4-6, Unit Two, Activity 2: "Carving Mountains"

Through individual and group research, students will define specialized glacial terms and learn to recognize the landforms they represent. Students will illustrate the landforms using clay modeling.

Grades: 5 - 6
Time: 1 - 3 hours
Subject: Earth science, geography, visual arts

Teacher Background:
This activity is designed to give students tactile and research experiences by building scale models of mountains with glacially carved features so that they can understand and discuss the topography and dynamics of a mountain environment. This activity will make any visit to Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park more meaningful and more interesting. Regardless of an individual student's mastery of special terms and vocabulary, he or she will look more closely at the environment after this activity.


  • Research materials to include: Earth Science texts, books dealing with the geology of the International Peace Park, and a very good dictionary
  • Slides or pictures of geological features of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Check our flickr site.
  • One or more raised relief maps of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (optional)
  • Paper for recording research
  • Several recycled 4' by 4' plywood boards
  • Moist, recycled pottery clay or a large supply of modeling clay
  • Tools for working clay
  • An appropriate ruler to establish a reference scale for elevations
  • Paper or light cardboard for labels
  • Pins to hold labels
  • Scissors
  • Fine-point pens
  • Plastic covering to prevent drying out of models

The following list of terms is supplied as a guide for students to use in compiling team dictionaries of mountain and glacial terms:

Arete, Avalanche, Sedimentary Layers, Glacial Erratic, Cirque, Glaciation, U- Shaped or V-Shaped Valley, Glacier, Tarn, Hanging Valley, Moraine, Horn, Continental Divide, Metamorphic, Igneous, Fault, Folding, Lewis Overthrust Fault, Striations, Watershed


  1. Teachers may want to provide students with a copy of A Waterton-Glacier Story: The Work of Ice which describes what a glacier is and how glacial features are formed. It can be pre-reading homework or part of the reference materials for students to use to do in step #3.
  2. Divide the students into cooperative learning groups; give each group fresh balls of clay and tell them to sculpt mountain formations on a team board until they are satisfied with what they have done.
  3. An appointed or chosen team chairperson hands out labels (or definition cards) provided by the teacher from the park vocabulary list and asks individuals to identify or remold specific features into the group of mountains. This requires alterations of the original mountains. When there is some question about a formation to be labeled, students may use available books and other resources for immediate research.
  4. When the labeling and remolding are complete, the students should be able to define and discuss their work. Using the vocabulary and other terms they come across in their research, each team should generate a dictionary of mountain and glacial terms.
  5. When models and dictionaries are completed, students should examine other teams' models and help each other refine formations and definitions. This process will help them to internalize their research.

Variations and extensions:
The next obvious question should be, "What do we do with the clay models when the students finish?". Ask the students! Maybe they would like to paint them, show them to another class or parents, write an adventure story that takes place in the mountains, generate some appropriate weather in their models, pour water over them to trace natural drainage, or make models of indigenous animals and plants to put in their created environments.

Have students draw pieces of paper with the landform names from a hat and then, as a group, draw a picture of glaciated mountain terrain on the board (or butcher paper), with each person adding the landform type they drew from the hat.

Last updated: November 8, 2017

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