Madagascar - The Eighth Continent
By the end of this activity, students will be able to:
- locate Madagascar on a world map and place significant cities, rivers,
and mountains on the island
- trace on a world map the journey that a student would take to reach
Madagascar and calculate the length of the trip
- use a map scale to estimate the land area of Madagascar
- locate and understand the island's major ecosystems
- know some basic information about Madagascar and how it compares to the
student's own state.
Related National Standards
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (National Council for the Social
Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (National Council
of Teachers of Mathematics)
- III. People, Places, and Environments: Social studies programs should include
experiences that provide for the study of people, places, and environments.
- VI. Power, Authority, and Governance: Social studies programs should include
experiences that provide for the study of how people create and change
structures of power, authority, and governance.
- Grades 5-8
Standard 7: Computation and Estimation
Standard 13: Measurement
Materials needed for each group
Estimated Time to Complete Lesson
One class period is needed to complete the two map activities (Procedure
Steps #1-3). A second class period is needed to complete the chart comparing
and contrasting Madagascar to the state the student lives in and to discuss
some of the major differences between the two areas (Procedure Step #4).
Madagascar, the fourth-largest island in the world, is located 250 miles east
of Africa's eastern coast. The island's eastern coast is bordered by the Indian
Ocean and western coast by the Mozambique Channel. Madagascar is approximately
the size of Texas. However, it has many diverse environments, including lush
rainforest in the east, savanna and dry forest in the west, and the unique
spiny desert in the south. A central mountain range extending in a north/south
direction divides the island into an east and west coast. Altitude differences
(more than latitude) determine the island's variation of climate.
Madagascar is known for its biodiversity (the number of different species that
exist) and the number of endemic species (species that occur nowhere else on
Earth). For example, of the 300 species of reptiles and amphibians, 99 percent
are endemic. Madagascar is one of the top eight places in the world in terms of
its rich biodiversity.
The island has been referred to as a hidden Eden. The diverse plant and animal
life has evolved in isolation for more than 160 million years. People arrived
less than 2,000 years ago. Many unique life forms on the island have become
extinct, among them the giant lemurs and elephant birds. Because the animals
did not co-evolve with people, they did not have the behavior patterns (such as
flight) that would prevent them from being killed. As the population has
increased and natural habitats have been destroyed (mostly by slash-and-burn
agriculture methods and the burning of timber to meet fuel needs), many species
have become threatened with extinction.
Madagascar is a paradise whose future is threatened. National and international
conservation efforts are being made to protect it. Natural preserves and parks
have been established, yet these represent less than 2 percent of the land
area. Legislation has been passed to protect vulnerable habitats and actions
taken to promote more sustainable methods of agriculture. However, 90 percent
of the original vegetation has already been destroyed. In order to preserve
this fragile paradise, significant conservation efforts will have to be
sustained and must take place in a way that meets the needs of Madagascar's
- Divide students into small groups and provide each group with a copy of the
World Map activity sheet. Have students determine the latitude and
longitude of Madagascar. Ask students to trace the route a ship would take to
get to Madagascar from where the student lives and label the bodies of water
and major landmasses along this route.
- Provide each group with a copy of the Madagascar Map activity sheet.
Have students locate and label the following areas listed at the bottom of the
map. Have students color in the rainforest ecosystem in green, the mountains in
brown and the desert in gray.
- Androy Plateau
- Ankarana Massif
- Bemaraha Plateau
- Cliff of Angavo
- Indian Ocean
- Makay Massif
- Mozambique Channel
- Ask students to use the map scale to estimate the approximate land
area of Madagascar.
- Organize students into groups and have them complete the How Does Your
State Compare? activity sheet. What do they feel is the most significant
difference between Madagascar and their state and why? How does the climate of
their own state compare to that of Madagascar? How does the land area of
Madagascar compare to their state? Compare the average population density
(number of people per square mile of land) by dividing the number of people by
the number of square miles. Have students comment on the diversity of life in
Madagascar compared to that of their state.
Helpful Web Sites
Features information about Madagascar compiled for the Central Intelligence
Agency Factbook. Entries include geography, people, government, economy,
communication, transportation, military, and transnational issues.
Kremen, Claire. Undated. "Traditions that Threaten." PBS Online
Covers the importance of the forest to the Madagascar people and how
deforestation is threatening the island paradise.
Library of Congress—Madagascar: A Country Study
Includes extensive background about Madagascar, its history, people, and
Students may be assessed through:
- their participation in the classroom discussions
- their accuracy on the map location activity
- the details of their ecosystem coloring exercise
- the accuracy of their calculations estimating the Madagascar land area
- the level of detail in the comparisons they draw when they contrast their
state to Madagascar
- Research various animals and plants that are unique to the island.
Have students work in groups to research animals such as lemurs, fossa, and
chameleons and then give a classroom presentation. Their presentation can
include a poster with information about their animal. Students may want to
contact the World Wildlife Fund or similar organizations for further
information. Students should include a prognosis of what the future holds for
their animal/plant, including:
Examine recent newspaper articles relating to Madagascar. Cyclones
and floods in late March and early April 2000 have caused severe damage to the
landscape and seriously disrupted the lives of thousands of people. Most of the
rice crop has been decimated, and 40,000 people were left homeless. In all,
more than half a million people were affected. Students may want to write a
newspaper-style article on the current situation. They can contact the
Madagascar Embassy for further information.
- Is its habitat likely to survive?
- Is the animal/plant likely to become extinct in the next 20 years?
- Is anything being done to ensure the species' survival at this time?
- What, if anything, would they recommend be done?
Create a social and political time line for Madagascar over the last 300
years. Another option is to create a world time line, including such
civilizations as ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, European Middle Ages, Europeans
arriving in North America. This would give students an idea of how relatively
recently (less than 2,000 years ago) people arrived on Madagascar.
Calculate their percent error in estimating the land area of
Madagascar. Students can do this using the following formula:
% error = difference between the student's value and the true value (from chart) x 100
true value (from chart)
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