Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 1: Trekking to Timbuktu: The Geography of Mali (Teacher Version)

Created November 17, 2010


The Lesson


Timbuktu French Map

1743 French Map of Northwest Africa, depicting the areas covered in this curriculum unit.

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.

The ancient city of Timbuktu lies in West Africa in the present-day nation of Mali. This is a region of varied landscapes, ranging from sizzling desert sands to tropical jungle. The Niger River that flows through Mali has been an important trading highway as well as a source of subsistence for the local people since very early times. In this lesson, students will learn about the geography of Mali.

Guiding Questions

  • Where is Mali?
  • What are the major geographical features of Mali?
  • In what part of Mali is Timbuktu?
  • What's the local weather?
  • What critical roles has the Niger River played in the lives of the people of Mali?
  • How much have conditions changed?

Learning Objectives

  • Locate Mali on a world map
  • Describe the landscape and climate of Mali
  • Locate the city of Timbuktu and describe the local weather
  • Indicate the route of the Niger River and discuss the river's economic significance
  • Compare life along the Niger in ancient times to that of today

Preparation Instructions

Become familiar with the lesson plan and bookmark important websites. You might wish to download and duplicate the map of North Africa available at Outline maps: available through EDSITEment-reviewed resource Internet Public Library.


  • Hand out copies of the map of North Africa found at Outline maps: Have the students indicate with colored markers the Sahara Desert, the sahel, and the savanna. Then have them label the following: Niger River, inland delta of the Niger, modern-day Mali, Guinea, Niger, Benin, Nigeria, and the city of Timbuktu.
  • As a follow-up activity, instruct the students to write a short essay about the Niger River. Preliminary to this activity, explain that a Greek historian (Herodotus) once described ancient Egypt as "the gift of the Nile" After discussing the meaning of this quotation, have the students think about ways in which Mali might be considered "the gift of the Niger."

The Basics

Time Required

1 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Africa
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Anthropology
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Architecture
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > World > The Ancient World (3500 BCE-500 CE)
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Asia
  • Art and Culture
  • Critical thinking
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Interpretation
  • Map Skills
  • Visual analysis
  • Suzanne Art (AL)