Lesson Plan

C&O Canal Mapping Activity: grade 4

An historic black and white photo of two boys on a canal boat in a lock.
Students will make a map of the canal as it meanders through Maryland.

NPS/CHOH collection

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Grade Level:
Fourth Grade
Commerce and Industry, Geography, History, Mathematics, Social Studies, Transportation
20 minutes
Group Size:
Up to 36
National/State Standards:
Coming soon!


Use this lesson as a stand-alone classroom activity or as a pre- or post-field trip activity. Students will construct and interpret a map using map elements and locate places and describe the human and physical characteristics of those places.


Students will practice their map-making skills in order to:

1) Locate the major hydrologic features in their watershed: the Potomac River, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean,
2) Label man-made features (such as cities and towns along the C&O Canal) and natural features (such as forests and mountains),
3) Identify the C&O Canal as a transportation corridor,
4) Use their map and legend to measure distance.


The lesson materials include a printable, one-page worksheet and a two page map of Maryland. The lesson was designed for Washington County, Maryland students who visit the Williamsport Visitor Center at the Cushwa Basin; but it is applicable for other locations along the canal as well. It is suited for students in the fourth grade.


The materials consist of a one-page worksheet and a two-page map.



Assess the accuracy of the students' maps for geographic features. The canal follows the Potomac River for 184.5 miles from Cumberland, Maryland to Georgetown, District of Columbia.

Park Connections

Students will see that the C&O Canal is like a piece of spaghetti: it is very narrow and very long. It is adjacent to the Potomac River, and it was dependent on the river to provide water to fill it. But this also means that the canal was susceptible to the river's floods. In fact, a big flood in 1924 closed the canal to cargo boat operations. Only a small portion of the canal has water in it today.


The mules pulled the cargo boats at four miles an hour. Ask the students: how many hours would it take to get to Georgetown from Cumberland? from Williamsport?

The elevation along the canal rises (if travelling west bound) 605 feet between Georgetown and Cumberland. Ask the students to draw a scaled section of the canal showing the overall length (on the X axis) and the overall elevation gain (on the Y axis).

Ask the students to locate and label more features along the canal such as Hancock, Maryland; the Paw Paw bends; Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; and the boundary for the District of Columbia. Can they draw other transportation corridors such as railroad lines and interstates?  

Look at other maps of Maryland, located on the State of Maryland website. Ask the students: What other kinds of information can be conveyed on a map (i.e. census information, geologic resources, etc.).

Look at historic maps of Maryland and the C&O Canal, located at the Library of Congress website.


map key/legend, map orientation

Last updated: December 1, 2015