Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 3: Trekking to Timbuktu: Timbuktu: A Center of Trade--Student Version

Created November 18, 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.

Hop (back) in the time capsule and travel to 14th century Timbuktu.Your task is to find out about the origins of the city and discover why it became such an important place. Here's a hint: as the realtors say, “Location is everything.”

Before you start snooping around, think about the questions you'll need to answer for the producers back home at Globe Trekker headquarters:

  • What were the origins of Timbuktu?
  • What was so important about its setting?
  • What was the kingdom of Mali?
  • How did Timbuktu become a part of Mali?

Learning Objectives

  • Discuss the origins of Timbuktu
  • Explain the importance of its location
  • Describe the kingdom of Mali
  • Understand how and why Timbuktu became a part of Mali

Preparation Instructions

It might be a good idea to do a little preliminary research by consulting the following websites:

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. The Founding of Timbuktu-Student

Timbuktu is a bustling place. The buildings are mostly one-storey and seem to be made of mud plaster.

Photo op!

To see a modern photo go to Mansa Moussa and scroll down the left column to the third picture.)

The streets are covered with a layer of sand. You happen upon an old man sitting against a wall. You sit down and ask him if he knows anything about the local history. Does he! Storytelling is a favorite pastime in West Africa, and he's heard more than one tale about the beginnings of Timbuktu. You sit down beside him, and he begins to share the stories with you.

  • Access Early History. This is the way most modern historians explain the founding of the city. For a more detailed version, go to History of Timbuktu. Read the second and third paragraphs. In what ways did the location of Timbuktu make it the ideal gathering place for traders?
  • Access the Map of Africa. Click on Mali. On the map, find Timbuktu (also spelled Tombouktou). After looking at the map, scroll down and read the statistics listed under Geography.
  • The Tuareg people still live in the region of Timbuktu. Photo op! See The Road to Timbuktu. Click on Wonders, then under related wonders click on the Tuareg people.

Another photo op!

  • Now view Man in Blue. In what ways have the Tuareg people changed since earlier times? In what ways do their life styles remain the same?
Activity 2. Timbuktu Becomes Part of Mali

By the mid-13th century, the kingdom of Mali had gained control of the lucrative trade networks of the upper Niger River. During the reign of Mansa Musa, Mali's most famous ruler, Mali expanded to become a sizable empire and reached its peak of prosperity. Timbuktu continued to be an important center of trade as a city in Mali.

The old man pauses, then continues to tell you about the early history of Timbuktu. He speaks of Mali, West Africa's first kingdom.

  • Access Map of Mali. Locate Timbuktu and trace the course of the Niger River. Now view the map shown at Trans-Saharan Gold Trade and locate the gold fields.
  • Access Mali. What was the source of Mali's wealth and power? Why are Sundjata (also spelled Sundiata) and Mansa Musa revered today in African legends? Sundjata's name means "Hungering Lion"—he was the original Lion King!
  • Now go to Mali. What were Mansa Musa's reasons for expanding his borders? Why was he interested in acquiring Timbuktu?

Location Scouting Summary: Land of the Lion King

Write a report for Globe Trekker on the early years of Timbuktu (from the city's origins until it became a part of Mali). Although your report must be based upon history, feel free to add embellishments, just as the old man has undoubtedly done. Remember, you want to sell the producers on the idea of doing a Globe Trekker episode on Timbuktu.

The Basics

Time Required

2 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)
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Visual Arts
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Asia
  • Art and Culture
  • Critical thinking
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Map Skills
  • Visual analysis
  • Suzanne Art (AL)