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Lesson Plan: The Swahili Coast


In this lesson students will examine the origins of the Swahili people and their Arab roots. Through an examination of the cultural universals of the Swahili, students will have an opportunity to become "experts" on specific areas of cultural identity specifically associated with the great Swahili people.

Lesson Objectives

Students will have the opportunity to:

  • Research a cultural universal of the Swahili people
  • Compare research with classmates
  • Collect research information
  • Analyze research findings
  • Create a project board showing research findings
  • Compare and contrast similarities and differences of past and modern civilization
  • Examine interactions of ethnic, national, and cultural influences as it applies to the culture of the Swahili.
  • Create a character sketch focusing on "historical believability"

Materials needed

Suggested material if available

  • Microsoft Encarta Africana CD

Estimated time

7-10 hours

Relevant National Standards

Mid-Continent Regional Education Laboratory

   World History

  • Understands the development of agricultural societies and new states in tropical Africa and Oceania.
  • Understands the growth of states, towns, and trade in Sub-Saharan Africa between the 11th and 15th centuries
  • Understands long-term changes and recurring patterns in world history


  • Understands the characteristics and uses of maps, globes, and other geographic tools and technologies
  • Understands the physical and human characteristics of place
  • Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions
  • Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics

Teaching strategy

  1. Hold a class discussion on cultural universals, things all cultures have in common. Begin with the question, "If we were to go anywhere in history during any time period, what basic, general things would we see that all people share, even though it might be varied?" For example, all cultures have some kind of language, although the specific language varies according to time and place. As students respond, write their comments on the board. The final list I use for my class follows:
    • language
    • art/music
    • transportation/technology
    • family
    • clothing
    • belief system
    • food
    • housing

  2. Explain to students that they will view "The Swahili Coast" video. They will be responsible for taking notes on the cultural universals of the Swahili People as they view the video. They can either do this on notebook paper, or use Handout 1. Students should write evidence that pertains to both present and past Swahili culture. Make sure they separate this information since it will be crucial for the final project portion of this unit. You may want to pass out two copies of handout 1, "Cultural Universals", one for present Swahili and one for past Swahili.

  3. Prior to viewing video, give students an example of how to take notes. For instance, Language- Present language spoken is called Swahili. It has roots of Bantu/African. Some words are borrowed from Arabic. It is presently the most widely used language in Africa. This example speaks to past and present Swahili culture.

  4. Start the video and instruct students to begin listing examples for each instance of a cultural universal. You may want to circulate through the room to make sure they are taking notes; or, at times stop the video to discuss certain cultural universals that have been covered.

  5. After viewing the video, discuss what students have found. There may be holes in their notes-topics not covered in the video; let them know this okay. They will be filling in those holes as they do further research.

  6. Separate students into teams of two. Have each team choose a cultural universal to examine, or you may assign them to insure a balance of how many groups are covering each universal. Ideally, a class of 30 students would allow each cultural universal to be researched by two groups. If you only want each cultural universal examined once, group size can be adjusted.

  7. Once students are assigned a cultural universal, they need to determine which role they will take. One team member researches ancient Swahili culture, the other researches modern Swahili culture.

  8. Give students a copy of Handout 2. It describes in the final project in specific detail and will help guide in their research. Go over the handout with them.

  9. Tell students they will not meet with their group member for two class sessions. This time is set aside for individual research. At the time they reconvene, students should have detailed notes to share with their partner. Research may be performed using Encarta Africana CD and any available textbooks or library books. Consult the list of recommended web sites below for further resources. Students will need to explore more on their own, and it would be helpful to have them list useful web sites on the board (as they discover them) so other students can also benefit.

  10. When individual research is complete, the groups should reconvene, allowing students compare and analyze their findings. At this time they need to determine where more research is necessary, and begin a collaborative examination to satisfy requirements for both time periods. (This will take one full class period, and possibly two if there are quite a few holes to fill).

  11. When all group research is completed, students must determine the layout of their research board. Important decisions will be made. For instance, how are notes going to be turned into final draft form? Make sure students examine the requirement sheet to properly plan out their entire board.
    • Once the board is created the students need to plan their presentation. Review presentation requirements with them by once again reviewing the project requirement sheet (Handout 2) and the presentation/board grade sheet (handout 3, "Presentation/Board Grades").
    • Remind them that they will not only present the information board, but also tie in the historical figure they have created or researched (see handout 2, "Project Requirement Sheet").
    • Make sure they have created a character sketch that is based on historical accuracy and "creative believability" (that is, the character need not have been a real person, but it should be logically possible that such a character could have existed).

  12. Students should deliver their presentations. You might want to given them time to practice their presentations. Students have an opportunity to ask questions to those who presented.

Assessment Recommendations

Since every class is different, every teacher will assess students in slightly different ways. However, areas of consideration should include the following:

  1. Presentations are clear and articulate (i.e., make eye contact, project voice, use proper English, inflect voice)
  2. Information in presentation is relevant to topic
  3. Information is presented thoroughly and accurately in an easy to understand manner
  4. Visuals and extra materials are neatly prepared and reflect artistic effort
  5. Biographical/character sketch shows historical believability
  6. Biographical/character sketch is clear and easy to understand
  7. Biographical/character sketch shows creativity
  8. Presenters are able to answer most reasonable questions about their topic


  1. Have each group write a short quiz of ten questions using information from their presentations. They give the quiz to students at the end of their presentations.

  2. Have students develop presentations on other specific geographic regions mentioned in the video: Mombassa, Lamu, and Zanzibar. Alternatively, the presentations could be modified to suit other African regions or other world regions.

Further Resources

A Brief History of the Swahili Language

The Kamusi Project

Swahili Gallery

Africanet: Zimbabwe History

Africanet: Zimbabwe Home Page

Africa: South of the Sahara

Africa: South of the Sahara

Copernicus Community (a filtered research area that will guide students to safe, informative sites)

Houghton Mifflin Social Studies: Across the Centuries

Houghton Mifflin Social Studies: Across the Centuries




Black Kingdoms of the Nile
The Swahili Coast
Slave Kingdoms
The Holy Land
Road to Timbuktu
Lost Cities of the South