How to Make Paper Mache Landforms

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Use paper mache to create landforms.
Use paper mache to create landforms. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

A topographic map creates a 3-D image that allows students to understand the geography of an area. While the flat maps rely on contour lines to show elevation, students can craft a map that shows the actual height of landforms. Paper mache, a simple, versatile craft, allows students to create any landform necessary to create a topographic map for social studies or a landscape to accompany a report.

Things You'll Need

  • Foam board
  • Pencil
  • White flour
  • Water
  • Shredded paper
  • Newspaper
  • Masking tape
  • White glue
  • Paint
  • Foam brush
  • Paintbrush

Draw a basic outline of your landform map on a piece of poster-size foam board or a similar sized piece of cardboard. Write basic names of each form, such as mountains or plateaus, which will be included to remind you of the shapes you want in each location. The map can be a simple sampling of the different landforms or a map of a specific area.

Mix white flour and water together in a deep bowl or bucket. The consistency should be a little runnier than white glue. Stir it with a spoon or with your hands until there are no lumps; it should have a smooth, even consistency. The paper mache is now ready to be used.

Use paper that has been shredded by a machine or cut into strips with scissors. Place a few strips of paper in the paper mache mixture at one time. Wipe off excess liquid from the paper as you remove it from the paste. Build up the landforms by placing layers of paper on top of each other. Let the material dry between every three or four layers.

Form the mountains. Start with a small handful of newspaper. Scrunch it up and cover it with masking tape. Glue the paper lumps to the area on the base designated for mountains. Let the glue dry before you start covering the lumps with shredded paper coated in the paper mache mixture. Turn a mountain into a plateau. Build up the sides and form a flat top. Use two rows of mountains to create a valley between them.

Label the landforms by creating flags with small strips of paper. Glue the strip of paper to the top of a toothpick to form a flag. Add glue to the bottom and stick it into its respective feature. Hold it until the glue sets enough to stand up on its own.

Paint the landforms once the glue has dried. Use a variety of greens and browns on the mountains, valleys and plateaus. Vary the shades to show elevation. Paint the plains tan or yellow. Use blue to paint rivers, oceans and seas. Use the same paints to create a key, or legend, on one corner of the map

Tips & Warnings

  • Add plastic enhancements like trees, flowers and shrubs to your map. Trees are useful in delineating the tree line in the mountains.
  • Paper mache gets moldy if you do not allow it to dry completely between every two or three layers.

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