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Mystery Island

Time Frame

1 class periods of 60 minutes each

Group Size

Small Groups

Life Skills

  • Thinking & Reasoning
  • Communication
  • Social & Civic Responsibility




In Mystery Island, the student works in a committee of four in which they are stranded on an unknown island and have to answer basic survival questions in order to find a settlement. There are four maps of the same island with information on scale, water bodies, vegetation, landforms and climate patterns, that the students will study to help them through Mystery Island.

    Enduring Understanding:Students will understand how human activities shape the earth's surface.
    Essential questions:
  • How do people adapt to their environment?
  • How is water important to settlement patterns?
  • How do physical environments provide advantages and disadvantages.


    The teacher will need to make sure each team has the following.
  1. Pen/pencil for each student
  2. Handout with story of the settlers and questions for selecting a settlement site for each student.
  3. Mystery Island maps handout.
  4. Overhead projection sheet of the four maps for each team.
  5. Overhead projection pen for each team.

Background for Teachers

Note, any of my lesson plans can be modified to fit your classroom needs. You know your students better than I.
This lesson works well after teaching the basic Geography background information from the first few chapters of any Geography textbook. It gives the students a chance to practice what they have learned, while working in a team format. At the end of the lesson, an individual one to two page essay should be written on what they have learned. Remember, next year when these 9th graders are sophomores they have to take the UPASS test. They need to write as often as possible.

Student Prior Knowledge

Island Mystery is a good way for the student to practice the skills learned from the first few chapters of any Geography textbook. The student needs to know how to read a map in understanding scale, landforms, water bodies; thematic maps in agriculture, vegetation, rainfall and climate.

Instructional Procedures

    The following is the procedure I use in teaching this lesson. Feel free to use or change to fit your students needs.
  1. Tell the students that they are going to apply the skills they have learned in map interpretation, and the reading of thematic maps to find a settlement site on an island.
  2. Break the students up into teams of three to four students. Four works best.
  3. Pass the hand out with the information listed below to each student.
  4. Read the following story to the class. "A group of settlers from England were caught in a terrible storm and blown off course for a week. When the storm finally subsided, they found themselves wreaked on the southern tip of an island. The captain of the ship and the leader of the settlers sent out a party to explore the island. When they return, they tell everyone the information that is presented on the four maps. The group decides to call the island Mystery Island because they do not have any idea where they have landed. As time goes by, it becomes apparent that they won't be rescued soon. The settlers begin to like the island although the sailors want to get back to England and their families. They decide to appoint a committee to investigate possible sites for a settlement so that the people can vote on the best site."
  5. To Solve: "You will be working in teams of four to select a site of settlement that your team thinks is the best. Each team member needs to study and become an expert on one of the four maps in the handout. An overhead of the four maps and a projection pen will be given to each team. Put the answers to the following questions below on the handout and the overhead then present the material to the class."
    • Where will your site of settlement be located? On the sea coast? Farther inland? Near a good sea port?
    • Where is the best place for a signal fire?
    • What will be the source of your materials for shelter?
    • Where will your source of fresh water be?
    • What will be your source of fuel? Where will you get it?
    • Where is the best place to grow crops? Why is the region you selected a good place? (clue: look at the climate data.)
    • Who should be the leader of the settlement? Captain of the ship? Leader of the settlers? Someone elected?
    • How will conflicts likely be settled? Will there be laws? If yes, give two examples of laws you would want.
  6. Give the students about 20 to 30 minutes to write the information to the questions on the handout and the overhead maps.
  7. Each committee will come to the front of the room, and using the overhead projector go through the questions with the class, and the reasoning why they selected their site of settlement. Make sure each student who is the "expert" for each map describes their map and the question(s) that goes with it.
  8. The students (individually) will then write a one to two page essay. In the paper they will need to defend their committees choice of settlement, using the logic and evidence from the questions and presentation.

Strategies for Diverse Learners

gifted students: have them create their own island showing landforms, freshwater, agriculture, rainfall, etc. Then have the student write a paper on the affects of the environment on their settlement site.

special needs student: Have them draw an island showing scale, water bodies, landforms, vegetation, and climate zones and a settlement site. Have the student explain to you why they chose to put items on the map where they did.

Assessment Plan

Note: If this assessment rubric does not work for you, modify it for your students.

    Students are assessed in two different ways. The total points for the entire lesson is 50 points.
  1. The oral presentation. Use the rubric listed below. This part is worth 25 points.
  2. The written essay. Use part of the 6+1 Trait Writing Rubric listed below. This section is worth 25 points.


Secondary Education Department College of Education Utah State University Logan, Utah 84321


Created: 08/05/2002
Updated: 02/04/2018