Tortilla Map

pdf versions, lesson, figure 1, figure 2 (4 M)

Hands-On Look at Antarctica

tortilla map In this lesson, students create a 3-D map of Antarctica using a tortilla and dough. It is intended to introduce students to the continent.

Grade levels:
specifically developed for 5-8, but easily modified for younger students. (Modify by offering a pre-labeled work page and reduce the number of features labeled)

In creating this map, students will do the following:

Science Content Standards



  1. Make model dough for maps. Use 2 parts flour to 1 part each salt and water. Stir. (For every 10 students, use ½ cup flour, ¼ cup salt, ¼ cup water.) This can be made a few days ahead and covered with plastic. (It’s actually easier to use and dries faster if it sits for a day before use.)
  2. Run copies of maps. One outline map for each pair plus additional maps for resources as needed. The National Geographic Expeditions map helps with finding features.
  3. (opt) Make an overhead transparency of the outline, Expeditions, and global position map.

Two 40 minute class periods
Note: Make the maps through the mountain building in the first class period so the dough has time to dry before labeling.

Ask the students what they know about Antarctica. If this is the beginning of a unit of study, you might want to record group responses on a poster or have groups of students record their own responses. Refer to this at the end of study to reflect on what was learned.
Tell a few interesting facts about this continent that were not included in the student information. (See list of Interesting Facts for ideas)

1. Draw a reasonable outline of Antarctica on the tortilla. The shape of Antarctica can be related to the head of an elephant. The Antarctic Peninsula is like the trunk. West Antarctica is like the face and East Antarctica is like a huge ear. Another way to imagine it is as a turkey. The peninsula is the neck, West Antarctica is the gobbler, East Antarctica is the tail feathers. Emphasize the 3 distinct parts of Antarctica: Antarctic Peninsula, West Antarctica, and East Antarctica. Encourage the students to use most of the tortilla. The end product will be about 6” from the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula to the eastern side near the Shackleton Ice Shelf.

2. Cut out the outline shape. Keep the scrap pieces for other landforms.

3. Using scraps, cut rough shapes to resemble the southernmost parts of
South America
South Africa
New Zealand

4. Cut out islands for
Falkland Islands

5. Set the cutout pieces on the blue paper to show relative direction and distance to each other. (See map of Global Position.) This is not intended to be done to scale, but to give an overall visual introduction to the relationship of the various parts. The smaller islands are included because they are less frequently discussed, but sometimes of higher interest than the more recognized continents.

Note: South America is about 600 miles from the tip of the peninsula with South Africa 4 times as far and Tasmania about 3 times as far.

6. Glue the pieces to the paper.

7. Label the landforms and major oceans and seas

Chile Tasmania
Argentina New Zealand
Falkland Is. Pacific Ocean
South Africa Atlantic Ocean
Madagascar Indian Ocean

8. Build model dough mountain ranges to roughly show terrain of the continent. Label during the second session.
Transantarctic Mountains
Ellsworth Range

9. Using chalk, color in the ice shelves.

10. Label the significant areas of interest on Antarctica. (Adapt this list to match the maps you use and to include any particular items you want to emphasize.)

Antarctic Peninsula Mt. Erebus (12,280’)
Weddell Sea Vinson Massif (16,684’)
Larsen Ice Shelf Mt. Kirkpatrick (14,856’)
Ronne Ice Shelf West Antarctica
Ross Ice Shelf East Antarctica
Ross Sea Geographic South Pole
McMurdo Station Magnetic South Pole (approximate)

11. Using a red marker, draw in the Antarctic Circle and label 66 ½ degrees South.

12. Optional: Draw in the traverse maps for the ITASE teams. This makes the map really crowded. Using a larger bulletin board map seems to give a better view of the traverse. The individual maps can be used to compare or discuss the route. (see

Interesting Facts:

Helpful links.html:

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