Resources for Teachers

Grade 3-5: Geography

General Geopraphy|| Geologic Maps|| Historic Exploration of the United States|| Land Use History|| Map Tools|| Satellite Images|| Thematic Map Resources|| Topographic Maps

General Geography

Floods and Floodplains- Background Information
This easy-to-understand fact sheet describes why floods occur and discusses the basics about flood-plain designation.

Helping Your Child Learn Geography- Background Information and Activities
A 32-page booklet, published in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Education and the National Geographic Society, that is designed to help adults stir children's curiosity about geography. Includes many suggestions for simple activities. K-4.      

What Do Maps Show? -Lesson
This on-line teacher packet for upper elementary and junior high school students has four lessons on reading and using maps. The packet includes a teacher's guide, four printable activity sheets, and three maps in PDF format that can be downloaded and printed on 8.5" x 11" paper.   

Corn Maze Geography- Activites
Visit a corn maze and use these activities to learn about maps and geography.

USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)- Background Information
GNIS contains information for almost 2 million physical and cultural geographic features in the United States and its territories. Query the database to find individual features and their corresponding coordinates. Search results include links to on-line air photos and topographic maps containing the feature. GNIS is also a layer of The National Map (above).

Elevations and Distances- Background Information
Tables of information covering elevations of features and distances between points in the United States. Also locates the geographic center of each state.   

Satellite Image of Your State- Photos
Download and print a spectacular free image of your state created by combining satellite imagery with the National Elevation Dataset data.

Printable Outline Maps of States (plus reference maps and more!)- Maps
Download hundreds of reference maps for individual states and for all of the United States. These are specifically designed to print on 8.5"x11" paper for classroom use. Includes unlabeled outline maps of the U.S. Formerly available on the National Atlas website.

Historic Exploration of the United States

Routes of the Principal Explorers Paper Map- Map
Purchase this paper map showing routes of explorers in the contiguous 48 states, 1501-1844. Product #101216. 

Land Use History

Urban Growth in American Cities- Background Information
An on-line publication that illustrates the spatial history of urban growth in sixteen areas around the U.S. and the corresponding land use change. Images can be downloaded as GIF files.   

Satellite Images

EROS Satellite Image Resources for the Classroom- Background Information and Photos
USGS Fact with a handy list of educational resources available through our Earth Resources Observation and Science Center (EROS), which manages all USGS satellite imagery.

Tracking Change over Time - Background Information
Enhance students' learning of geography, map reading, earth science, and problem solving through landscape changes recorded by satellites in space.

Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change- Photos
Earthshots is an e-book of before-and-after Landsat images (1972-present), showing recent environmental events and introducing the concept of remote sensing. Each set of images includes a detailed description, photographs and maps, a list of references, and a question/answer. Images are best used on-line.

TerraLook- Photos
Download free, high-resolution satellite images in georeferenced PDF format, which allows for visual interpretation and comparison without the need for complicated software.

EarthNow! Near-Real Time Satellite Image Viewer- Background Information and Photos
Currently only works in Internet Explorer. What does a satellite see as it passes over our planet? This mesmerizing, near-real time viewer displays data received from the Landsat 5 and Landsat 7 satellites as they pass over the United States.

Topographic Maps

Constructing a 3D Topographic Map- Activity
This exercise uses clear plastic take-out lids, each marked with a different elevation line, and stacked to produce a 3D topographic map. It includes a base map of Angel Island (San Francisco Bay) but can be adapted to any local topographic feature.

Topographic Map Resources for Teachers- Background Information
An overall summary of useful USGS resources for working with topographic maps: where to get them; how to interpret them; how to use them; explanations of coordinates, datums, and projections; and lessons for the classroom.

Free Digital USGS Topographic Map Quadrangles- Maps
Download free USGS topographic map quadrangles in georeferenced PDF (GeoPDF) format by clicking on "Map Locator" on the USGS Store Web site. These files were created using high-resolution scans and average 10-17 megabytes in size.

27 Ideas for Teaching with Topographic Maps- Activities
Contains 27 ideas for teaching with the approximately 57,000 topographic maps that the USGS offers.   

Map Mysteries- Activities
Sample questions to use with USGS topographic and thematic maps as starting points to uncover mysteries about the cultural and physical geography of the Earth.

Corn Maze Geography- Activities
Visit a corn maze and use these activities to learn about maps and geography.

Topographic Salad-Tray Model-Lesson
This basic activity-oriented lesson helps students understand a topographic map by creating a three-dimensional model from contours on a topographic map.   

Finding Your Way with a Map and Compass- Activity
A brief description of how to navigate using a compass and topographic maps.  

Map Symbols- Background Information
An explanation of topographic maps and map symbols.

Topographic Maps Illustrating Physiographic Features- Activity
Topographic maps can be used to study a wide range of physical features in the United States. This helps students learn about the geologic evolution of the Nation's natural landscapes and shows how topographic maps reveal more about the land surface than just its shape and elevation. Roam your cursor across maps and images on this online viewer to learn about selected features of the American landscape .   

US Topo: The Next Generation Topographic Map-Maps
Do you teach about maps, or do you use them in the classroom? The USGS has developed a new map series called the US Topo. Modeled on the old topographic series, these maps are derived from digital data that allow the entire contiguous U.S. to be remapped every three years. Download free digital US Topo maps through the Map Locator. Download PDF files of historical topographic maps at the same site.

Map Tools

USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)- Background Information
GNIS contains information for almost 2 million physical and cultural geographic features in the United States and its territories. Query the database to find individual features and their corresponding coordinates. Search results include links to on-line air photos and topographic maps containing the feature. GNIS is also a layer of The National Map (above).   

Elevations and Distances- Background Information
Tables of information covering elevations of features and distances between points in the United States. Also locates the geographic center of each state.   

What Do Maps Show?- Lessons
This on-line teacher packet for upper elementary and junior high school students has four lessons on reading and using maps. The packet includes a teacher's guide, four printable activity sheets, and three maps in PDF format that can be downloaded and printed on 8.5" x 11" paper.   

Education Map Catalog- Background Information
Browse samples of USGS maps that are popular with educators. Order paper copies through this site. Where available, links are provided to pdf versions that can be freely downloaded. (Navigate to this site on your own by going to the USGS Store and clicking on "Education Products")    

Printable Outline Maps of States (plus reference maps and more!)- Photos
Download hundreds of reference maps for individual states and for all of the United States. These are specifically designed to print on 8.5"x11" paper for classroom use. Includes unlabeled outline maps of the U.S. Formerly available on the National Atlas website.

Thematic Map Resources   

Public Land Surveys Map- Map
A highly detailed paper map showing the growth of territory of the United States from 1776 through 1965; National parks and monuments, national forests, Indian Reservations, National Wildlife Refuge, and Public Lands; and Principal Meridians and Baselines, Townships, and Ranges from the U.S. Public Land Surveys (product #101208). Use this map to teach and learn about how the country grew, and the affect of the Public Land Survey System on the present-day arrangement of roads and cities. Web site includes a link to a list of questions that can be used with the map. This paper product is a cost item that can be purchased through the USGS Store.   

Federal Lands and Indian Reservations - Printable Maps- Maps
Maps showing Federal lands and Indian Reservations for the entire U.S. or individual states. Maps print on 8.5"x11" paper.   

Indian Land Areas Paper Maps- Maps
Four different paper maps showing Indian Land Areas Judicially Established (product #101505); Indian Land Areas on a planimetric map (product #101502); Indian Land Areas on a colorful shaded relief map (product #101516); and Early Indian Tribes, Culture Areas, and Linguistic Stocks (product #101013). These paper products are cost items that can be purchased through the USGS Store.  

An Emerging Nation Map- Map
A reproduction of a map that shows the United States as it existed about the time the Constitution was written. The original map was produced in 1784 and was the first map of the United States created by an American cartographer. Download a free PDF (24Mb) or purchase a paper copy through the USGS Store.   

Geologic Maps

Tapestry of Time and Terrain- Map
Shaded relief and geology are combined on this map of the 48 conterminous states. It is a useful resource for discussing physiographic provinces and for viewing the location of rocks deposited during different geologic time periods. Download a PDF version or purchase a paper wall-size version through the USGS Store. This is one of the most eye-catching maps produced by the USGS.

Geologic Map of North America- Map
Click on "Map Images" (icon that looks like a framed picture) to download a map and explanation sheet for the Geologic Map of North American at different resolutions.