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Making Quadrangle Maps: A Hobbit's Journey in Topography

Subject: Geography

Grade: 6–8 (Suitable for higher grades too, and any other series or story with a provided fictional map.)

Lesson Objective: This hands-on lesson plan will give your students a fun introduction to topography as they practice reading and making a map.

Common Core Standard: CCSS. ELA–LITERACY. RH.6–8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support primary and secondary sources analysis.


Map of Middle Earth

Drawing paper


Note: You can make copies of selected copyrighted material for educational purposes if you don’t charge for them and students have only one copy.


  1. Ask, “Who has seen the movie or read the book “The Hobbit”?”
  2. Have students who know the story explain it to the rest of the class. If none of your students are familiar with the story, provide a summary.
  3. Tell your class that hobbits didn’t have cellphones or GPS. They had to rely on maps on the rare occasions they went anywhere, as they preferred to stay home in their hobbit hole.


With the Class

  1. Pass out copies of the map of Middle Earth or have your students find it on their phones or laptop.
  2. Ask your students to describe what they see on the map.
  3. Draw a simple map on the board that shows your school and a nearby feature the students will be familiar with—for example, a shop, a church, or a public building. Keep your map simple. Do not add any extra information.
  4. Ask your students to tell you the difference between the map of Middle Earth and your map.
  5. Elicit the fact that the Middle Earth map has a scale, a compass, and physical features (mountains, rivers, and woods).
  6. Tell them that a map with such features is a topographic map. 
  7. Ask them if the map on the board is a topographic map. 
  8. Ask them what they would include to turn the map on the board into a topographic map.

Pair Work

  1. Pair up your students or allow them to choose a partner. Make sure that each pair has a copy of the Middle Earth map.
  2. Ask them to find Hobbiton on the map (it’s in Eriador in the west). 
  3. Now ask them to find Rivendell (almost due east of Hobbiton).
  4. Ask them to write instructions about how to get from Hobbiton to Rivendell. Tell them to mention the topographic features a traveler would see on their journey.
  5. Have students read their instructions aloud to the class or a neighboring group.
  6. If no one mentions it, ask how far it is from Hobbiton to Rivendell. Ask how long it would take to walk that distance. (You are likely to get some very varied estimates. About a month would be a fair guess—hobbits don’t have long legs.)
  7. Point out that Bilbo Baggins and his friends were traveling far beyond Rivendell. They were going to the Lonely Mountain. Ask your students to find it on their map.
  8. Ask the students (still in pairs) to put Hobbiton in the center of a piece of paper.
  9. Ask them to draw a square around Hobbiton. Following the scale on the map, each side of the square will be 200 miles long. You might need to help some students with this—draw a rough example on the board.
  10. Tell your class their map should include the River Baranduin to the south, the Hills of Evendin to the north, the sea at Grey Havens in the west, and Midgewater to the east.
  11. Check the results. Tell your students that they have produced a topographic quadrangle map. If necessary, explain why it is a quadrangle.
  12. Tell your class that the United States Geological Survey uses this method to produce maps of the country.


  1. Ask students to open Google Maps on their phones or laptop and find their school.
  2. Ask them to describe the features of the first map they see.
  3. Tell them to use the “layers” function to see how different maps can show different things.
  4. Ask them which of the options is topographic. (They should tell you that it is the “terrain” option.)
  5. Ask them to compare “terrain” and “satellite.”
  6. Ask them why they think maps are still important today. (You might point out that a GPS relies on coverage and power. A map is a permanent, accurate record. Being able to read a map is an important skill.)
  7. You may choose additional assignments as homework or repeat the assignment as you explore new text, regions, and various units.

Written by Stephen Tomkinson
Education World Contributor
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