Grade level: 9-12 subject area: World History credit

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Africa: Names and Nations of Note


One to three class periods



World History

Tish Raff, elementary assistant principal, member of the associate faculty of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, educational consultant, and freelance writer.


Bonny Cochran, former high school social studies teacher and current social studies methods instructor.


Students will be able to do the following:

1. Evaluate and highlight key events in the history of selected African nations

2. Summarize the impact of European colonization on selected African nations

3. Identify and explain the significance of the names of some African nations

4. Investigate and share some current data related to African nations

5. Locate and map selected African countries


For this lesson, you will need:

Poster board
Resources that provide current and historical information about African nations, such as world history textbooks, maps, almanacs, and encyclopedias
Internet sites about the world's countries and Africa:

The World Factbook


Countries of the World


K-12 Guide for African Resources on the Internet


Africa Online


Geographic Names and Toponyms


1. Begin by asking your students to consider the names of some familiar places, such as your state or town. Do you know the origin of these names? Do the names tell anything about the places they represent? Ask them to name places whose names have changed, such as the Soviet Union. Why do the names of some places change? What are some possible consequences of this change?

2. Explain that toponymsare the names of places, and that toponymyis the study of the origin of these names.

3. Now consider the names of places that have been colonized. How were their names influenced by their colonization?

4. Locate and identify Zimbabwe on a world or African map. Tell the class that this country was formerly known as southern Rhodesia, named for the English explorer who colonized it, Cecil Rhodes. Its present name, Zimbabwe, is from the original Bantu language of the indigenous people and means “sacred house,” “dwelling place of a chief,” and “a great stone building.” Discuss how this information affects their perceptions of the country.

5. Return to Zimbabwe on the map. What additional information do we learn about Zimbabwe from its geography? What other facts would we need to provide a succinct, yet informative, perspective of a country? List these facts on a chart or transparency.

6. Now divide the class into groups of four, and have each group select an African nation to investigate. Explain that each group will be creating a poster on its country. The poster should be divided into four sections, with a small map of the country (with the capital labeled) in the center. The group will be responsible for creating the map, but each member of the group will provide information for each of the four sections:
- Name origin and information

- Colonization information

- Current data and statistics

- Significant historical events

Each student should research the information for his or her section and complete the poster. Use the evaluation rubric to clarify your expectations before the students begin working.

7. After the posters are complete, have the students present the information they have discovered about their nation to the rest of the class. Hold a class discussion about what they learned about each nation's name. Display the posters around the room or in the hall.

Adaptation for younger students:

Divide the class into groups and have the groups create posters for an assigned African nation. Posters should include the following information: capital, area, population, life expectancy at birth, literacy, government, per capita purchasing power, exports, and currency. All of these data, along with a map and information about the country name, are provided in The World Factbook(see Internet sites under Materials). Then ask the students to make comparisons between their countries and between the countries and the United States.

1. Discuss and define some of the factors involved in colonization. Why do people colonize other places?
2. Throughout history, colonization has had both positive and negative effects. Consider and discuss these in light of the countries you have studied.
3. Anthropologist Michael Bisson has said, “The Great Zimbabwe is probably the most abused archaeological site in the world.” Discuss what he meant, and consider the possible consequences of archaeology when it is not conducted carefully. Examples may include Zimbabwe, where the ruins of Great Zimbabwe were destroyed by early archeologists; Egypt, where valuable artifacts were removed in the 19th century; or Greece, where the Elgin Marbles were removed in the 19th century.
4. If you were describing your town to an outsider, what information would you include? When you are studying a country for the first time, what facts do you need to know?
5. What are some of the problems that could arise for a country after it achieves independence? What are some of the consequences and responsibilities resulting from independence?
6. What should the role of the United Nations be in supporting and including nations that have achieved independence in the latter part of the 20th century?
7. Compare colonization in Africa with colonization in other parts of the world.
8. If you had the opportunity to visit one African nation, what factors would influence your decision?
9. The citizens of Great Zimbabwe left no literary records, and their oral traditions were lost over time. How might the loss of such data affect the future development of a nation?

The following four-point rubric can be used to assess the students' posters:
- Four points:complete information in all sections; map clearly outlined and labeled, with the capital marked; neat and colorful presentation and design

- Three points:complete information in most sections; map clearly outlined and labeled; neat and clear presentation and design

- Two points:adequate information in all sections; map clearly outlined; neat presentation and design

- One point:some information in all sections; map clearly outlined; presentation and design incomplete or disorganized

Spotlight on Africa

Have students imagine they are producers for a news show called This Week in Africa. Ask the students to follow news about Africa for one week and develop a 30-second spot of about 60 to 75 words. Have them “present” their spots to the class. Africa Online provides an effective daily resource for this information (see Internet sites under Materials). After their presentations, categorize major news stories according to whether they show positive or negative aspects of the influence of the nations' colonial pasts.

Archaeology: Dig In

Challenge your students to investigate more about the origins of Great Zimbabwe and write a feature article about the ancient city. Their articles should answer the important questions of any news story: who? what? when? where? why? and how? (A good starting point is Archaeology, an official publication of the Archeology Institute of America. The July/August 1998 issue contains the article “Riddle of Great Zimbabwe,” by Roderick J. McIntosh. Back issues are located at

Education, Intrigue, and Enjoyment!

Ask your students to create travel brochures inviting other high school students to join an expedition to an African country. Explain that their brochures must be interesting and informative to both students and parents. Students should highlight geographic, cultural, educational, and entertainment features this expedition would offer.

Traditional Africa

Louise Minks, Lucent Books, 1996.

This book is an overview of African civilizations and cultures south of the Sahara Desert from prehistory to the beginning of European colonization. Filled with illustrations and photographs, it provides insight into the changes in African life over time.
Finding the Lost Cities

Rebecca Stefoff, Oxford University Press, 1997.

Each chapter in this book relates the rediscovery of one of twelve ancient cities that were buried or forgotten, including Great Zimbabwe in Africa. It features beautiful photographs of each present-day site and information about what daily life in each city was like when it flourished.


A nice short overview of the history, culture, and attractions of Zimbabwe from the Travel Channel.
Great Zimbabwe Ruins

Selection of photos of Great Zimbabwe. Gp to "excursions" and then select Great Zimbabwe.
Archaeology: The Riddle of Great Zimbabwe

Nice description of finding Great Zimbabwe and a map showing the site.
The WebChronology Project

Chronology of Events in Africa placing a describing Great Zimbabwe in relation to other civilizations of Africa.
African Odyssey Interactive: The Kennedy Center

Links to indexes and curriculum-based resources for teaching about the arts and cultures of Africa.


A scientist who studies historic or prehistoric peoples or their dwellings and artifacts.


Archeologists have found confirmation that the walls and other buildings at Great Zimbabwe were the independent accomplishment of local people in ancient times.


Any object made or modified by humans.


An important artifact found at Zimbabwe was a large part of a pottery bowl whose style is very similar to the style of pottery made in the area at present.


Believing in the inherent superiority of one's own group and culture.


Ethnocentric attitudes held by many in the last 200 years were reflected in the opinion that African culture was inferior to that of Europe and that Africans were not capable of great cultural achievements.


The policy of extending the rule or authority of an empire or nation over foreign countries; the policy of acquiring and holding colonies and dependencies.


During the period of imperialism, European nations dominated the African continent.


The handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, and customs from generation to generation.


Many African societies had an oral tradition of passing on their wisdom and culture.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

World history


Understands long-term changes and recurring patterns in world history.


Understands the circumstances under which European countries came to exercise temporary military and economic dominance in the world in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

World history


Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world.


Understands the role of political ideology, religion, and ethnicity in shaping modern governments (e.g., the strengths of democratic institutions and civic culture in different countries and challenges to civil society in democratic states; how successful democratic reform movements have been in challenging authoritarian governments in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; the implications of ethnic, religious, and border conflicts on state building in the newly independent republics of Africa; significant differences among nationalist movements in eastern Europe that have developed in the 20th century, how resulting conflicts have been resolved, and the outcomes of these conflicts).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

World history


Understands major global trends since World War II.


Understands connections between globalizing trends in economy, technology, and culture and dynamic assertions of traditional cultural identity and distinctiveness.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

World history


Understands the growth of states, towns, and trade in sub-Saharan Africa between the 11th and 15th centuries.


Understands significant features of the major population centers of Bantu and the East African coastal region in the second millennium of the Christian era (e.g., influences on the economic and cultural life of Kilwa and other East African coastal cities, the Bantu state of Great Zimbabwe and its links to the Indian Ocean trade, consequences of the contact between Bantu farmers and Khoisan hunter-gatherers in the early second millennium).
Copyright 2001

Teachers may reproduce copies of these materials for classroom use only.

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