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Land Area and Water Area in the USA

Overview and Objective

In this lesson, students will research, graph, and analyze the land area and water area for various states in the United States of America. Students will explore three types of column or row charts and analyze the benefits of each chart type. Working through the lesson will also incorporate thinking about ratios and percent.


Welcome students into the lesson by asking them to predict the following:

  • The total number of square miles in the United States (including land and water).
  • The percentage of the total square miles in the United States that is water.
  • The state with the largest percentage of the total area that is water.
  • The state with the smallest percentage of the total area that is water.

After a short discussion in which students share their predictions, reveal to the students that 7.8% of the United States area is water. According to data provided by the United States Census, the United States has 3,532,316 square miles of land and 277,209 square miles of water.

Main Activity

In small groups or individually, invite students to research the land area and water area of 5 states of their choosing. Depending upon your preference, you may or may not want to ensure that all 50 states are selected. Share this link to the US Census website with students to find the data. They will need to select "Explore Your State" on the bottom left and then select a state. The land area and water area for each state is shown in the first paragraph. As students find the data for their various states, they can enter the data into a table on a blank Polypad canvas. Numbers in the table in Polypad cannot include commas.

After gathering the data, invite students to create a column chart or row chart of the data. Students should explore the three types of charts as shown in the video below. This video shows 5 states as an example. Students should research states of their own.

After students have explored the different chart types, invite them to respond to the following prompts. Students can record their answers in text boxes on their Polypad.

  • What do you notice about the chart? What does the chart make you wonder?
  • Which version of the chart (Grouped, Stacked, or Percentage) represents the data best?
  • Which version of the chart (Grouped, Stacked, or Percentage) represents the data worst?
  • Change the chart type to a line chart. Does this represent the data well? Why or why not?


Gather for a class discussion after students have finished. One option would be for groups to report out the states that seems to have the smallest and largest percentage of water area. As students report out, you can add the data to a table on a new Polypad and create a percentage column chart. The chart will update as you add data to the table. Encourage students to find examples of states with both higher and lower percentages shown on the class chart.

If some states look close on the chart, you could calculate the specific percentage for each state to get a more detailed comparison. This will also be a good time to revisit students' predictions from earlier in the lesson and compare those with the class data. If time allows, you could assign any states not on the class list to specific students so your class data is complete. You could also add the data for the United States and compare specific states to the overall breakdown for the entire country.


Interested students could explore the ratio of land area to water area in various other countries. Students could also explore other data available on the Census site for each state and see if there any any correlations between the percentage of water area and and other statistical measures.

Polypads For This Lesson

Click here to learn how to share Polypads with students and how to view their work.

Example Polypad

Land Water Example – Polypad – Polypad