From the Heights to the Depths

Math, Art, and Social Studies Activity

Students work together to create a relief map of Asia and Australia.


Divide the class into pairs or small groups. Then, using a map of Asia and Australia, divide the entire map into smaller sections, with one section assigned to each group. You may also want to enlist the cooperation of the art teacher to choose the best clay medium for this activity. If you prepare the medium in advance, make sure it is one that can be stored until students are ready to use it. Preferably, it should also be one that can be air dried instead of baked. NOTE: You will need several days to complete this activity.



  1. Review with students that a relief map shows the elevations of various landforms based on a scale of measurement. Explain to students that scale is the relationship between the actual size of something and the size of a model or drawing that represents it. For example, people often make model cars. These models are exact replicas of the originals except that they are built to a particular scale -- perhaps .25" equals 1'. If this were the case, then one foot of the real car's length will be represented in the model by .25" of length.

    Tell students that the relief maps they will make will be to-scale sections of Asia and Australia. They will need to study existing maps to calculate real distances, heights, and depths and then reproduce the landforms to a chosen scale, which will be one square on the graph paper = X miles. You might want to explore what students think would be an appropriate scale to work with. For example, it would not be very practical if the scale were one square = 1 mile, since it would make the map of Asia very large. A more workable scale might be one square = 1000 miles.

  2. Further, explain to students that on relief maps, colors are often used to indicate elevation of landforms. Work with students to develop an elevation key.

  3. Give groups their assigned sections and distribute the maps and other materials to students. Give them time to become familiar with how the modelling material feels to work with.

  4. When students feel comfortable with the modelling material, have them glue the graph paper to the cardboard and build their model right on the paper.

  5. Have students model the very lowest elevations first. (You might introduce contour maps here.) Develop a system for them to measure how high they should build their landforms in order to remain in scale. (For example, you might have them make rulers out of the graph paper.)

  6. Allow all the pieces to dry. Then, have students paint their models according to the elevation key and to label countries, mountain ranges, and so forth.

  7. When all maps are completed, have groups explain how they created their maps and some of the important features they included. Then put all the sections together to form a giant relief map of the entire continents.


Some students might research mountain elevations in Asia, then prepare separate models of the highest peaks in greater detail and using the same scale. They can then display the models side by side for comparison.

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