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Africa: Across The ContinentAfrica-Across-The-Continent

  • Subject: Geography
  • |
  • Grade(s): K-5
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. The African elephants are the largest land animals.
2. African elephants are about 11 feet tall, and newborn elephants are about 3 feet tall.


For this lesson, you will need:
String and a tape measure
A ladder


1. To give students an appreciation for the size of an adult African elephant—approximately 11 feet tall—measure and cut a length of string 11 feet long.
2. Stand up on a ladder, chair, or table; hold the string in your hand above your head, and let it hang down to the floor so that students can see its entire length.
3. Ask students if they can think of an animal that is as tall as the string is long. Depending on how students answer, tell them that a giraffe can grow taller than the length of the string—to 18 feet—and that a camel is shorter—never more than 6? feet. If students don't immediately identify the target animal as an elephant, give them clues based on other prime characteristics of the animal. You may also make the point that though a giraffe is taller than an elephant, elephants weigh much more. At over 6 tons, the elephant is the largest land animal.
4. Make a project of working with the class to find other objects in the school or outside the school that are as tall as the string is long—or somewhere around 11 feet. Suggestions include cabinets in the classroom or in school offices, the basketball hoop in the gym (if it is at the regulation 10 feet from the ground), decorative or supporting columns inside or on the outside of the school building, and trees in the area.
5. Now work with a string only 3 feet long—the height of a newborn elephant—and do the same comparison activities.
6. Help students make lists of things that are 11 feet tall and things that are 3 feet tall. Put the words adult elephant or a picture of one at the head of one list and the words baby elephant or a picture of one at the head of the other list.

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Extend this activity by having students create bar graphs with bars for an adult elephant and for a newborn elephant as well as bars that represent the heights of various objects inside and outside school.

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Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the ways that the elephant helps the forest. How would too many elephants harm the forest environment? Discuss ways to maintain a balance between the forest and the number of elephants.
2. Think of the way the elephant lives and its family life. Discuss how this community is similar to and different from human families. Discuss how some human families are headed by females and how some families have many cousins living together. Discuss the similarities and differences with regard to the male (father) in the family.

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Conduct an informal evaluation of students' language when they make comparisons in this project. If they use double comparisons ("An elephant is more taller than a camel"), make a note to give students practice in correct usage.

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What Stands Out?
In your study of Africa, you will no doubt cover distinctive, or special, geographical features of the continent—such as the Great Rift Valley. Just as parts of Africa have distinctive geographical features, so do the places where you and your students live. Elicit from students what features are distinctive in their region. Is there a special body of water? A special park? Special plants or animals? Make a list of what your class considers distinctive about your region, and help the class to create, for a hall or class display, a mural of the places and things mentioned.

The Latest Fashion
Show students pictures of all the different kinds of clothes children, men, and women wear throughout the continent of Africa. Use the pictures to initiate a class discussion in which you can ask questions such as the following:
  1. Why do you think people in Africa wear these particular clothes?
  2. Why do you think so many types of clothes are worn in Africa?
  3. How are the African clothes like and different from the clothes children, men, and women wear in your community? in other parts of the United States?
  4. If you and an African child could exchange clothing with each other, what one article of clothing would you want to give away, and what one article of clothing would you want to receive? Why?


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Suggested Readings

Yvonne Ayo. Photographed by Ray Moller and Geoff Dann. New York: Knopf, 1995
Learn about the geography of this vast continent and its people. Did you know that this huge continent is a land of deserts, savannas, mountains, waterfalls, and forests?

Colm Regan. Austin, Texas: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1997
Study the countries of Africa and learn their geography, their history, resources, environment, and about the people.

The Sahara and Its People
Simon Scoones. New York: Thomson Learning, 1993
This book will show you what it's like to live in the Sahara desert. Read about the natural environment, how people trade across the desert, how they try to grow crops, and more.

Ian Redmond. Photographed by Dave King. New York: Knopf, 1993
Learn all about the life of the elephant and admire the artwork that elephants have inspired. Learn what is being done to save the elephant from extinction.

African Elephants: Giants of the Land
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent. Photographs by Oria Douglas-Hamilton. New York: Holiday House, 1991
This book will help you learn about the physical features of elephants, their behavior, feeding, family life, and habitat.

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Africa: Country-Specific Pages
Locate separate pages for almost every African country here. The site leads to maps and other important information.

This is the official web site of the Tanzanian Tourist Board. It features information about the Serengeti and the other beautiful national parks of Tanzania.

Wonders of Wildlife
Africa's animals and habitats are treasures appreciated all over the world. This site focuses on three: the mountain gorilla, the African Rhino, and the elephants of Amboseli.

National Parks in Kenya
No flight over the equator and the surrounding vicinity would be complete without a tour of Kenya's national parks.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    savannas
Definition: Vast grassland areas.
Context: Cattle-raising tribes tend their herds in southern Africa's savannas.

speaker    continent
Definition: Any of the main large land areas of the Earth.
Context: Africa is the world's second-largest continent.

speaker    lush
Definition: Characterized by richness and abundance.
Context: Rain falls on these forests every year, making it a lush and humid home for some of Africa's large and varied wildlife.

speaker    endangered
Definition: Faced with danger of extinction or no longer living.
Context: Because of people, elephants have now become an endangered species.

speaker    extinct
Definition: No longer existing or living.
Context: African elephants may become extinct in the wild within the next 10 to 20 years.

speaker    matriarch
Definition: A female that rules a family, clan or tribe.
Context: Their leader is usually an older female, called a matriarch.

speaker    migration
Definition: Moving from one location to another, especially by moving seasonally from one region to another.
Context: The matriarch leads the way in these migrations, with the herd following single file.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: K-2
Subject area: geography
Understands the characteristics and uses of spatial organization of Earth's surface.
Identifies physical and human features in terms of the four spatial elements (e.g., locations [point], transportation and communication routes [line], regions [area], lakes filled with water [volume]).

Grade level: K-2
Subject area: geography
Understands how human actions modify the physical environment.
Knows ways in which people depend on the physical environment (e.g., food, clean air, water, mineral resources).

Grade level: K-2
Subject area: life science
Knows about the diversity and unity that characterize life.
Knows that plants and animals have features that help them live in different environments.

Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: life science
Understands the cycling of matter and flow of energy through the living environment.
Knows that all animals depend on plants; some animals eat plants for food while other animals eat animals that eat the plants.

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Diane Hoffman, second-grade teacher, Bel-Pre Elementary, Silver Spring, Maryland.

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