Planet Earth
Author: Sylvia Kniest

Time: 2 - 3 class periods
Prepare data logs and introductory lecture on DOGSTAILS and map types.
Materials: Blank continent maps
Data logs
Computer lab access


Maps can provide a variety of useful information, such as data on physical features, population, infant mortality, life expectancies, water use and supplies of fresh water. These are a few examples of useful map information which provides a glance into the livability of various regions of the world. In this lesson students will explore and analyze data from different maps in order to explain the geographic diversity among the continents.

Students will be able to:
1. Identify the information provided on maps (DOGSTAILS).
2. Analyze and record information from a map.
3. Compare different map types.

National Geography Standard
Standard 1: How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information.
Standard 7: The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface.

Teacher Background
Introduce the lesson by presenting the class examples of different types of maps. Tell students that before they study a map they can learn a lot just by looking at the title of the map as well as the tables, legend, symbols and scale of the map. This information is referred to as DOGSTAILS, which is an acronym used to identify the necessary elements of a map.

Date- When was the map created? What is significant about the date?
Orientation- The compass rose shows the direction for the person reading the map.
Grid- Shows longitude and latitude for purpose of determining location.
Scale- Used to determine distance.
Title- Purpose of the map
Author- Source of the map
Index- Specific sites (cities and other landmarks) located on the map
Legend- Identifies symbols, shades, and colors used on the map.
Situation- Identifies the location of the map in reference to the rest of the world.

Related and Resource Websites



Introduce the activity by reading the following scenario:
You are a space being from the planet Sirius. Your planet will soon run out of drinking water and the temperature on your planet is rising annually. It is predicted that in the next five years your planet will be uninhabitable due to the lack of water and intense heat. You have been sent on a mission by your government to explore a new biosphere, planet earth, to study the conditions and report on the feasibility of establishing a colony on that planet. Follow the steps listed below in order to obtain data to present to your government leaders.

Divide the class into (6) groups and assign each group one of the following continents:
North America
South America

Give each student in the group a number; 1, 2, 3, 4
The numbers will correspond to the student’s assigned situation that they will work on for their continent.
Students will work on their individual assignment in the computer lab:

Students #2 and #3 will keep a log of what they learn about their continent. See Data Log in materials for a copy of the Log Sheet. Students #1 and #4 will label a map of their continent. Downloadable maps are located at: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/maps/

Hand out the following instructions to each student:

Student 1:
Go to the site: http://geography.about.com/library/maps/blrindex.htm
Locate a political map of the continent you are studying.
Draw/label a political map showing countries, capitals and longitude/latitude.
Identify DOGSTAILS on the map you have located and record it on your map.

Student 2: Go to the sites:
1. http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/DATASTATISTICS/0,,contentMDK:20398804

Visit the following sites: Fresh Water and Arable Land

2. http://www.sage.wisc.edu/atlas/maps.php
Visit the following sites: Ecosystems (click on: Average Annual Temperature,
Water Resources (click on: Annual Total Precipitation)

  • Compare the data about your continent with the other continents in your log.
  • Record the findings in your log.
  • Identify the DOGSTAILS from one of the maps you looked at in your log.

Student 3: Go the sites:

Explore the following: Income per person, Infant Mortality, Life Expectancy

2. http://www.sage.wisc.edu/atlas/maps.php
Explore the following: Human Impacts (click on: Infant Mortality and Life Expectancy)

  • Compare the data about your continent from each site.
  • Record the findings in your log (Data Log).
  • Identify the DOGSTAILS from one of the maps you looked at in your log.

Student 4: Go to the site:
Click on the continent you are studying.
Draw/label a physical map showing the mountains, rivers, deserts, and any other key physical features on your map.
Identify DOGSTAILS on the map you have located and record it on your map.

After students have completed their computer research have them meet in groups to discuss the following questions: Use your maps and data logs to discuss the following:

1. How do the physical features of your continent contribute to the quality of life for its’ inhabitants?
2. Are there any countries on your continent that have physical features (rivers and mountains) as natural boundaries? If so, identify them.
3. Have the inhabitants of your continent successfully adapted to their physical environment? Explain with supporting examples.
4. As a group what recommendations would you make to improve the quality of life for the inhabitants of your continent?

Embedded Assessment
Students will be assessed on their maps and data logs.


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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