Continents

Geographical Features

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Geographical Features

Stunning NASA and live footage combine with state-of-the-art animation to give students a clear understanding of the physical features that shape our earth. Terms like escarpment, plateau, butte, outlier, and atoll are shown in their natural states with examples highlighted on an animated globe. Learn the names of these landforms and where they are found.

Find out what escarpment, plateau, butte, outlier, and atoll are and where they are found.

  1. Students will name the seven continents and their larger landforms. The four main landmasses that cover the earth are divided into the continents of Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, South America, Australia, and Antarctica. Some of these continents have a Continental Divide, an imaginary line that separates western-flowing rivers from eastern-flowing rivers. Some continents have continental glaciers that cover the land with ice.
  2. Students will know the features of a mountain and how they are formed. Mountains are the highest landform and are measured by their elevation. Usually they have summits and steep slopes. On many high mountains, there is a clear timberline. Mountains usually exist in groups known as ranges. These ranges are usually part of a mountain system. Most of the world's mountains are part of one of two mountain belts: the Eurasian-Melanesian Belt and the Circum-Pacific Belt under the ocean. They form in several ways:
    1. Fault Block Mountains form when huge sections of the earth's crust push along a fault.
    2. Folded Chain Mountains form when plates of rocks beneath the earth's surface fold up like a wrinkled rug.
    3. Dome Mountains form when magma from the earth's center pushes up and hardens under the surface.
    4. Erupting volcanoes whose lava hardens at the surface also form mountains. Although mountains often inhibit communication and transportation, they are often a source of recreation like skiing camping, climbing, and hiking.
  3. Students will know what valleys and basins are and how they are formed. A valley is a low, long, flat area bordered on both sides by higher land, hills, or mountains. The bottom of the valley, the floor, often has fertile soil that is good for growing crops. Rivers and streams often flow along valley floors. Valleys are created in several ways:
    1. A rift valley forms when a long, narrow section of crust sinks. The floor of this valley is always flat.
    2. Some valleys are formed by glaciers that carve a U-shape into the land between mountains.
    3. Erosion from streams and rivers form most valleys. Deep valleys formed in this manner are called canyons. A basin is a low, bowl-shaped area drained by a river. Like a valley, a basin is usually surrounded mostly by higher land. Sometimes basins include desert areas. These landforms are barren areas of land that receive less than 10 inches of rain a year. The arid climate in deserts leaves for little variety in vegetation.
  4. Students will identify the hill, butte, plateau, and mesa landforms. Hills are higher than valleys, but lower than mountains. They are not as rugged as mountains and have rounded tops rather than peaks. Foothills are high hills that are at the base of mountains. A butte is a steep-sided hill or mountain that stands alone and rises sharply from the land around it. A plateau is a large, flat area of land that is higher than the surrounding land. Plateaus are made up of horizontal levels of rock. Plateaus are formed in three major ways:
    1. The inner part of the earth heats and lifts the crust.
    2. Sheets of lava harden on top of one another.
    3. Water erosion. When erosion wears away at a plateau, a mesa is formed. This landform was named for the object it resembles; mesa means table.
  5. Students will describe the characteristics of plains and prairies. Plains are broad, usually flat areas of land. Because plains often have fertile soil, they are home to many farms. Prairies are similar to plains, differing in that prairies can be flat or hilly. The climate and conditions of prairies make them good homes for many plants and animals.
  6. Students will know the features of the swamp and marsh landforms. Both of these habitats are saturated with water, however only swamps can support larger vegetation like bushes and trees. Although buildings cover many of these landforms, people now realize the important role marshes and swamps serve as wildlife habitat.
  7. Students will identify the landforms relating to the ocean and coast. A peninsula is a portion of land almost completely surrounded by water. A cape is a point of land that extends prominently into a body of water. A coast, or shoreline, is the area where the land meets water. An island is a body of water that is completely surrounded by water. A string of islands is known as an archipelago. A reef is a ridge of rock, sand, or coral at or near the surface of the water.

  1. Build a landform: Using art clay or homemade clay, have students build a topographic map of the area in which they live. Or, give them a choice of landforms and have them create one with the clay. Students may even challenge themselves with a model of how mountains, valleys, plateaus, etc. form.
  2. Vocabulary builder: Using the video as a guide, assign each student to draw one of the types of landforms and label the back (like a flashcard). Encourage the class to make the drawings as accurate as possible. Once all "flashcards" are made, use them to play landform bingo or quiz games.


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