3-D Geographic Features

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Subjects Image: 
Grades: 6th - 8th Grade
Lesson: 1
Unit: 1: American Indian traditional land values
Subject: Geography
Additional Subject: Arts
Achievement Goal: Students will identify geographic and other features common to maps; list standard map features and measure distance on maps; recognize the importance of geographic features to tribes in Montana; and identify and map geographic features in their own environment.
Time: Multiple class periods
Lesson Resources:

Lesson Description:
States Image: 

Students explore and interpret Reservation landscape and topographic map features. Students work in groups to create a presentation of a reservation's unique 3-D geographic features.

Teacher Background:

Review the Teacher Preparation Resources section as well as the Lesson Resources section for background information.


Montana Social Studies Content Standard 3

Students apply geographic knowledge and skills (e.g., location, place, human and environmental interactions, movement and regions).

Essential Understandings Regarding Montana Indians 3

The ideologies of Native American traditional beliefs and spirituality persist into modern day life as tribal cultures, traditions and languages are still practiced by many American Indian people and are incorporated into how tribes govern and manage their affairs.

Teacher Preparation Resources:
  • Make copies of reservation landscape images and land use maps.
  • Gather the following materials:
    • Tracing paper, butcher paper or news print;
    • Fine-tip pen or sharpened #2 (soft) pencils and painters tape;
    • Color markers, paint and brushes;
    • Recycled cardboard, styrofoam or foam core mat board or foam insulation board (blue board not white ‘popcorn’ variety);
    • Scissors, small coping saw or serrated bread knife (or electric carving knife with supervision);
    • Ruler and string;
    • Salt clay, modeling clay or paper maché (optional); and
    • White glue and sand, moss, grass and twigs for land cover (optional).
  • Coordinate Internet or library access for students.
  • Have use of overhead and map transparencies, or computer projector.
  • Become familiar with reservation and topographic maps.
  • Know how to identify geographic and man-made map features (symbols, colors, keys, contours, etc.).
  • Locate these Montana reservation geographic features as suggested examples for the students’ 3-D model:
    • Blackfeet: Chief Mountain, Heart Butte;
    • Crow: Castle Rock, Pryor Mountains, Yellowtail Dam;
    • Flathead: Chief Cliff, National Bison Range, Mission Mountains;
    • Fort Belknap: Snake Butte, Mission Canyon;
    • Fort Peck: Missouri River, Poplar River;
    • Northern Cheyenne: Crazyhead Springs, Tongue River; and
    • Rocky Boy’s: Baldy Butte, Haystack Butte, Centennial Mountain, Square Butte.
Student Activity:resource icon


  1. Explain to students that geographic features like mountains, buttes, cliffs, river junctions and unique rock or vegetation characteristics were important to tribes in many ways. Geographic features commonly have cultural, spiritual and historical significance as well as providing navigational ‘sign posts’ and territorial boundaries. Specific features could also be associated with locations of traditional campsites and hunting areas or places to gather food, medicinal or ‘household’ materials. Native names, stories, songs and legends about these places were passed on mainly through the oral traditions of each tribe and continue to be part of the fabric of native culture and tradition.
  2. Talk about standard parts of modern maps (i.e., title, legend, scale bar, north arrow, latitude and longitude grids). Ask why these are important or what uses of the map are lost or difficult to interpret if these are missing (i.e. distance, direction, interpretation of information and how to find a specific location on a map by coordinates).
  3. Post a large map of Montana on the wall. Ask what information students see on the map (geographic and cultural features like rivers and lakes, mountain ranges, roads, towns, camp grounds, parks, etc.).
  4. Explain latitude and longitude (i.e., equal division of spherical earth surface into degrees, minutes or seconds, equator, north and south pole and hemispheres, meridians, etc.). Demonstrate latitude and longitude with ball, string and pushpins, or score and peel an orange. Demonstrate the use of latitude and longitude grid on the Montana map to find your town or school location.
  5. Have students draw a map from their home to their favorite recreation area showing and using geographic and vegetative features only. Display them in the classroom.


  1. Divide classroom into seven groups and have each group pick a different reservation feature to convert to 3-D model. Provide students with list of suggested features. Utilize materials you have on hand. The Teacher Preparation Resources section provides a list for a variety of options.
  2. Decorate the models to show topographic features like lakes, rivers and land cover. Add title, legend, and scale to each model. Include the latitude and longitude of your geographic feature in the map legend.


  1. Have each group of students share their model and describe the feature they built and its historic or cultural significance.
  2. Discuss the potential consequences to Native people if they didn’t observe and pass on information about the features in their environment. Ask students how stories and oral history keep Native (and non-Native) people connected to the land.


  1. Have students write to a specific tribe’s Land Management Program, Culture Committee or Tribal College to request more information about historic, cultural and current significance of their selected geographic feature.
  2. If your school is on or near a reservation, request a tribally guided field trip to visit important geographic features, tribal museums and cultural centers.
  1. Use the 3-D feature presentations as an assessment.
  2. Write latitude and longitudes from the provided table of tribal government locations and geographic features on the board one at a time, and make it a contest to see who can locate the feature first.
  3. Evaluate students based on Montana Standards and the Achievement Goal for this lesson.
Lesson Resources:

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