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  • Subject:
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Elephants have a variety of physical features that help keep them cool in hot environments.


For this lesson, you will need:
Research materials on elephants
Computer with Internet access


1. Reminding the class that elephants are warm-blooded animals, review with your students what they have learned about warm-blooded animals (birds and mammals) versus cold-blooded animals. In discussion, stress that one of the most important features of any warm-blooded animal is that its body temperature is regulated; that is, its body temperature remains fairly constant, regardless of the temperature of its surroundings.
2. Continue the discussion by having students note that in order for an animal's temperature to remain constant, the animal must have ways of keeping warm in a cold environment and cool in a hot environment. With the class, enumerate some of the ways humans achieve a constant body temperature.
3. First making sure that students know that elephants live in hot areas—the grasslands of Africa and the tropical forests of India—write on the chalkboard four features or habits that help elephants keep cool in their hot habitats: large ears, wallowing, microbes in the stomach, wrinkled skin.
4. Have each student choose a habit or feature from the list and do research to find out how this habit or feature helps an elephant remain cool. Assign each student to write a short paragraph explaining what she or he has learned. Students should discover the following:
  • The blood in the many blood vessels in an elephant's ears is cooled when the elephant flaps its ears.
  • Wallowing in mud or water dampens the elephant's skin; the evaporating water takes heat from the blood in the blood vessels beneath the skin.
  • The process of digestion generates heat; microbes in an elephant's gut digest food for the elephant.
  • An animal's heat is released through the skin; the more skin an animal has, the more heat it can release.
5. Invite students to share what they have discovered. Challenge them to think of or find out about other animals in hot climates that exhibit similar adaptive features. (Example: The fennec, a small desert fox, and the jackrabbit, another desert animal, also have disproportionately large ears; whereas the Arctic fox and many other cold-climate animals have very small ears.)

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Assign students to find out and explain in writing at least three ways in which an elephant's body temperature is regulated.

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Discussion Questions

1. Compare the manner in which elephants walk and run to that of other mammals. How does this difference affect the elephant's speed?
2. Discuss the features elephants have to help keep them cool in the hot climates where they live.
3. Elephants live in a group with the oldest and wisest female as the primary authority. What advantages does this living arrangement provide the elephants?
4. Some scientists believe elephants have emotions similar to humans. What evidence supports this belief?

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You can evaluate your students on their paragraphs using the following three-point rubric:
Three points: information accurate and complete; explanation logical and well organized; writing free of errors
Two points: information accurate but incomplete; explanation logical but lacking in organization; some errors in writing
One point: incomplete information with some inaccuracies; explanation lacking in both logic and organization; numerous errors in writing

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Travel to an Elephant
Have students use print research materials and Internet links to find out everything they can about an elephant's physical features. (Before researching, they should choose either the African or the Asian elephant.) Instruct students to use their research findings to create a travel brochure for touring the body of an elephant. Students can work in groups to produce the brochures, which should highlight the most interesting areas of an elephant. Remind students that spectacular scenery is always a tourist draw. Also, information about available souvenirs will be important to include. The more creative and enticing, the better the brochures will be. Invite students to present their brochures to their classmates.

Do You Hear What I Hear?
It has been shown that elephants communicate by producing sounds that are at such low frequencies (called infrasounds ) that they cannot be heard by humans. Examine the human ability to hear by exploring ways to amplify a sound. Students should stop and listen for the faintest sounds they can hear. Have them describe what they hear and compare their lists. Provide students with various materials they can use to experiment with sound amplification. Materials can include cups (made of different materials), string, wire, rubber bands, toilet paper tubes, plastic or copper tubing, tape, and so on. Tell students to use any of the materials provided to invent tools to help them hear the faint sounds better. Afterward have students explain their inventions and why they work (or don't work).

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Suggested Readings

The Elephant Book
Ian Redmond, Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 1991
Beautiful photographs supplement the descriptions of elephants, their life cycle, and places where they live in this book which is part of the Elefriends campaign to protect elephants from extinction.

Ian Redmond, New York: Knopf, 1993
A comprehensive guide to elephants. You've seen trained elephants in zoos and circuses, but did you know that they were used as tanks in ancient times and to mine for salt?

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Africa's Elephant Kingdom Educator Guide
Use this Educator Guide, designed to enhance the viewing of Discovery's IMAX feature, "Africa's Elephant Kingdom," to improve your students' understanding of Earth's largest land animal.

Elephant Consultance
This site was published by a Swedish man who works as an elephant consultant. The site describes his work in detail.

Elephant Satellite Tracking in Malaysia
This site discusses a program that is using satellites to track elephants in order to help protect.

This site provides information about elephants.

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

speaker    evolve
Definition: To produce by natural evolutionary processes.
Context: A mountain of muscle, endowed with an enormous brain, the elephant has evolved over 55 million years.

speaker    gait
Definition: A manner of walking or moving on foot.
Context: Not only is this stance immensely strong, but it helps to explain the elephant's strange gait.

speaker    wallow
Definition: To roll oneself about in an indolent or ungainly manner.
Context: Wallowing may look like pure enjoyment, but it serves a vital purpose.

speaker    dilate
Definition: To enlarge or expand in bulk or extent.
Context: The ears are laced with blood vessels which can dilate and constrict at will, giving her very accurate control over the blood flow into her ears.

speaker    constrict
Definition: To make narrow or draw together.
Context: The ears are laced with blood vessels which can dilate and constrict at will, giving her very accurate control over the blood flow into her ears.

speaker    digestion
Definition: The process of making food absorbable by dissolving it and breaking it down into simpler chemical compounds.
Context: Heat is also generated internally by processes like digestion.

speaker    microbes
Definition: Microorganisms; germs.
Context: Instead, this largest of creatures relies on the help of some of the smallest—a teeming population of microbes in the gut digests the material for them.

speaker    telescopic
Definition: Extensible or compressible by or as if by the sliding of overlapping sections.
Context: The trunk is telescopic and can reach branches up to twenty feet high as well as food on the ground.

speaker    dexterous
Definition: Ready and skilled in physical movement.
Context: The trunk is as dexterous as a human hand.

speaker    matriarch
Definition: A female who rules or dominates a family, group, or state.
Context: At such times of crisis the family relies on the experience of the oldest and wisest female, the matriarch.

speaker    frequency
Definition: The number of complete oscillations per second of energy (as sound or electromagnetic radiation) in the form of waves.
Context: All of those sounds are elephant sounds we didn't hear before. They're all below the frequencies that people can hear.

speaker    infrasound
Definition: Sound waves with a frequency below that of human hearing.
Context: Nobody had listened for infrasound among land animals before, no one had thought there was an animal large enough to make powerful low frequency sound like this.

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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: 6-8
Subject area: life science
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
Knows that populations consist of all individuals of a species that occur together at a given place; all of the populations living together (community) and the physical factors with which they interact compose an ecosystem.

Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: life science
Understands the cycling of matter and flow of energy through the living environment.
Knows that some source of "energy" is needed for organisms to live and grow.

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.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: life science
Understands the cycling of matter and flow of energy through the living environment.
Knows that as matter and energy flow through different levels of organization of living systems (e.g., cells, organs, organisms, communities) and between living systems and the physical environment, chemical elements are transformed and recombined in different ways; each transformation results in storage and dissipation of energy into the environment as heat, and matter and energy are conserved in each transformation.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: life science
Understands the cycling of matter and flow of energy through the living environment.
Knows that the complexity and organization of organisms accommodates the need for obtaining, transforming, transporting, releasing and eliminating the matter and energy used to sustain the organism.

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Sue Mealiea, natural science teacher, Woodbridge Senior High School, Woodbridge, Virginia.

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