Lesson Plan

Boundaries and People

A topo map of the national park
Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Additional Standards:
NGSS 4-ESS2-2. Analyze and interpret data from maps to describe patterns of Earth’s features.

Essential Question

What are watersheds? What causes watershed boundaries?


Students will understand natural boundaries like watersheds and consider how humans and wildlife move around these watersheds.


  • Waterton Lakes National Park map (topographical best)
  • Glacier National Park map (topographical)
  • COCEEC map
  • Assorted other maps, as available
  • Transparencies
  • Transparency markers
  • Copies of narrative
  • Masking tape
  • Boundaries Narrative


  1. Explain to students that a watershed is all the area drained by a river system. On a map of the United States or Canada, pick out a large river system like the Missouri / Mississippi or the Saskatchewan River and outline the general area drained by the entire system.
  2. Have students outline a few watersheds on the various maps you have by taping transparencies over the maps and using the markers to define the boundaries. The boundaries should never cross a river and should come together at each “divide”. One way to visualize the watershed is to trace all the tributaries of a stream in one color, and then the adjacent streams in another color. The area between the two colors is the divide between watersheds.
  3. Repeat the process on the large Glacier National Park USGS topographical map (available from the Park and most sporting goods stores).
  4. Waterton Lakes National Park is entirely within the Hudson Bay watershed. Read the "Boundaries Narrative" together in class. Have students find Triple Divide Peak on the Glacier map. Tape one or more transparencies over the map, centered at Triple Divide. Trace all the streams that flow into St. Mary Lake in one color, to Upper and Lower Two Medicine Lakes and Cut Bank Creek in another color, and to the Middle Fork of the Flathead River in a third color. That process should make it clear where the boundaries between the three watersheds are. (One should follow the Continental Divide and the other should branch from the Peak to Amphitheater Mt., to White Calf and Divide Mts. And follow the St. Mary ridge off the map.)
  5. When the Columbia River (Pacific), Hudson Bay (Arctic) and Missouri River (Atlantic) watersheds are outlined, point out to students that rivers and streams, and their corridors, are like highways to mammals, fish, some birds and many plants. W-GIPP has a huge number of species compared to many similar mountain areas because it encompasses all three watersheds. Some species, like fish, are restricted to their watershed.
  6. Ask students to name animals which would have no trouble going over divides and into another watershed (large mobile animals). Note: For more work on watersheds, runoff and changes brought by human development, try “Color Me a Watershed” from Project WET. Good activity!

Assessment Materials

Have students write their “watershed address”, staring with the small stream they live near and naming larger connecting streams to the ocean. Do you feel reassured that some of your drinking water starts as rain or snow in W-GIPP? Why? Which political boundaries would you change if you could? Why?

Contact Information

Email us about this lesson plan

Last updated: December 31, 2020