Contour lines on maps represent points of the same height. A figure is usually given within each line to show the height of the land. Contour lines are used to give 3-dimensional information on 2-dimensional maps.

If a person travels between two contour lines there will be change of height. The closer contour lines are to each other the steeper the terrain as the height of the land is changing over a smaller area than if the lines are further apart.

Learning Outcomes

• Understand that contours allow a 3D information to be displayed on a 2D map and that all points on a single contour line are the same height.
• To be able to create 3D representations of a small contour diagrams.
• To be able to talk about changes in land height and determine from a map whether areas of land are steep or flat.
• Understand that contour lines can never cross as land cannot be two different heights in the same place and moving between contour lines means there is a change of height.

Steps

1. Draw contour lines onto a piece of paper or thick card or provide details taken from a map, this could be a famous area of land or somewhere local.
2. Either ask children to cut out each segment and use as a guide to model play dough pieces of the correct size or mould the play dough over the drawing.
3. Place the play dough pieces on top of each other in the correct order. Check the play dough model matches the diagram.

Extension ideas

Try to think of 3 reasons why being able to understand what contour lines on a map represent would be useful to an explorer.

Ask students to draw contour lines on stones or half a potato. Can they then draw these as a contour map on paper?

Top tips

If students need help drawing contour lines on paper from the potato, try carefully slicing the potato along each line. The slices can then be drawn around to create the map.

Create a classroom model of an area of land using slices of polystyrene, foam or sheets of wood. Children can then use the segments to create a contour map or construct the area of land from a map already drawn.