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Mountain BarriersMountain-Barriers

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

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. When new mountains rise, the climate in an area changes.
2. Desert conditions can be caused by the uplift of a mountain range that creates a barrier that blocks off rain to an area.
3. Geographical change in an area causes changes in the animal and plant life of the area.


Each group will need the following materials:
Open, clear container, such as a glass baking dish
Paper cup
Food coloring
Measuring cup
Hot water
Room-temperature water


1. Divide your class into groups, and have each group prepare for the activity by creating a "mountain range" by arranging the rocks near the center of the bottom of the clear container.
2. Instruct students to use a pencil point to poke 10 holes in the sides of the paper cup, and then tape the cup into a corner of the container.
3. Students should fill the container with room-temperature water until the rocks are covered.
4. Have a member of each group add three drops of food coloring to one cup of hot water and slowly pour the hot colored water into the paper cup.
5. Students will observe the colored water diffuse through the holes in the cup, but barely mix with the cold water. Most of the hot water will stay near the top of the container, "floating" on top of the colder water.
6. Have students repeat the experiment, filling the container with hot water and adding cold colored water to the cup. The cold water will sink to the bottom and diffuse through the hot water until it reaches the "mountain range," where it will be blocked. The cold water will not be able to pass the rocks because it will be unable to rise over them.
7. After explaining that hot and cold air move in similar ways to hot and cold water, lead a discussion about how the results of the experiment illustrate the way in which mountains can block rainstorms, which are usually brought on by cold-weather fronts.
8. Have each student write two paragraphs explaining, first, how she or he thinks the rise of mountains can affect the surrounding land, and second, how such changes in the land can cause changes in the plant and animal life in an area. (Students should note that the rise of mountains can create deserts.)

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Adaptations for Older Students:
Have students study maps in an atlas to find deserts that are bordered by mountains. (Examples: Great Indian Desert bordered by the Himalayan mountain range, Mojave Desert bordered by the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Arabian Peninsula bordered by the western Arabian mountains.) Have them do research to find out at what point in Earth's history the mountains that border each desert arose.

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Discussion Questions

1. Suppose the mountains of western Arabia had never formed. Would there be changes to the climate of the Arabian Peninsula? What would they be? How might those changes have affected the cultures that developed in that region?
2. Eleven species of birds are found only in Arabia. Speculate about the factors that contributed to their being able to survive in Arabia but not anywhere else.
3. The Asir National Park covers more than a million acres of the mountainous area of southwest Saudi Arabia. The park is intended to conserve species that might otherwise become extinct. In recent years, however, people have begun calling for the government to expand recreational uses of the park, which may limit conservation efforts. Debate whether national parks should be used for conservation, recreation, or both. How can humans find a proper balance?
4. Many scientists believe that ibex goats are keeping the mountain juniper forests from expanding. Debate whether humans should control the ibex populations in order to help these forests grow. Is it right for humans to control nature? Are there any possible negative side effects?
5. Compare the topography and wildlife of the Arabian mountains to other mountain ranges. How are they similar? How are they different?
6. The baboon population of the Arabian mountains is slowly growing. Predict what you think would happen to an area if the baboon population began to expand rapidly. How would a larger number of baboons affect the flora and fauna? Would larger numbers of baboons be able to survive? Why or why not?

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You can evaluate your students on their paragraphs using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: paragraphs well organized and error-free; explanations logical and clear

  • Two points: paragraphs well organized with some errors; explanations lacking in clarity

  • One point: paragraphs poorly organized with numerous errors; no explanations

  • You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining what information should be included in the paragraphs.

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 Tectonic Tribulation
Arabia broke away from the African continent about 35 million years ago when the tectonic plates in the area shifted and drifted apart. Ask your students to research the location and direction of existing tectonic plates and faults throughout the Middle East, as well as basic information about how geological features form around tectonic plate boundaries. Internet sites that explain plate tectonics ( or those that have animation segments that show tectonic plates moving (vishnu) may be the best places for students to begin. When their research is complete, have students work individually, in pairs, or in small groups to make maps predicting what the Middle East might look like 10 million years from now if current trends in tectonic plate movement continue. Have them include in their drawings any new mountain ranges, rift valleys, volcanoes, plains, forests, and bodies of water that they believe might arise. Encourage your students to be creative but base their choices for new geological features on information about how such features form. Make sure each map includes a legend. Conclude by having students compare their maps and discuss how they obtained their results.

An Arabian Adventure
Have your students discuss what they know about the climate and wildlife of the Middle East. Most students will talk primarily about the desert region and the animals (what few there are) that are associated with deserts. Explain to your students that the entire Middle East is not covered by desert—that the climate, flora, and fauna of the western barrier mountains and river regions are extremely different. Have your students imagine that they are planning a trek across the Arabian Peninsula from east to west. Ask them to research the territory they will be crossing, the people they will meet, and the activities they will observe. Then have students write a series of five journal entries describing the land, wildlife, and communities they encounter on their journey. Make sure students include at least one entry from each of the following areas: the coast, the desert, the mountains. They should attempt to capture the general feel of each of the regions.

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Suggested Readings

Mountains of the World
John Cleare. Thunder Bay Press, 1997.
Learn about mountains from someone who not only knows about them but also loves and appreciates them.

Arabia: Sand, Sea, and Sky
Michael McKinnon. BBC Books, 1992.
This book takes a comprehensive look at the dramatic changes that have shaped Arabia and its wildlife in recent millennia and also examines the profound implications of the present rapid ecological transformation for the future of both people and wildlife.

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Online Arabian Wildlife Web Links
Access to numerous web links which feature images and information about wildlife (plants and animals) which are native to Arabian countries and other locations.

The Geo-Images Project
Provides images from around the world that are useful in teaching geography. Images of Arabia are included.

The United Arab Emirates
A wealth of information about the Middle East area, including mountain regions, wild life, deserts, lifestyle, and business interests. Access to Arabian countries' pages.

Denali: Alaska's Great Wilderness
Classroom lessons on habitat, weather, maps, predator/prey animal relationships. Focuses on Mt. Denali, North America's tallest mountain.

Olympic National Park
"Hands on the Land" pages feature many activities for students, elementary through high school, that they can access and use. Includes park research projects, data and graphs, "Ask a Specialist" discussion bulletin board, "Kids Field Notes" bulletin board, and additional web links.

Rocky Mountain National Park
A variety of information about the mountain environment and specific features of Rocky Mountain National Park. Includes a Mountain Environment Online Information Library.

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

speaker    Arabian Peninsula
Definition: A peninsula in southwestern Asia about 1,200 miles long and 1,300 miles wide that includes Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Persian Gulf States.
Context: The landmass of the Arabian Peninsula covers almost as much area as Europe.

speaker    ibex
Definition: Any of several wild goats living chiefly in high mountain areas of the Old World and having large recurved horns transversely ridged in front.
Context: Ibex goats are able to climb mountains that humans would dare to climb.

speaker    juniper
Definition: Any of numerous shrubs or trees of the cypress family with leaves resembling needles or scales and female cones usually resembling berries.
Context: The small, knotty junipers growing on the side of the hill helped prevent erosion of the sandy soil.

speaker    rift
Definition: A clear space or interval.
Context: When we reached the crest of the mountain we could see the long rift valley that extended past the horizon.

speaker    terrace
Definition: One of usually a series of horizontal ridges made in a hillside to increase cultivatable land, conserve moisture, or minimize erosion.
Context: Date trees were planted on terraces built on the side of the mountain-like steps.

speaker    undergrowth
Definition: Low growth on the floor of a forest including seedlings and saplings, shrubs, and herbs.
Context: Once the undergrowth was eaten away, nothing was left to protect the roots of the trees.

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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, 9-12
Subject area: geography
Knows the physical processes that shape patterns on Earth's surface.
(6-8): Knows the major processes that shape patterns in the physical environment (e.g., the erosional agents such as water and ice, earthquake zones and volcanic activity, the ocean circulation systems).

(9-12): Understands how physical systems are dynamic and interactive (e.g., the relationship between changing landforms and the effects of climate such as erosion of hill slopes by precipitation, deposition of sediments by floods, and shaping of land surfaced by wind).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: life science
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
(6-8): Knows ways in which species interact and depend on one another in an ecosystem (e.g., producer/consumer, predator/prey, parasite/host, relationships that are mutually beneficial or competitive).

(9-12): Knows how the interrelationships and interdependencies among organisms generate stable ecosystems that fluctuate around a state of rough equilibrium for hundreds or thousands of years (e.g., growth of a population is held in check by environmental factors such as depletion of food or nesting sites or increased loss due to larger numbers of predators or parasites).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: life science
Knows about the diversity and unity that characterize life.
Knows how variation of organisms within a species increases the chance of survival of the species, and how the great diversity of species on Earth increases the chance of survival of life in the event of major global changes).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: Earth science
Understands basic features of the Earth.
Knows factors that can affect the Earth's climate (e.g., changes in composition of the atmosphere, changes in ocean temperature, geological shifts such as meteor impacts, the advance or retreat of glaciers, or a series of volcanic eruptions).

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Don DeMember, science resource teacher, Kingsview Middle School, Germantown, Maryland.

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