Photo: Mount McKinley

Mount McKinley National Park (Denali National Park and Preserve)

Photograph courtesy National Park Service

Download this activity as a PDF.

Geography is a data-rich field of study, but long lists of facts and figures can be over-whelming and have little meaning unless they are organized in a way that encourages thoughtful analysis. This activity provides students practice in sorting, organizing, and displaying elevation data in order to learn about the physical landscape of the United States.

Examining the Data

Provide students copies of Activity #13 Handout 1 (PDF). Have students scan the data, identifying the highest and lowest state elevations throughout the United States. Also have them locate the state in which you live. Where does your state fall in terms of elevation.

Sorting and Organizing the Data

Distribute copies of Activity #13 Handout 2 (PDF). In this handout, the data has been sorted from lowest to highest state elevation.

  • Have students evaluate the data to identify patterns in elevation. In general, where are the highest elevations? …the lowest elevations?
  • Can the students make generalizations about elevation in different regions of the U.S.?
  • Have student re-sort the data according to states that are east and west of the Mississippi River. What observations can they make based on this organization of the data?

Displaying the Data

Have students work in pairs to plot the location of the highest elevation in each state. [Use this blank map of the U.S.] They should label each state, the highest point, and the elevation. Remind students to include a title, key, and source on their maps.

Provide students quarter-inch graph paper. Divide the class into three groups.

  • Have the first group plot the elevation data as bar graphs from lowest to highest elevations.
  • Have the second group plot the data as bar graphs divided according to location east or west of the Mississippi River.
  • Have the third group plot the data as bar graphs based on state location, working from west to east, and north to south.

Have students compare the graphs they have made. How does the presentation of data influence the way we understand information?

Extending the Activity

View state maps, including elevation online.

Registration for the National Geographic Bee is online.


This year registration for the National Geographic Bee is online only. Materials will be available for download as soon as registration payment ($100 per school) is processed. Each year thousands of schools in the United States participate in the National Geographic Bee using materials prepared by the National Geographic Society. The contest is designed to motivate students to learn about the world and how it works. Schools with students in grades four through eight are eligible for this entertaining and challenging competition.

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