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If you look out your window, you'll probably notice a bunch of things; houses, streets... hopefully, a tree. But beyond that, you'll see things like mountains, rivers, volcanoes... well, hopefully not a volcano. These are landforms and they come in different varieties. In this episode, Sabrina chats about how things like mountains, volcanoes, and plateaus come into being.

This first series is based on 5th-grade science. We're super excited and hope you enjoy Crash Course Kids!

///Standards Used in This Video///
5-ESS2-1. Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact. [Clarification Statement: Examples could include the influence of the ocean on ecosystems, landform shape, and climate; the influence of the atmosphere on landforms and ecosystems through weather and climate; and the influence of mountain ranges on winds and clouds in the atmosphere. The geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere are each a system.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to the interactions of two systems at a time.]

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Executive Producers: John & Hank Green
Producer & Editor: Nicholas Jenkins
Cinematographer & Director: Michael Aranda
Host: Sabrina Cruz
Script Supervisor: Mickie Halpern
Writer: Jen Szymanski
Consultant: Shelby Alinsky
Script Editor: Blake de Pastino

Thought Cafe Team:
Stephanie Bailis
Cody Brown
Suzanna Brusikiewicz
Jonathan Corbiere
Nick Counter
Kelsey Heinrichs
Jack Kenedy
Corey MacDonald
Tyler Sammy
Nikkie Stinchcombe
James Tuer
Adam Winnik


(Music Plays)

Look outside your window for a sec', and you'll probably see some buildings and streets, maybe telephone poles, hopefully some trees in there too. A lot of the world we live in has been shaped by people, and hey, no complaints, because I am plenty comfortable right here. But people aren't the only ones moving things around and shaping our world. Wind, rain, and other elements do it all the time, making shapes out of the Earth we call landforms. So what are some of the kinds of landforms, and how are they made?

 Big Question 

First remember that the Earth is made of several spheres, including the hydrosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, and geosphere. The solid part of the Earth, or geosphere, may look pretty stable but it's always changing. Weathering and erosion by wind and water are constantly reshaping what our planet's surface looks like. And even if it takes so long that we don't usually notice it, it's happening. 

Let's check out our map to explore what kinds of landforms there are around the would.


Mountains are probably some of the most well-known landforms. Basically they're just really big hills, with steep sides that stretch way above the surface of the Earth. Many mountains are formed when large plates, or pieces of the Earth's surface, collide and are forced upwards. The low spaces in between - we call those valleys. 

But if mountains don't peak your interest, how about plateaus? Plateaus are also tall landforms but unlike mountains, which tend to have the pointy tops we know as peaks, plateaus have flat tops. Plateaus come in lots of sizes. If they're medium sized for example, they're called "mesas" which is the Spanish word for table, which is highly appropriate since plateaus kind of look flat and long - like tables! And if they're smallish, they're called "buttes". 

No matter what they're called or what size they are, plateaus can form in lots of different ways. Sometimes they're caused by the erosion or wearing away of mountains, like by water or really big pieces of ice. Other plateaus are made by magma, which is really hot melted liquid earthed below the surface. When magma swells up below the surface but can't break through, it can push up a flat chunk of land, leaving that table-like formation behind. 

And speaking of magma, let's go to the Pacific Ocean on our map for a good look at the most explosive landforms - volcanoes. These landforms are found where the surface of the Earth is relatively thin. When magma breaks into the surface or erupts, that hot liquid rock gets a new name - lava. And a new volcano is born. Hot stuff comin' through!

Hot is definitely a good term to describe another kind of landform - deserts. Deserts are landforms that lose more water to air than they get through rain, snow, or other kinds of moisture. The world's largest desert is the Sahara in Northern Africa, where daytime temperatures can climb to a sweltering 55 degrees Celsius. Just a wee bit out of my personal comfort zone.

But then again so are the cold temperatures in Antarctica, which is actually considered to be a desert too. Penguins in the desert. Who knew it? Right? 

Time to set sail for two more kinds of landforms - islands and deltas. You'll find deltas at the mouth, or end, of rivers where they meet the ocean. Deltas are formed when dirt and other debris that are washed down the river accumulate, or build up, to form a piece of land. 

Islands, on the other hand, can form any number of ways. They might come from the cooled lava of underwater volcanoes, or from a whole lot of dirt, sand, and pieces of coral building up due to ocean currents. Islands can even from my breaking off from a larger piece of land, so they can form in lots of ways but as long as its surrounded on all sides by water, it's an island. 


In our travels today, we took a look at lots of different kinds of landforms, which are natural features of the Earth's surface. Landforms can stretch high above the Earth's surface like mountains, plateaus, or mesas, be created in or by water like deltas and islands, or even be dry like deserts.

So remember these things the next time you step outside. Underneath and beyond and all around the things that people have made, there are landforms millions of years in the making. 

(Outro music)