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Rivers Run Through It

Lesson Plan

Students will interpret and label a relief map to answer questions about distance, direction, and natural features along the Hudson River and in New York State.


Students will understand:

  • how maps serve as representations of a geographic region;
  • the locations and relative positions of major landscape features of New York State and the Hudson Valley; and
  • how to use information provided in written format to interpret information presented visually on a map.

Grade level:

Elementary (Grades 3-5)

Subject Area:

Social Studies, English Language Arts


Social Studies Standard 3

English Language Arts Standard 1


  • Use a map's compass rose to determine direction.
  • Use a map legend to identify geographical features and locations.
  • Use a map scale and addition skills to measure distance.
  • Read to acquire facts and ideas from text.


Preparation time: 20 minutes
Activity time: 45 minutes


Each student should have:


Major rivers, large lakes, and coastal harbors were key factors in making New York the Empire State. These waterways offered advantages in transportation, trade, settlement, energy, and natural resources.

One of the most important of New York's waterways is the Hudson River. It begins at Lake Tear of The Clouds, a small pond on Mt. Marcy in the Adirondack Mountains. From Lake Tear, topography directs the Hudson south towards the Atlantic Ocean. It grows larger as other rivers join its flow; the largest of these tributaries is the Mohawk River. From Troy to New York Harbor, the Hudson is an estuary, a long arm of the sea subject to tides and the upriver press of salty ocean water. Since the estuary is at sea level, large ocean-going ships can sail all the way to Albany.

Students will read a short essay about the Hudson, answer questions based on the reading, and locate the river and other major topographic features of New York State on a relief map.


  1. In advance, have students read "From the Mountains to the Sea" and answer the questions about the essay. This can be done in class or assigned as homework.
  2. Review with the students what sorts of information might be presented on a map.
  3. Hand out the Relief Map of New York State. Have students point out features on this map-the legend or key, the compass rose, and the scale-that are common to all maps. Explain how the scale can be used to calculate a distance.
  4. Ask how this map may look different from other maps the students have seen. Review the definition of a relief map.
  5. Have students do "Rivers Run Through It" worksheet in class. It may be useful to have them work in small groups. A map of the U.S. may help students identify bordering states.


  • Have students share answers to worksheet questions, or collect and grade sheets.
  • Test students' learning by having them fill in labels on blank copy of map.


canal: a manmade waterway for boats
cargo: goods or materials carried on a ship
compass rose: on a map, a design that shows directions
estuary: a body of water in which fresh and salt water meet
harbor: a body of water protected and deep enough to be a safe place for ships
landscape: a region's set of landforms, viewed as a whole
legend: a list explaining symbols used on a map
physical map: a map of an area's landforms
scale: on a map, a line marked to show distance
relief map: a map of an area's topography

Answer Keys

The answer key for "Rivers Run Through It," including the teacher's copy of the New York State relief map, is available in the pdf version of this teacher section (pdf 1.7 MB).

The answer key for the ELA lesson "From the Mountains to the Sea" is available in the pdf version of the teacher section for "Readings in Hudson River Natural History" (pdf 260 KB)


Lourie, Peter. Hudson River: An Adventure From the Mountains to the Sea. Boyds Mill Press, Honesdale, Pennsylvania: 1998. Ages 9-12.