Lesson plan

Don’t Plateau in Geography!

Your students’ understanding will reach its peak when they ask detail-seeking questions from observations made about plateaus, mesas, canyons, and buttes. Students will use illustrations and text to assist in their questions and answers.
Grade Subject View aligned standards

Students will be able to gather information in order to ask and answer questions about geographical illustrations and text regarding canyons, buttes, plateaus, and mesas.

(8 minutes)
  • Display the What’s Wrong in this Picture? worksheet with a document reader.
  • Model gathering details from the picture (e.g. airport, airplanes, passengers), then discuss what students think about the picture (e.g. it’s an airport, it’s sunny because some people are wearing hats).
  • Chat about things they wonder about the picture (e.g. is it the fall/spring because of their attire; is the picture a joke because of the unrealistic situations of the animals).
  • Explain to students they will ask and answer questions about a more realistic picture of four different landforms.
(10 minutes)
  • Read the student objective and have them guess the meanings of the words plateau (large, flat area higher than land), canyon (deep valley with steep sides), butte (steep-sided hill whose top is narrower than it is tall), and mesa (steep-sided hill whose top is wider than it is tall). Even if they are wrong, write the answer down.
  • Write the three key questions on the board:
    1. What do you see in the picture?
    2. What do you think about what you see in the picture?
    3. What do you wonder about the picture?
  • Write the following sentence stems on the board:
    • I see ____.
    • I think ____.
    • I wonder ____.
  • Model your thinking for the Landscape Labeling! section of the What is a Plateau? worksheet using the sentences stems. (For example, “I see land formations that rise up at different levels. I think there might be more than one type of land formation because there are numbers on each of them, and I think we may need to label them. I wonder why the sides of the land formations have different shades of brown.")
  • Demonstrate how to change your wonder statement into a question. (For instance, “Why do the sides of the land formations have different shades of brown?”)
  • Ask, “What are some features of each of the landforms in the illustration?" and list some on the board with the landform name as a heading.
  • Allow students to share some of their own think and wonder statements.
(10 minutes)
  • Distribute the What is a Plateau? worksheet.
  • List details about the butte illustration together, and ask the students to use the sentence stems when sharing their details. Do this for the I see and I think sentence stems.
  • Pair students to complete the wonder sentence stems.
  • Choose students to share their wonder sentence stems about buttes, and show them how they can change their wonder statements into questions.
(12 minutes)
  • Distribute lined paper.
  • Have the students complete the three sentence stems with questions about the mesa illustration in the What is a Plateau? worksheet.
  • Ask students to read the text and determine the correct answers for questions 1–4.
  • Provide the four vocabulary words students will use to answer questions 1–4 (canyon, plateau, butte, and mesa).
  • Instruct students to share their answers to questions 1–4 with the class, choosing students randomly and having them justify their choice.
  • Allow students to turn and share their sentence stems with partners.


  • Provide additional sentence stems for the questioning portion (e.g. What is ____?).
  • Allow students to create a four column T-chart of the details surrounding each of the landforms and their characteristics.
  • Give students the opportunity to orally give their responses to the exit ticket in addition to their written work.


  • Ask students to choose two of the four landforms and create a Venn diagram of the characteristics.
  • Have students create questions based on the Venn diagram (e.g. What are some other landforms found in a desert-like habitat?)
(8 minutes)
  • Evaluate the students’ oral questions during the guided practice.
  • Review the exit ticket written on the board.
  • Point out to students that the first question in the exit ticket refers the picture under Landscape Labelling! Tell students the second question is their opinion.
  • Assess their ability to correctly answer and ask questions with logical details from the illustrations in their exit tickets.
  • Treat the Landscape Labeling! section as another formative assessment of student understanding of the illustrations and text in the What is a Plateau? worksheet.
(2 minutes)
  • Review the students’ vocabulary guesses from the student objective. Eliminate the incorrect answers and reaffirm the correct answers. If they did not get any of them right, have students share definitions and write them down.

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