Lesson 5: Finding Physiographic Regions


Basic Geographic Literacy, Earth Sciences

Standard Statements:

7.1.6 A,B; 7.1.3 B; 3.5.4 A

Content Objectives

For this activity, students will:

1. Explain the concept of “region"
2. Define approximate physiographic regions of Pennsylvania
3. Explain the relationship between physiographic regions and land cover

Assessment Strategies:

“Where on the Land” is a map activity that asks students to place symbols for cultivated land and forested land on a simple physiographic map. 

Suggested Level:

Grades 4-6

Standards Category:

  • Geography
  • Science and Technology


Each group will need:

  • Digital Shaded-Relief Map of Pennsylvania (DSR map)
  • Land Cover Map of Pennsylvania (LC map)
  • Plastic overlay sheets
  • Wipe off marking pens

Instructional Strategies:

  • Whole class
  • Cooperative groups


In this activity, the concept of “region” is introduced and expanded using places in the students’ everyday lives.  The students will work through several examples of regions in their environment to build a concept of “region.” The students should come to understand that there is one (usually physiographic) factor that defines a region.  After this introduction, the students will work in groups to work out the physiographic regions of Pennsylvania.  They will use the DSR map and the LC map to draw the conclusion that agriculture occurs on flat land and forest still covers the ridges and hills. The students should begin to understand that human activity (described by the LC map) is controlled and/or predicted by the physiographic elements of the region.

1. Introduce the concept of regions. Think of the school and the different regions:  playground, playing fields, parking lot, building.  We can divide this area into “regions” according to what is there:


2. Can we figure out what each of these “regions” is used for?

Grassy = big areas for games where you may fall
Paved = parking/bus, games that need a hard surface like 4Square or basketball
Tan Bark = activities where you could fall: swings, monkey bars, jungle gym
Building = activities that need quiet, chalkboards, Identify different regions of the building:

Teacher Use = office, classroom, faculty room
Principal Use = office

3. REVIEW:  A REGION is an area defined by a common feature.

Region of the brain
Region of the newspaper
Region of the classroom
Region of an American Flag

4. Give students the maps.  First work with the DSR map.  Ask the following questions:

Why is it called a relief map?
How does it give us information?
How do you use the key?
Can you find a ridge?
Can you find a plain?
Can you find mountains?
Can you find a river?

**There should be group sharing if the concepts seem shaky!

5. Explain these are all physical features.  We have learned in past lessons that the shape of the land “determines” the land cover.

Flat land is typically cultivated
Ridges are typically covered by forests
Hilly is often a mix of the two
Rivers or mountain passes means transportation routes typically occurs in those areas, allowing cities to develop nearby.

6. Look at the DSR map of Pennsylvania.  We are going to draw 5 physiographic regions by dividing the state into 5 regions that have common physical features.  We will do the first two together.  Place your map overlay over the DSR map and line up the corners.  There is a plain along Lake Erie. Find it and draw a line between the plain and the rest of Pennsylvania.  There is also a plain in the southeast corner, nearest the Atlantic Ocean.  Draw a line between the plain and the rest of Pennsylvania.

7. Now…try to see the other three remaining regions that are somewhat the same in physical features.  Draw lines on your overlay to outline the regions.  You MUST include all parts of Pennsylvania and leave nothing out.  Each part must be included in ONE of the 5 regions.

8. When all the groups are done, have them bring only their overlay to the front circle.  Hang one of the DSR maps for all to see.  Have each group hang their overlay on the map and explain their reasoning for choosing an area as a region.  After the presentations, do any redrawing that may be necessary.

9. Ask the students to predict how they think the overlay would match up with the LC map.  Remind them, if necessary, that “if physical features predict how people use the land, there should be similarities in how the land in the region is used.”

10. Place the LC map for all to see.  Choose the best overlay to place on the LC map.  “Guide” the students to notice that the plains (especially in the ridge and valley region) are the farmed areas, the mountains are the forested regions, and the location of the larger cities.

CLOSURE:  The point of this lesson is that physical features predict how people USE land and what grows on that land.

Student Worksheet - Where on the Land?

This is a copy of a part of the Digital Shaded-Relief Map of Pennsylvania that you have been working with.


click on image to see full-size version 



  1. Decided on two places on the map that would be good to farm. Draw an X on each of them. Explain why you choose those places.
  1. Decided on two places where you might find forest. Draw an O on each of them. Explain why you choose those places.