Printer Friendly
Activity: Contour and Raised Relief Maps
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas


Materials for Part A

  • Figs. 7.30 through Fig. 7.38 (scaled to the size of the model you want to make)
  • Colored construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Tape (optional)
  • Image software or a photocopy machine (optional)


Additional materials for Part B

  • Fig. 7.39
  • Scraps of cardboard
  • Scalpel or X-Acto-type hobby utility knife


Fig. 7.39. Stacked cardboard contour templates

Image by Byron Inouye

Additional materials for Part C (Optional)

  • Newspaper
  • Bucket
  • Blender
  • Objects to use as weights
  • Sheet of cotton cloth
  • White glue diluted 1:1 with water
  • Wooden skewer
  • Paint brushes
  • Tempera paints
  • Cups (for paints)
  • Aprons (optional)
  • Oven or fan (optional)


Safety Note: Use caution when handling blades.

A. Construct a color-coded contour map.

  1. Choose one of the contour maps in Figs. 7.30–7.38.
  2. Decide how to color-code the relief map with colors from a package of construction paper. Choose your colors to show increasing depths of water or increasing elevations of land. The color scheme you select should provide meaningful information about the area. Be ready to justify your choices.
  3. Choose an appropriate size for your map. If necessary, work with your teacher to enlarge or shrink your image using image software or a photocopy machine.
  4. Prepare a template out of colored construction paper for each elevation line. Press or tape your contour map against a piece of construction paper. Cut along the outermost contour line, cutting both the map and the construction paper. Label the elevation of this contour line on the construction paper.
  5. Continue cutting on the contour lines with new pieces of construction paper, working from the outer contour lines in. Label the elevations of the contour lines.
  6. Stack the colored contour templates in order of increasing elevation. Use the elevation lines drawn on each template to position the next higher template.


B. Construct a raised-relief map to accurate vertical scale.

  1. Make cardboard risers to put between the contour templates to provide the proper vertical scale for the model. Determine how high each riser should be. To do this, first decide what elevation interval is to be represented by each thickness of cardboard. See Fig. 7.39 for an example.
  2. Glue the risers to the contour templates.
  3. Cut each cardboard piece along the end of the contour templates using a scalpel. Work slowly and carefully. To avoid making slash marks in the table, put a sheet of cardboard under the template you are cutting.
  4. Assemble the relief map. Working from the lowest to the highest elevation, carefully position each contour template and its risers.
  5. Glue the assembled relief map to a cardboard base.
  6. Label the model to identify the features represented. Include a legend showing the elevations.


C. (Optional) Construct a papier-mâché sculpted model of your geographic feature.

  1. Prepare papier-mâché. Your teacher may give you additional information.
    1. Tear newspaper into strips
    2. Soak newspaper strips in water for a few hours or overnight to soften the paper.
    3. Use a blender to make a slurry of paper and water. Never fill the blender more than half-full. Run the blender on low speed.
    4. Filter the water from the slurry through a piece of cloth. Wring out the water. Save the pulp.
    5. Mix pulp with diluted white glue so that it has a smooth, medium-firm, claylike consistency. Use this firm mixture for the first coat on the model.
    6. Make a thinner, moister papier-mâché for the finishing coats by adding more diluted glue solution to the pulp.
  2. Coat the cardboard relief map with firm papier-mâché.
    1. Fill in all exposed spaces between the contour templates and the exposed cut ends of the corrugated cardboard.
    2. Make a smooth, natural slope between the templates.
    3. Dry the first coat. If possible, put the model in a 120°C oven for an hour. Alternatively, use fans or sunlight to hasten drying.
  3. Apply a finishing coat of thinner papier-mâché over the entire model.
    1. Using a wooden skewer or the handle of a fine brush, stroke wet papier-mâché in an upward movement to sculpt valleys and erosion effects.
    2. Dry the model thoroughly. To prevent warping, place weights uniformly on the model.
  4. Paint the model.
    1. Color-code features on the map using shades of colors to show changes in elevation.
    2. Allow the paint to dry.
  5. Label the model. Identify the features. Include a legend showing the elevations.
  6. Make drawings of the relief map or model. Show all the contours  a. looking straight down from the top.  b. looking from the north looking south.  c. looking from south to north.  d. looking from east to west.  e. looking from west to east.
  7. Display each model together with its contour map and your drawings.


Activity Questions
  1. Compare a raised-relief map, a contour map, and a shaded contour map of the same geographic feature. Make a table showing the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  2. What would you do differently if you did this activity with a different contour map?
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.