geology book we have from Real Science 4 Kids.  It talked about the different tools that geologists use — including topographic maps.  I wasn’t sure the kids thoroughly understood how the maps worked and looked around for some resources to help them understand. I found a couple of wonderful activities!

We actually started with this topographic map page from the USGS:

I thought that page explained the elevations really well.  Then we went on to build the 3-d version of a topographic map.  This packet of topographic map activities had a topographic map you could cut out.  I cut out the diagram and then cut piece by piece out of card stock. I kept the diagram (lower right photo) that shows what the island looks like hidden from the kids until we completed the activity.

After cutting out the pieces, I realized we needed to make it clear which side was up. I put a dot on each piece. Then we used modeling magic clay, which we realized we could cut with scissors.  After they were the right shape, we stacked them on top of one another and compared it to the diagram.

We then learned about how depressions are marked on the map.  It’s really hard to tell from the pictures below because our model magic was a combination of colors, but our creations were like a crater and a volcano.  Again, we got those sheets from here: topographic map activities.

The last activity we did was a Boy Scout activity I came across.  All three kids LOVED this!! We drew elevation marks around their knuckles, then they flattened out their hands.  That sure pulled all this together for us!

and here’s DD’s topographic hand!

We’ve sure had fun with this unit!


Now Available: Our 50 page Earth Science packet also includes: (at our new location at

Learn how to make a earthquake shake table, more than a dozen hands-on activities on the layers of the earth, volcanoes, earthquakes, plate movement and more!

Topics include: Solar System, Layers of the Earth, Earth’s Axis and the Seasons, Latitude and Longitude, Plate Tectonics, Earthquakes, Volcanoes, 4 Types of Mountains


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