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Ready-Set-Tech: Take a Walk on the Wild Side: A Unit on Ecosystems
Take a Walk on the Wild Side: A Unit on Ecosystems
Exploring a Pond as an Ecosystem | Discovering the Ocean | A Desert Discovery | What Is a Rainforest?

A Desert Discovery
Desert regions make up 1/3 of the Earth's surface and represent some of the most difficult environments on this planet for life to survive. For any place to be defined as a desert, it must receive less than 10 inches of rainfall per year. In addition, deserts demonstrate extreme temperature changes from day to night, sometimes varying by as much as 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Even under these harsh conditions, the desert represents an intricate and fragile ecosystem containing an amazing variety of animal and plant life.

In this lesson, students will explore and discover the physical characteristics of a desert, locate the world's deserts, and explore the intricate relationships of its plants and animals. The study will end with the students creating dioramas.

Phillip Seymour
Phillip Seymour is a nationally recognized education trainer and consultant on visual perception and arts/media curriculum integration. He has taught in the New York City public schools and teaches and trains at national universities and educational institutions. Presently, Phillip is an instructor at New York University and the City University of New York.


Science, biology, Technology, Language Arts, Visual Arts. And Social Studies

Grade Level: 3-6

Time: 6 hours

Materials: 2-3 computers with Internet access, LCD projector, access to books and library, notebooks and writing supplies, book-making supplies, art supplies








Students will:
•  Understand basic concepts of the geology of a desert

•  Identify the major deserts of the world, find their locations, be able to identify the countries in which they are located

•  Discover through research the various elements of a desert including geographical features, plants and animals

•  Develop research skills using the Internet, books and other sources

•  Learn the importance of visual representation of information through drawing, downloading, and viewing photographic images

•  Create a desert diorama to demonstrate mastery of content

•  Learn cooperative group research and group presentation protocols.

Web sites:



Teachers can refresh their knowledge of the desert by visiting the following resources

From the American Museum of Natural History:
1) Great Intro to Deserts (with world map, pgs. 13-14):

2) Student's report on a desert plant:
3) The Gobi Desert and dinosaurs:

Other great web resources:
1) Names of the world's deserts:
2) Web resources on the desert:
3) Department of Interior site defining deserts with classroom ideas:
4) Student resources to learn about the desert:
5) Resource for an intro to the desert:
6) Excellent reading intro to students:
http://edhelper.com/AnimalReading C omprehension_45_1.html
7) Great intro to read to students:

8) Super desert menu of all life & geography in the desert:
%3fsection=biomes&topic =desert
9) Great virtual tour of the desert for students:

10) More scientific intro to deserts by the USGS:
11) Nice webquest activities:

Book and Magazine Resources:

1) Wonderful book on stories from the deserts of the world:

2) Good book about the desert and all its elements:

3) Great selection of desert magazines for students and teachers:


Begin by telling the students that you will be reading a poem or book about the desert. Choose your own or pick one from the following sources:

•  http://bookgarden.com/catalog/

(Wonderful poems depicting the desert environment)
•  http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2002/577/tr2.htm
(Online story to read to the class)
•  http://field-guides.com/sci/desert/tr.htm
(A desert online field trip)
•  http://eebweb.arizona.edu/links/
(Great resource for desert books)

Creative writing and poems from children:
•  http://desertusa.com/
bboardposts/du _talk05.html
(Children's creative writing about the desert)
•  http://desertusa.com/
(Student poem about the desert)
•  http://umanitoba.ca/outreach/cm/
(Great resource for desert books)

After reading, ask the students what they know or have experienced about deserts. Create a KWL chart. Ask such questions as:

•  What is a desert? Describe one.
•  Have you ever been to one?
•  What elements make up a desert?
•  Do you know any names of deserts?
•  What countries are they in?

Include questions that include the five senses.

Write down any responses the students have on the KWL chart you created. Ask the students as you go along what they might like to learn about deserts. Place their responses on the KWL chart.

Place a large map of the world on a wall. Each student should have a facsimile of his or her own.
You can find great map resources for deserts on the following web sites:
•  http://library.thinkquest.org/C0113340/
(Great map to enlarge for deserts of the world)
•  http://pubs.usgs.go v /gip/deserts/what/world.html
(Excellent geographical map of the world's deserts)
•  http://nationalgeographic.com/
(Map of the world for students to fill in)

As particular deserts or countries are mentioned have the students point out where they are located and name them. Color them in with crayons to identify them on both the class and students' individual maps.

Opening 2:

Take the students on a virtual tour of a desert. While on the tour, tell them that deserts do differ from place to place, but have more in common than not. They will be discovering all the elements and parts of a desert during their tour and in their group research.
Some of the sites you can use for the virtual tour are:
•  http://field-trips.org/tours/sci/desert/_tourlaunch5.htm
(Super virtual tour of the desert)
•  http://eebweb.arizona.edu/links/desert/
(Very good student intro. to the desert)
•  http://library.thinkquest.org/C0113 340/
(Detailed and scientific intro)
•  http://members.aol.com/questsite/1/QVTR1.html
(Excellent virtual tour of the desert)
•  http://desertusa.com/life.html
(Really good virtual tour)


After the virtual tours, ask the students what else they would like to know about the desert. Write these responses on the KWL chart. Also keep a visible list of the various parts and elements of the desert the students mention in the discussion. Their responses will be the basis for their research study. Some examples of potential research topics are: plants, animals, snakes, geographical features, climate, insects, indigenous peoples etc.

Break the class up into groups according to each topic referenced. Tell them they are going to create a large class book about the desert that will give information both visually and in print. Each group will create a chapter of the book by researching their particular topic. They will be asked to prepare an oral/visual presentation as well as a written/visual one. Visuals be downloaded from the Internet, or printed drawings or photographic images can be used. The format of the book and chapters should be determined beforehand to give the groups an idea of how they will format their written presentation.

Excellent field guides to help the students in their research can be downloaded from the Online Field Journal site of the American Museum of Natural History:
•  http://amnh.org/nationalcenter/

And additionally from:
•  http://abcteach.com/directory/
(More downloadable student guides to the desert)
•  http://abcteach.com/Desert/research.htm
(Very good student field guides)
•  http://blm.gov/education/00_resources/

(Animal & plant guide to the desert)

The following resources should be made available to the students for research:

Web sites:
•  http://arab.net/camels/welcome.html
(Story of camels and adaptation)
•  http://proteacher.com/cgi-
allabery.com/courses/webquest/f a gerland/index.htm
(Web quest research sites)
•  http://blm.gov/education/00_resources/
(Site for animal and plant life)
•  http://atozteacherst u ff.com/go/jump2.cgi?ID=3960
(Great desert site depicting all elements of desserts)
•  http://edhelper.com/AnimalReading
(Nice intro to the desert for students)
•  http://edhelper.com/AnimalReading
(More about deserts from above site)
•  http://edhelper.com/AnimalReadin g
(Good resource for desert animals)
•  http://livingdesert.org
(All about the desert and its various elements)
•  http://livingdesert.org/plants.htm
(Plants and ecosystems)
•  http://livingdesert.org/animalst.htm
(Animals in the desert site)
•  http://desertusa.com/life.html
(Great for researching desert plants and animals)
•  http://amnh.org/education/resources/
(Young students writes about the seguaro cactus
•  http://ucmp.berkeley.edu/glossary/
(Super physical description of the desert)

Books and magazines:
•  http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2002/577/tr2.htm
(First hand story of the desert)
•  http://eebweb.arizona.edu/links/
(Super list of books for research)
•  http://field-guides.com/sci/desert/tr.htm
(Excellent book list of the desert)


Mentor the students during their research, paying attention to equal and cooperative group interaction and helping students learn skills used for research. Remind the students of the book and chapter format they developed earlier.

Creating dioramas: As the students continue with their research, have them begin thinking about creating their dioramas. The American Museum of Natural History offers a number of suggestions for creating student dioramas on the following web sites:
•  http://amnh.org/nationalcenter/
(Click onto "dioramas", then "desert")
•  http://amnh.org/education/resources/

(Additional info for creating a diorama)

Another good example for a diorama is found on:
•  http://blm.gov/education/00_resources/


Class book and presentation. The students compile their research and present their reports to the class via both oral and visual presentations. Each group member should participate in the dissemination of the report. The written part of their presentation is used for the book's chapters. Assign roles for creating the physical components of the book, such as the cover, table of contents, layout, visuals, and general assembly. Labeled images supporting the text should be included, as well as a highly visual cover.

Dioramas: Having introduced the students to dioramas earlier, they now may begin the process of creating them from the information they researched, as well as the information presented by other groups. The visuals, with labeling from each group, the class book, and the research sources are excellent resources for their ideas. These visuals should be displayed in the classroom or school along with your class book.

Narrative and Literacy Engagement: Ask the students to write about the desert choosing from a number of different genres: poems, letters from explorers, as a traveler moving through the desert ,etc. Post these throughout the diorama display you have set up in the class or school.

There is a web site message board the students can post their narratives on, as well as read other messages from students around the country. They can also post and answer questions, exchange visuals etc. The site is:
•  http://desertusa.com/who/du_talk.html

KWL Chart: Ask the students what they have learned from their study of the desert. The response should be written on the chart. Also be sure to ask them if there still is more they would like to know about the desert. These responses should be recorded as well.


Each group presents a written and oral report on their study. Look for evidence of individual contribution to the oral and written reports. The groups and individuals should address questions such as:
•  What is a desert?
•  Why is it considered an ecosystem? How does your research support this?
•  Name the world's deserts and identify their locations. What countries border them?

Student contribution to the class mural

Narrative and literacy contributions regarding learned desert material.



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