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Understanding the Desert: A Desert Thematic Unit

written by: Pamela Martin • edited by: Noreen Gunnell • updated: 1/9/2012

This thematic unit will help students understand that there is much more in the desert than sand and cacti. Explore habitats, oases, plants and animals with your students, while having them plan their own journey across the sands and record their experiences in a journal.

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    Not So Dry in the Desert

    With this desert unit, students won’t find learning dry at all. You can explore science, history, math and writing with this theme.

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    Fill your library with books about the desert, the pyramids, plants and animals of the desert. Consider these titles:

    The Desert is Theirs, by Byrd Baylor

    Snake and Lizard, by Joy Cowley

    This is the Oasis, by Miriam Moss

    Desert Voices, by Byrd Baylor

    Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind, by Suzanne Fisher Staples

    Roxaboxen, by Alice McLerran

    The Desert Is My Mother: El Desierto Es Mi Madre, by Pat Mora

    Create illustrated vocabulary books for unit terms. On each page, students write the word and a definition (paraphrased, rather than copied from the dictionary), a picture and a sentence that shows an understanding of the word.

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    Pyramid Reports

    Allow students to get creative with desert reports. You can use the same idea for research on the desert in general, or for more specialized learning about pyramids.

    Students will show what they’ve learned on pyramid shapes. They begin by cutting a piece of construction paper into a square. They will then fold it diagonally twice, to form a small triangle.

    Next, students open the paper and cut along one fold to the center. They should overlap the two flaps created and make an X on the one that is covered. They should not glue the flaps yet.

    Now, students write facts from their research on the outside of the shape, leaving the X’d space blank. When they are finished with the writing, they glue the flaps to form the pyramid.

    Finally, three-dimensional pictures are added to the inside faces of the pyramid.

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    Habitats, Plants and Animals

    Help students remember what you teach about the inhabitants of the desert with some hands-on fun.

    Allow students to creating dioramas and models of desert biomes and of an oasis, including the plants and animals found in the particular desert being modeled.

    Discuss the needs of plants and allow students to apply the information by planting cacti gardens or oasis terrariums.

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    My Journey Across the ___ Desert

    For this project, students will plan a trek across an assigned desert. The final product should include a map, calculations for the distance and the time required to make the trip. Students should also figure how much food, water and gasoline they would need, along with the costs for the trip. They will need to prepare a packing list for what they think they will need on the trip. Finally, students create a diary with five to seven entries they might write when making the trip, including what plants, animals or scenery they would see, what the climate and weather was like and other points of interest.

    Extend the lesson by allowing students to decorate a clean pizza box as a suitcase or backpack and making paper cutouts of the things they would pack. On the back of each item, they write a sentence to explain the reason for including it.