Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 3: Trekking to Timbuktu: Timbuktu: A Center of Trade (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 trade network that flourished in West Africa led to the rise of a number of important cities. Timbuktu is a prime example. From rather humble beginnings, it grew to become the heart of commerce in the kingdom of Mali.

Guiding Questions

  • 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

Become familiar with the lesson plan and bookmark important websites. Additional background information can be found at the following sites:

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. The Founding of Timbuktu

Timbuktu was founded at the dawn of the 12th century. Given the active trade network that already existed in the local region, it wasn't long before it became an important stopping place for merchants.

  • 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. See The Road to Timbuktu. Click on Wonders, then under related wonders click on the Tuareg people. 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.

  • Access Map of Mali, form the EDSITEment-reviewed resource The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Locate Timbuktu and trace the course of the Niger River. Now view the map shown at Trans-Saharan Gold Trade—also from The Metropolitan Museum of Art—and locate the gold fields.
  • Access Mali. Discuss the text with your students. What was the source of Mali's wealth and power? Why are Sundjata (also spelled Sundiata) and Mansa Musa revered today in African legends?
  • Now go Mali available through EDSITEment-reviewed resource Internet Public Library. What were Mansa Musa's reasons for expanding his borders? Why was he interested in acquiring Timbuktu?


Be a West African storyteller. (They're known as griots.) Tell the story of Timbuktu - from its origins until it became a part of Mali. Or, lacking a proper audience, write down the tale as you would have told it.

The Basics

Time Required

2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Africa
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Anthropology
  • History and Social Studies
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Archaeology
  • 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
  • Historical analysis
  • Map Skills
  • Visual analysis
  • Suzanne Art (AL)