Mapping Land and Water

In the last unit, students explored how weathering and erosion change Earth materials, and then designed an engineering solution that reduces erosion. In this unit, students are introduced to the science phenomena of landforms on Earth’s surface, exploring how scientists use maps to represent the shapes and kinds of land and water on Earth’s surface. They begin by modeling and mapping the presence of different landforms in a particular location, and then investigate how water flows over land and collects in different ways. This page is a high-level extract that includes each of the main components of lesson one of this unit on land and water.

Science Background for Teachers:

The science background gives teachers more detailed information about the phenomena being studied in this unit - Land and Water. It helps teachers be prepared to facilitate Socratic dialogues with their students during the lessons.

One kind of map shows the landforms and bodies of water of a specific area. A landform is a natural feature on Earth’s surface.

Mountains, dunes, hills, and valleys are all landforms. Landforms are created from different processes. For example, weathering and erosion wear down mountains and carve out valleys and canyons. Erosion is also responsible for the formation of dunes.

The interactions of Earth’s tectonic plates are another cause of various landforms on the surface. Earth’s surface is broken into drifting slabs of solid rock, called tectonic plates. The plates are in constant motion, moving extremely slowly, no more than a few centimeters a year, although the different plates move at varying speeds and in different directions. As the plates come into contact with each other, they transfer tremendous amounts of energy that cause various geological processes to happen at their boundaries. Their movements cause mountains, valleys, and ocean basins to form. Collisions between the plates also cause earthquakes and volcanoes.

Supports Grade 2

Science Lesson: Learning about Mapping Land and Water

People use maps to show a variety of information, including the presence of different landforms in a particular location. In this lesson, students create 3D models and maps of distinct landforms and bodies of water in a particular location to explore patterns of land and water in different places.  

Science Big Ideas

  • Landforms are natural features on Earth’s surface.
  • People use maps to help them find out different kinds of information. Maps are drawings or other models of an area of Earth’s surface.
  • Maps use symbols to show the different parts of an area that it is representing. A symbol can be a shape, a line, or a color.

Sample Unit CTA-2
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Science Essential Questions

  • What is an example of a landform?
  • How does weathering affect landforms on Earth?
  • When have you used a map in everyday life?
  • Why are landform maps useful?
  • What are some of the landforms where we live?
  • How do we know where different bodies of water are located on a map?
  • How can we find mountains on a map? How are rivers shown on a map?
  • Why is the title of a map important?

Common Science Misconceptions

Misconception: Water is found only in bodies of water.
Fact: Water is found in multiple places in addition to bodies of water. Its gas form, water vapor, is found in the atmosphere. Liquid water is also found underground. Finally, water is also found as solid ice or snow.
Misconception: Water isn’t recycled. When it rains, the rain drops are “new” water.
Fact: Water isn’t ever created or destroyed. Instead, it is always being recycled. It moves around the planet as it cycles between a solid, a liquid, and a gas depending on the amount of heat present.

Science Vocabulary

Body of water: a part of Earth’s surface that is filled with water

Gravity:  a force that pulls things toward each other

Landform:  a natural feature on Earth’s surface

Map:  a drawing or other model of an area of Earth’s surface

Water cycle:  the circulation of water from a collection to the atmosphere and back to Earth; includes evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and collection

Lexile(R) Certified Non-Fiction Science Reading (Excerpt)

Mapping Alaska

Alaska is a state in the United States. It has more land than any other state.

Alaska is remote. This means that it is far away from the rest of the United States. Not many roads connect Alaska to the rest of the country. Some places in Alaska can only be reached by helicopter.

It is hard to make accurate maps of Alaska because it is so remote. A map is a drawing or other model of an area of Earth’s surface. Maps are important because they give different kinds of information about a location.

There are different kinds of maps. One kind of map shows the landforms of a specific area. A landform is a natural feature on Earth’s surface. 

Mountains are landforms. Dunes are landforms. Hills and valleys are also landforms.

In addition to landforms, there are also different bodies of water on Earth’s surface. A body of water is a part of Earth’s surface that is filled with water.


Hands-on Science Activity

In this lesson, students create 3D clay models of land areas based on distinct landforms and bodies of water in a photograph. They then create a map of their model to see how maps can show where land and water are located. Students use their models to analyze patterns in where water is found as a solid on Earth and where it is found as a liquid. They also use their models to construct an explanation about the cause- and-effect relationship between the amount of heat present and the form that water is found in.

Science Assessments

KnowAtom incorporates formative and summative assessments designed to make students thinking visible for deeper student-centered learning.

  • Vocabulary Check
  • Lab Checkpoints
  • Concept Check Assessment 
  • Concept Map Assessment 
  • And More...


Science Standards

See How KnowAtom Aligns to NGSS Science Standards

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Download the Alignment to NGSS

Standards citation: NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Neither WestEd nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of this product, and do not endorse it.