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Lesson Plan: The Holy Land


Ethiopia is a country rich in cultural and religious traditions. Unfortunately, our impressions of Ethiopia tend to be of war, poverty, and famine. This lesson, along with the video, will help dispel some of these misconceptions and will help students understand the strong religious, and particularly the Christian, heritage of Ethiopia as well as the significance of this country to people with African heritage.

Lesson Objectives

Students will:

  • Discuss and list their impressions of Ethiopia before viewing the video.
  • Explain the significance of the Lost Ark of the Covenant.
  • Take notes on specific topics conveyed in the video.
  • After watching the program, write paragraphs reassessing their lists of impressions of Ethiopia.
  • In groups, create presentations pretending they're Ethiopian Christians who want to educate people in other parts of the world about their country and culture.
  • Discuss and write paragraphs concerning the significance of Ethiopia to African Americans and black people around the world.

Materials Needed

  • VCR and TV
  • Computer with Internet connection (ideal, but not mandatory)
  • For paper-based presentations: posterboard, large pieces of paper, or regular paper (depending on the format you want them to follow); drawing materials; glue or tape
  • For computer presentations: computer with PowerPoint or HyperStudio; scanner
  • Student Activity Sheet: Viewing Guide

Estimated Time

6-8 hours (including researching and showing the presentations)

Relevant National Standards

Mid-Continent Regional Education Laboratory

   World History

  • Understands the growth of states, towns, and trade in Sub-Saharan Africa between the 11th and 15th centuries.
  • Understands religious aspects of Ethiopian society (e.g., the expansion of the Christian Ethiopian kingdom and its search for wider connections in the Christian world).
  • Understands how architecture (e.g., the churches of Lalibela and of Kalash in Ellora, India) reveals the influence of foreign states and the end of African isolation.
  • Understands the political, social, economic, and religious development of the West African Sudan and the East African coast between the 8th and 13th centuries (e.g., how these areas were affected by outside influences, the role of commerce in their development).
  • Understands the influence of religion on African culture (e.g., Islamic and Christian expansion in Africa and why Islam was successful there; the differences between Coptic and Latin Christianity and how Coptics adapted African traditions to Christianity; the Zagwe Dynasty's achievements through patronage of Christian art and architecture, and characteristics of Ethiopian art and rock churches).


  • The physical and human characteristics of places.
  • How culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions.
  • The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface.
  • The characteristics, distribution, and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics.

Teaching Strategy

  1. Divide the class into small groups of approximately four students each. Ask each group to make a list of up to fifteen ideas that answer the question "What comes to your mind when you think of Ethiopia?" Every student should have a copy of the group list for use later in the lesson. Have them share their lists with the class.

  2. Ask students to name the religions that they think are practiced in Ethiopia, and write their ideas on the board.

  3. Ask the class if anyone knows the story behind the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Ask one or more students to explain their understanding of what the Ark is and why it's still discussed in religious and scholarly circles today. Has anyone seen Raiders of the Lost Ark? If so, remind them that this famous movie, though highly fictitious, involves a quest for the same lost Ark that many Ethiopians believe exists in their own country.

  4. Tell the class that they'll be viewing a video about Ethiopia that focuses on the religious beliefs and traditions in that country. Ask a student to point out Ethiopia on a class wall map so that everyone can see where the country is located on the African continent.

  5. Show the Ethiopia video in its entirety, and ask students to take notes on the following topics: landscape/geography, the significance of Ethiopia to the program's host (and, presumably, to African people around the world), Christianity in Ethiopia (including religious landmarks, customs, and beliefs), and other religions in Ethiopia. Before starting the video, review the topics they'll be taking notes on to make sure they understand the types of information they'll be looking for as they watch. They can take notes on their own paper or use the table provided below.

  6. After they've watched the program, ask students to look at the lists that their groups made in step 1 of this lesson. Have them write individual responses to the questions: "How would you modify your list now that you've watched the video? Are you surprised by what you've learned?" Discuss their responses as a class.

  7. Ask students to imagine that they're Ethiopian Christians who want to inform people in other parts of the world (such as the United States) about their country, lifestyle, and religious practices. Divide the class into groups of three or four students each, and tell them that they're going to be creating presentations from the point of view of Ethiopian Christians. Their goals will be to let their audience know what it's like to be Christian in Ethiopia and to dispel misconceptions that their audience might have about Ethiopia. Their presentations will be either "paper-based," meaning posters or written reports that include pictures and other visual aids as well as text, or computer presentations using a program such as PowerPoint or HyperStudio. The presentations should incorporate the following subtopics:
    • Geography: The geography of the country; what the landscape looks like; what the climate is like; how the geography affects the way in which Ethiopians live
    • Religions in Ethiopia: The religious composition of the Ethiopian population
    • Religions landmarks: The landmarks and sites that are particularly significant to religious people; include information on the reason why each landmark is important
    • Christianity in Ethiopia: Christian customs and beliefs in Ethiopia
    • The Ark: The background of the lost Ark, and information on the reasons why Ethiopians are particularly interested in it

    Have students conduct Internet research on the PBS Wonders of Africa site and other Web sites related to Ethiopia, such as:

    They may also find information in the school or local library. Additionally, the following segments of the video will be particularly helpful:

    7:55 Patriarch Paulis discusses his attitudes toward belief in the Ark
    9:52 Ethiopians' belief that they possess the Ark
    10:02 Holy Water of Kedane Mehret - the miracle-seekers
    15:05 Lake Tana
    24:13 Falasha, the Jewish village
    26:26 Gondar - the Epiphany Celebration
    34:26 Lalibela, "new Jerusalem in Africa"
    39:08 Archbishop of Canterbury
    47:43 Aksum
    49:53 St. Mary's Church in Aksum

    Allow groups a good amount of creative leeway in designing their presentations, but ask them to follow these guidelines for posters or computer presentations:

    Paper-based presentations

    • The presentations may be created on posterboard, large pieces of paper, or regular-sized paper. Regardless of the format, presentations should include both text and pictures.
    • Students may draw pictures, photocopy them from books, or print them from the computer, as long as they accurately cite their sources for each visual item they use (as well as citing sources for their text, of course).
    • Responsibilities should be divided evenly between group members so that everyone is responsible for writing some text and gathering some pictures or visual components.

    PowerPoint or HyperStudio presentations:

    • Each presentation should begin with a "home" slide (for PowerPoint) or card (for HyperStudio) that provides a visual introduction to the presentation and allows the user to link to slides or cards that contain more detailed information on each of the required subtopics.
    • Students may use images, sound bytes, video clips, and links from the PBS Ethiopia Web site as well as from other sources. They can be copied directly from the site and pasted or inserted into the presentation. Students should always be sure to accurately cite their sources for both graphics and text.
    • Responsibilities should be divided evenly between group members so that everyone is responsible for writing some text and gathering some pictures or visual components.

  8. After all groups have given their presentations, ask students to consider the statement by the narrator that "for us, Ethiopia has always been something to be proud of" [4:53]. Have them discuss this statement and explain how a greater awareness of Ethiopia and its Christian heritage can be a source of pride for African-Americans and black people around the world. Then ask them to write paragraphs explaining their ideas concerning this topic. If there's time, you may wish to review the following segments of the video to help them better understand this statement:

    4:53 Gates states "for us, Ethiopia has always been something to be proud of"
    6:13 Holy Trinity Church - the first black Madonna he's ever seen in a church
    13:37 interview with Louis Farrakhan
    16:55 Ethiopian Queen of Sheba
    49:53 St. Mary's Church in Aksum

Assessment Recommendations

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

  • Participating in all classroom discussions.
  • Working cooperatively and efficiently in groups.
  • Taking detailed notes on the video, based on the topics suggested in step 5.
  • Writing thoughtful responses to the questions posed in step 6.
  • Following all instructions to create the presentations.
  • Creating presentations with detailed and accurate information on the required subtopics.
  • Creating presentations that are visually appealing and contain interesting and relevant graphics.
  • Sharing presentations with the class in a serious and knowledgeable manner.
  • Writing thoughtful and clearly-worded paragraphs explaining ideas about the significance of Ethiopia to African-Americans.


  • Ask students to conduct a survey of their friends, parents, or other people in the community, asking them to provide their impressions of Ethiopia, including the religions that they think are practiced in that country. Students should write survey questions that ask for brief but specific answers. They should then analyze the results to get a sense of what Americans think about Ethiopia and whether they're aware of Ethiopia's strong Christian heritage. Have students discuss the reasons why they think they got the results that they did.

  • Have students research the life of Haile Selassie and his significance as the source of Rastafarianism. What did he do during his reign of Ethiopia, and why did he become such an important symbolic figure to many Africans and African "exiles," particularly in Jamaica? How does Haile Selassie's stature contribute to Ethiopia's role as a place "to be proud of," as Gates states?




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