Shapes of the Land

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SWBAT identify at least 3 different land forms

Big Idea

The earth may be mostly water, but the land beneath the oceans, and around it is made up of many different formations

Teacher Notes

I want students to have a basic understanding of different landforms, especially those found in their own state. The NGSS standards for second grade include creating a model of the shapes of the land and bodies of water in an area. I will concentrate on the land forms and bodies of water in the state of Maine. Each teacher can adapt the lesson for his/her own geographic area. 

I want students to learn precise scientific vocabulary to describe landforms and bodies of water. They need to be able to discuss what the landforms are before they can build them. The terms I want them to understand include:

Mountain, Island, Peninsula, River, Pond, Highland, Lowland, Valley

My goal is to help students to develop a scientific model of the local landforms and bodies of water that they can use in later lessons to track the flow of water from the mountains to the sea. I will also introduce the correct terminology for the various landforms.

Background Information that as a teacher I need to help me answer questions and give examples of why different landforms exist. 

The most important characteristics that geologists look at are structure, process, slope, and drainage.

Structure consists of the materials that a landform is made of, and the manner in which these materials are arranged. For example, is a mountain made primarily of granite, sandstone, copper, or of some other material. Is that material arranged in horizontal layers, vertical layers, or in some other configuration.

Process is all of the forces that combined to form the landform. These processes might be weather, pressure, water, wind, moving sheets of ice, etc. 

All landforms are being changed by the many different forces that are constantly at work on them.

The steepness of a landform’s slope gives geologists important clues about its formation, and structure. Slope also influences the evolution of landforms.

Drainage is considered separately from other processes, because it is so influential. How quickly water drains away from a landform impacts the overall shape and evolution of that landform tremendously.

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Visuals to share with students on landforms in the United States: 

Introducing Land forms

15 minutes

I begin today with a presentation about landforms. One possible resource is . (You can scroll down to the what are landforms power point). 

I say to students, "Now that you have seen the powerpoint can you think about some of the words that describe landforms? Who can share one of those words with us?"  I put the words on index cards and put them in a pocket chart as the students say them. When we have a list such as mountains, rivers, desert, ocean, lake, island, peninsula, valley, plain, hill, I say to students can we sort these words into landforms we have right here in our state and ones that we do not?"

I take all of the cards out of the pocket chart and spread them out on the table. Now I put Maine, Not Maine headings at the top of 2 columns. I say, "Some of the landforms may be found in Maine and in other places too, but Maine does not have every kind of landform so if we can find it in Maine and maybe in other places too we will put it under Maine. If we do not have it in Maine, we will put it under Not Maine. Can anyone come up and take a card and put it under Maine or not Maine?" I let students come up and place a card where they want. With each card I ask them to tell us why they put it where they did. (I want students to learn to justify their scientific thinking so by explaining their choice they are beginning to justify their thinking.) I also encourage other students to ask questions if they disagree with a choice. 

When we have  agreed on the placement of the cards I say, "Does anyone remember what a model is?" I take volunteer answers. "Today we are going to make a model of some of the land forms in Maine. We will figure out where they are and place them on our Maine map."

Making The Clay

10 minutes

In order to have enough clay to create our landforms map, I have decided to have the students make their own clay.

I post the recipe on the easel.

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1/2 cup of  water
  • 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of oil

I have the ingredients on the table and I give each table a bowl and a measuring cup and measuring spoon. I say, "do you see where 1 cup is marked on your measuring cup? Can you point that out?" I check that students have identified where 1 cup would be. "How about 1/2 cup? Can you find 1/2 cup? Is 1/2 bigger or smaller than 1 cup?" "You will need to know where those measurements are when you come up and get your materials. Don't forget to look at the recipe to know how much of your ingredient you are getting. You will need to get everything except for the water. Please get the oil last so it does not make it hard to get the other materials."

Next I have students help me read the recipe. I tell them that they will send 1 person up to the ingredients table at a time with the spoon and measuring cup to get 1 of the ingredients, except the water. I tell them that when all of the other ingredients are in their bowls, I will pour in the water because it is hot. "When you get the water, you may start stirring your dough. You want it to be smooth and the consistency of play dough.

When the dough is mixed I ask students to leave it on the table so we can go on with our model of the landforms in Maine.

Making a Model of Land Forms

20 minutes

We look at the list of landforms that we have created. I say, "we have mountains, hills,  shoreline, islands, lakes, peninsulas, and valleys on our list. I would like to have small groups of 4 work together to make each of these. Remember that if you make an island or peninsula, you should think about whether there are hills on your landform. Also, if you do a shoreline is it flat or rocky and cliffs or hills. Remember that a valley is a place between the hills.  (I want to make sure that there are several models with hills for a later lesson.)We will put them on the map of Maine to create a 3-D or 3 dimensional model of our state. Do you know what 3-Dimensional means?" I let students share their definitions of 3-D.

I remove the landform cards from the chart and shuffle them. 

"I will ask you to find your Buddy Wheel Buddy and then I will bring 2 groups together to make teams of 4. You will come up and draw a card and then use clay to create your landform." I call out the Buddy Wheel number, and combine the groups into teams. Next each team draws a card and then takes some clay to begin creating their landform. They look at a geophysical map of Maine to determine where their landform should be placed on the model map and to get an idea of how big their landform should be. I leave rulers on the map to help them see how long their mountains, islands, etc. should be. I also provide rulers for groups to use at their tables. 

I ring the bell part way through the building process and say, "Do you remember when we made a model of the playground, we needed to make sure things were all still similar in size. We didn't want a huge slide and a tiny swing set. The same is true with our landforms map. We want to remember that our mountains should be taller than our valleys. The lake needs to fit on its place on the map so we don't have a lake bigger than an ocean." 

I let students complete their land form and place it on the map. 


Viewing Our Map

10 minutes

I bring the map to the center of the rug and invite students to come and sit carefully around the outside of the map. I ask them, "what do you notice about the landforms of Maine?" I want students to see that their state has mountain areas, lakes, rivers, shoreline, and lowlands. I ask, "can you tell me what this is?" (pointing to one part of the map and then another). I want to check that students are using the vocabulary of land forms as they explain our map. 


10 minutes

I put the words mountain, river, lake, island, shoreline and peninsula on the board. I say, "As we finish today I would like you to pick 3 of these words and write them in your science journals. Beside the word write a definition of the word, what it means, or draw a picture to show what it is." I use these journal entries to help me assess student understanding of the vocabulary related to landforms.