Lesson: Where the Rivers Run

The following lesson was created by Rachel Pitocco and Brittany Rich, Missouri educators.

Title: Where the Rivers Run

Recommended Grades: 3-6

Time Needed: 60 minute session


  • Measure the length of rivers in miles to understand the physical geography of Missouri.
  • Answer the question: Why is our motto “where the rivers run”?
  • Investigate how these physical features influence establishing cities and towns.


  • Twine for measuring
  • Cardboard or cardstock scale of Giant map for each group
  • Optional: Labels to tape to twine after students have measured to label each river. Could be used for comparing length later.


4 groups, 4 students in each group.  Have teams break up into partners to work faster in their quadrant


  • Shoes are not allowed on the map. Please have students remove shoes before walking on the map.
  • No writing utensils on the map.


  1. Divide Missouri into four regions, assigning students home bases with specific color.
  2. Mini lesson on how to measure a river. Make sure students know to measure the river bends!  No river is a straight line. 
  3. Have students make predictions about the length of rivers in miles in Missouri.
  4. 4 students per home base will use twine to measure length of rivers in their region. Have groups partner up to divide quadrant even more.
  5. Students will then group with 1 person per color group to share measurement results and combine to get full length of rivers on map. (A Jigsaw exercise to compare information.)
  6. Class discussion: Focus on results—Are they all the same? Why might differences in calculations occur?  How was this activity easier or harder on a giant map?  What tricks did they learn to help with measuring?  Were they surprised by the length of rivers?  Is “Where the Rivers Run” a good state Motto?


Give clear, specific instructions


  • National Geography Standard 4: The physical and human characteristics of places

In Mathematics, students in Missouri public schools will acquire a solid foundation which includes knowledge of:

  • addition, subtraction, multiplication and division; other number sense, including numeration and estimation; and the application of these operations and concepts in the workplace and other situations
  • geometric and spatial sense involving measurement (including length, area, volume), trigonometry, and similarity and transformations of shapes





River bends


 Class discussion about placement of cities along rivers and why this occurred.

Google how much of Missouri is water and length of rivers and compare results.

Have students visit this website and choose a river to research. They could make a PowerPoint slide, travel poster or other form of presentation  to present to the class.


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