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Activity: Interpreting Contour Maps

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts:

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas:


  • Table 7.6
  • Figs. 7.30 through Fig. 7.38
  • Paper
  • Colored pencils or crayons


  1. Read the descriptions of features listed in Table 7.6.
  2. Refer to Table 7.6 as you identify features shown on the contour maps, Figs. 7.30 through Fig. 7.38.
  3. Examine each map to determine whether sea level, the zero (0) elevation contour line, is given. If it is, mark it with a colored pencil.
  4. Locate the contour lines of dry landform features—those with elevations above sea level. Using crayons or colored pencils, color-code the map to show differences in elevation. Save blue for seafloor contours.
  5. Locate the contour lines of features below sea level—those shown as negative numbers. Color-code the map in shades of blue to show differences in depth.
  6. Study the shapes of the contour lines, then identify and label features on the maps.


Activity Questions: 
  1. What feature(s) were displayed on each of the contour maps?
  2. Were there any maps where it was difficult to identify the feature(s)? What additional information would you need to determine their identity?
  3. Form hypotheses to explain how each of the features in the contour maps formed. How might these features change over time?
  4. Think of an example of a place that fulfills the definition of more than one of the features in Table 7.6. Explain the reasoning for your choice.
  5. How are the following pairs alike and different?
    1. atoll and lagoon
    2. strait and sound
    3. isthmus and peninsula
    4. continental shelf and continental slope
  6. What is the importance of seafloor features to
    1. navigation?
    2. economics or society-building?
    3. archaeology?
    4. fisheries or other natural resources?
Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.