Gate's Diary

Culture Close-up

Retelling the Story

What is Africa to Me

The Africa Shop

Lesson Plan: Road to Timbuktu


In this lesson students will examine the mysteries of the city of Timbuktu, and its surrounding geographic regions. Through mapping activities, timelining, vocabulary development, and hands on projects, students will gain an understanding of the culture and geography of Timbuktu, past and present.

Lesson Objectives

Students will have the opportunity to:

  • Examine the geography of West Africa through map activities.
  • Determine the importance of geography to assigned topics of study.
  • Create timelines that show chronology of important events taking place in different regions of Africa.
  • Become experts on a specific topic/term/geographic region/person that connects to the history of West Africa.
  • Develop vocabulary as it pertains to assigned topics associated with West Africa.
  • Complete graphic organizers that focus on key words/topics.
  • Create crosswords using the Internet to share new knowledge.
  • Generate questions to ask classmates about topics they have become experts on.

Materials needed

Time needed

7-9 hours

Relevant National Standards

Mid-Continent Regional Education Laboratory


  • Understands the characteristics and uses of maps, globes, and other geographic tools and technologies
  • Knows the location of places, geographic features, and patterns of the environment
  • Understands the physical and human characteristics of place
  • Understands the concept of regions
  • Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions
  • Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics
  • Understands how geography is used to interpret the past

   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

Teaching Strategy

  1. Initiate a large group class discussion by having students examine a map of Africa and by asking them what assumptions can be made about the continent's basic geography? For example, students might note that there seems to be a lot of desert, or that in southern regions there is more grassland. Because of geographic location the weather is probably warm. Being surrounded by water could mean lots of trade, etc.

  2. Distribute to each student a blank map of Africa. You may find a useful map from: (The "Africa Natural Vegetation" map may be a good choice.)

  3. Make the following list of terms available to students. Terms marked by an asterisk are geographic terms and will be used to label the blank maps (see step 4). The other terms will serve as topics for research, along with the geographic terms (see step 6).

    *Timbuktu (Tombouctou)
    Mansa Musa
    *Sahara Desert
    *Niger River
    Rene Auguste Caillie
    King Sundiata Keita
  4. Separate students into small groups and have them label their maps with the five geographic terms by performing Internet research and/or using other available classroom resources. If students will perform Internet research, the number of computers with online access should determine group size. Consult the recommended web site below for helpful starting points.

  5. After students finish labeling their maps with the geographic terms, randomly assign students to one of the ten topics listed in step 3. Explain to students that they will be responsible for taking detailed notes on the name/place/item to which they have been assigned while they view the video.

  6. Have students view the "Road to Timbuktu" video. As students view the video they should take notes on their topic. It may help if you point out when specific topics are introduced on the video.

  7. Distribute copies of handout 1, "Discussion Questions" to students and use the questions on it to initiate a discussion of the video (answers can be found on the second page of this handout). This discussion will help to reinforce key concepts and to prepare students for the next step in the lesson.

  8. Divide students into groups by topic. The goal of each group is to perform additional research on their topic and present their findings to the class. There will be ten groups of students since there are ten topics. Give students copies of handout 2, "Requirements", which explains in specific detail the kinds of information that they will need to develop about their topic and explains how their research projects will be evaluated. Students will become experts on their particular topic, and they will eventually teach it to the rest of the class.

  9. Students can be given time to research any resources available to them to complete their task. Two days of research should be enough to complete this step.

  10. Students may begin their presentations in whatever order you see fit. Give students copies of handout 3, "Graphic Organizer", a graphic organizer that will help them take notes on the presentations and simultaneously evaluate the presenters. One handout will be completed for each topic presented, so students will fill out nine total.

  11. After presentations, students will hand in all research notes, posters, papers, visuals, crossword, etc. that relate to presentation, and presentations can also be graded by you, and their peers if you choose.

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 of the video, based on the topics suggested in step 3.
  • Writing thoughtful and accurate responses to the questions posed in the handouts.
  • Following all instructions to create the presentations.
  • Creating presentations with detailed and accurate information on the required topics.
  • Sharing presentations with the class in a serious and knowledgeable manner.
  • Presenting thoughtful and clearly-articulated paragraphs explaining ideas about the significance of Timbuktu and surrounding geographic regions.


  • Have students create quizzes for their individual lessons.
  • Have students examine different folktales from West Africa using various resources Internet resources (see recommended web site below). Students may choose a folktale and create a picture book to accompany it.

Further Resources


  • Encarta Africana

Recommended Web Sites

Africa south of Sahara

Welcome to Africa, Nebraska Jones!

The Catalan Atlas, 14th century

Ancient Africa: Timbuktu

African Myths and Legends

African Myths

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




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