Elevation is the height of an object above sea level. On topographic maps elevation is shown by using contour lines. Each contour line connects points that have the same elevation. The difference between one contour line and the next is called the contour interval. This activity will model contour lines and intervals.

Group Size: Whole class

Learning Objectives:

To become familiar with contour lines of topographic maps and contour intervals.

Guiding Question:

How can we create a model of contour lines and valleys? How can we map our model?


clay or playdough pan or container at least 10 cm deep water ruler pencil


  1. Students will make a mountain that is about 6 centimeters high from modeling clay or playdough. Work on a flat surface, and make one side of the mountain steeper than the other side.
2. Use a pencil to form a valley in the mountain that is at least 6 millimeters wide.

3. Put the model mountain in a tin pan, or water proof container that is at least 10 centimeters deep.

4. Place a ruler upright in the container. You can use clay to hold it in place. Make sure the measurements begin at the bottom of the pan.

5. Using the ruler as a guide, pour 1 centimeter of water in the pan around the mountain. Use a pencil to mark the waterline in the mountain at 1 centimeter.

6. Pour another centimeter of water into the pan. Mark the water level in the mountain with a pencil as well. Continue adding water 1 centimeter at a time and drawing the contour lines each time. Add 1 cm of water at a time until you reach the top of the mountain.

7. When finished drained the water from the container and remove the mountain from the pan.



Assessment Questions

  1. What is the contour interval of the model mountain?
2. Look at your model from a bird's eye view, or from above. Draw a picture of your model with the same size and shaping of the lines to create your own topographic map.

3. Compare one side of the mountain's contour lines with the other side. Which is a gentle slope? Which is a steep slope? How are the different?

4. On your topographic map how is the valley drawn? (Hint: What letter does it most represent?)

Answer Key or Rubric:

  1. 1 cm
2. Maps could be different. Various answers.

3. The closer together the lines, the more steep the side of the mountain is. The gentle side will have contour lines with wider spaces.

4. It has a V shape.

Benchmark or Standards:

National Science Standards HNS 2a, SAI 1c, SAI 1d, SAI 1f, SAI 2d, ST 1d, ST 1e, UCP 1, UCP 2

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!

Non-profit Tax ID # 203478467