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Defining US: The American Experience

FCPS Teaching American History Grant


Subject: Ancient African Kingdoms Grade: 6

Prepared by: Mary Ann Rogers and Melissa Tisnado School: Belle View Elementary

Title or Topic: Life in Ancient Ghana, Mali, and Songhai

Instructional Time: 5 class periods

  1. Essential Learning: (Big picture/concept to be learned.)

The African kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai were centers of trade and learning. These well-developed civilizations flourished hundreds of years before the first colonists arrived in North America. Though European explorers were first drawn to West Africa in search of natural resources such as gold and spices, they eventually began to traffic in slaves.

  1. Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL): (Identify by number and descriptor.)

USI.1.b. Make connections between past and present

USI.1.f. Analyze and interpret maps to explain relationships among landforms, water features, climatic characteristics, and historical events

USI.4.c. Identify the location and describe the characteristics of West African societies (Ghana, Mali, and Songhai) and their interactions with traders

3. Fairfax County Program of Studies (POS): (Identify by number and descriptor.)

Standard 1, Benchmark 6.1.2. Students acquire historical knowledge and understanding of the characteristics of ancient West African peoples.

Standard 2, Benchmark 6.2.1. Students conduct research and gather a variety of information for the purpose of analyzing data and making inferences regarding major historical events.

Standard 6, Benchmark 6.6.2. Students identify the relationship between the location of various groups of humans and exploration, migration, and settlement in North America and Africa and factors that influenced them.

  1. National History Standard (Historical Thinking Standard)

- Chronological thinking

- Historical research capabilities

  1. Learning Strategy(s) Objectives:

1. Tell what you know (activate prior knowledge)

4. Use selective attention

  • Read and listen for specific information

5. Use resources

  • Use reference materials and the Internet

6. Summarize

  • Present oral summary of information

9. Take notes

10. Cooperate

  1. Connection to TAH grant:

Content: Ancient African Cultures with a connection to exploration and the development of the slave trade in North America

Pedagogy: Learning strategies, locating and using online sources

Habits of Mind: What’s Important and What’s Not, Change and Consequences, Change and Continuity, Time and Place are Inseparable


  1. Assessment: (Describe here. Attach a copy of student instructions or assessment instrument.)

If applicable, include student self-assessment.
A. Oral Presentation Rubric (attached) – Teacher and students will review the rubric so that students know on which elements they will be assessed. Each student will assess him/herself and then turn in the rubric for the teacher to do a final assessment.
B. Student-Generated Quiz – Each group will prepare a quiz to give to the class following the presentation. The quiz will consist of 10 short-answer questions. Each group will be assessed on the quality of its quiz, and the other students’ quiz scores will be counted in their classroom average.

  1. Instructional Strategies: (Describe step by step procedure. Include opener, teacher presentation and student activities.)


Remind students of their just-completed study of North American Native American cultures. Tell students that at about the same time in history, there were several powerful kingdoms in Africa. They have already studied Mali in second grade, so they have some background knowledge.

Pass out sticky notes and invite students to jot down facts that they know about ancient African kingdoms. While they are writing, post a large blank map of Africa in front of the room. Invite student to post their facts on the map. This will serve as a sort of “KWL” chart for the unit; students and teacher can refer to the chart throughout the unit, adding or correcting as needed. Each kingdom can also be drawn on the map as it is studied. Make sure students have made the connection that many of the people who became slaves in North America originally came from West Africa. Tell students that the people of West Africa were a diverse group with rich cultural traditions, and in this unit we will study 3 of the West African kingdoms.

Read an Anansi tale from the Ashanti people of Ghana – for example, Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti by Gerald McDermott. Discuss the tale and explain that it is an example of the culture of the people of the ancient African kingdom of Ghana.

Have students read Why We Remember p.34-42. This reading will give them an overview of ancient Africa. Students can finish the reading for homework.


Review textbook reading. Refer to map of Africa and sticky note facts as appropriate.

Highlight the salt-gold trade, as this was the most important form of trade in ancient Africa. Refer to the map of Africa and point out that the people of western Africa needed salt and so traded gold to the people of northern Africa. Explain the method of silent barter. (The students should be familiar with these topics as they were covered in the homework assignment).

Explain that the following day the students will participate in a silent barter demonstration. For homework, each student should find and bring to school a small item to barter. Students should bring something small from home; they do not need to purchase anything. Examples of items students could bring include small toys (including fast food meal or cereal box prizes), pencils, erasers, or candy.

Now explain that for the next few days, the students will participate in a group project to prepare an oral presentation on one of the three ancient African kingdoms. The students will do research to find out the important details about each kingdom. Then each group will be responsible for teaching the rest of the class about the assigned kingdom. Following each group’s presentation, the group will give the other students a quiz to assess what they learned. Pass out and go over the Oral Presentation Guidelines (attached). Then pass out and go over the Oral Presentation Rubric (attached), and discuss presentation requirements with students. Make sure to go over the essential information to be covered.

Students will have a choice of presentation format. They may do a lecture lesson, create a song, perform a skit, etc. They may also create a handout to accompany the presentation. No matter which format they choose, students must be sure to include the essential facts, and each student must participate orally. Also, each group must create a ten-question short-answer quiz to follow the presentation.

Review research skills with the class. Brainstorm possible resources, both online and print. If desired, you may provide the students with a list of websites (attached) and have books already checked out for students to use for research in the classroom. Remind students that they must compile a brief bibliography of sources used – name of website, or title and author of book. At least 3 sources must be used, including at least 1 print source.

Divide the class into 6 groups of 3-5 students each. Assign each group one kingdom (there will be 2 groups to cover each kingdom). The students can use the rest of the period to begin their research. Remind students of their homework assignment – bring in a small item for the silent barter demonstration.


Review the ancient African kingdoms that were discussed for the last few days. Discuss the importance of the salt-gold trade that was used to meet the wants and needs of the African people. Reread the Fairfax County POS Study guide about the silent barter trade that took place in Ghana.

Ask the students why they think this type of trade was important to the economy of the region and why it was important that the identity of the traders remained secret. Ask them to imagine that they lived in an area where a particular resource (like salt) was necessary to their survival. The only way to obtain this resource is to participate in a secret trade system. What kind of good would they trade? Why? How could they ensure that they make the most beneficial trade possible? How can they be sure that the good they wish to trade would be desirable to others? Discuss the laws of supply and demand and connect them to the barter system that was used in ancient Africa.

Divide the class into two groups. Ask one group to go into the hall and place the items they brought for barter against the wall. When the first group has returned to the room, allow the second group to go into the hall and examine the items available for trade. If there is an item for which they have a need and would like to trade, they should replace it with their own item before returning to the room. If there is no item for which they would like to trade, the students should return to the room with their own item.

When all the students have returned to the room, allow the groups to discuss the trades that did or did not take place. Examine the reasons that some items were more in demand that others. Discuss the ramifications for those traders whose items were not chosen for trade. Allow the students to discuss their own trading experience with one another and determine if they trades were successful in terms of meeting their individual needs. Record discussion notes on a chart in columns headed “Successful Trades,” “Unsuccessful Trades,” and “Other Observations.” Keep this chart for reference as economic concepts are discussed throughout the year.

For the remainder of class, the students should work in the research groups assigned yesterday. Remind them that each group should have at least three resources for the project. Remind them of the website list provided yesterday and the available books in the classroom. All research and the bibliography must be completed before the groups begin to create the actual project (poster, play, skit, song etc.).


Depending on how much more time students need to work on their research and presentations, they may need to use this entire period for that. However, if time permits, set up centers for today’s activities. Students will spend time working with each of the following center activities. The art and literature connection activities can be started today and continued later during language arts or other periods.

Centers are:

1. Group work for project and presentation

2. Create an Adrinka cloth from Ghana. Using scissors, construction paper and glue, the students will have an opportunity to create a cloth similar to those made in ancient Ghana. The cloths communicate information about the owner, living or dead. Students will choose several symbols to represent themselves. They will trace the symbols on construction paper and cut them out to create a “cloth” that tells about their lives. Instructions can be found in several of the sources listed in the bibliography.

3. A collection of African tales will be available to the students. They will read a variety of the tales and complete a “Folk Tales” activity in which they examine the elements of several different folk tales from Africa. (See Independent Reading Activities by Susan Finney.)


During the first part of the class, students will complete the group projects and practice their presentations. If time permits, they may continue working with the center activities from yesterday.

Before beginning the presentations, provide the groups with a copy of the rubric that will be used for the group assessment. Answer any questions that the students may have about the requirements for the project and presentation.

Allow each group 3-5 minutes for the presentations. Each group should give its quiz after the presentation. At the end of all the presentations, give the students a few minutes to complete their rubrics for self-evaluation.

Wrap up the unit by asking the students to complete a 3-2-1 activity: 3 things you learned, 2 “WOW!” facts, and 1 thing you would like to know more about. Share and discuss. Also return to the “KWL” map begun the first day – add any new information learned, and correct any misinformation.

Make connections to the unit coming up on explorers by reminding students of the conditions in Europe at the time. Europeans were experiencing plagues and poverty at the time and feelings of discontent were growing as a result of the class system of the monarchies that were in existence. Europeans were becoming more and more interested in what was going on in other parts of the world, particularly Asia and Africa. They were anxious for an opportunity to improve living conditions by coming to possess some of the riches available in other parts of the world.

  1. Materials/Resources to be used:

Day 1 – sticky notes, large blank map of Africa, Anansi tale book (see bibliography), Why We Remember (see bibliography)

Day 2 – copies of Oral Presentation Guidelines and Rubric (attached), website list and books for research (see bibliography)

Day 3 – Fairfax County POS

Day 4 - scissors, construction paper, poster board, collection of African tales, directions for center activities

Day 5- Oral Presentation Rubric (attached)

  1. Differentiation: (Include strategies for reteaching and special populations such as GT, ESOL and special education.)

Day 1 – Students who have trouble writing can dictate their sticky note facts to a partner who can write for them. Students who have trouble reading can work on the classwork/homework assignment with a partner. Students who need an extra challenge can begin drafting an original Anansi tale, a creative writing project on which they can continue to work throughout the unit.
Day 2 – Groups should be structured so that each includes a heterogeneous mix of students. That way, a student who needs an extra challenge can assist a student who has trouble reading, for example. Students can also divide research and presentation tasks so that each student can use his/her strengths; for example, a student with artistic talent might create a poster for the presentation.
Day 3 – If needed, students can work as partners during the silent barter. Some students may feel more comfortable working with a partner who can help them understand and participate in the barter. Some trinkets will be available for those students who forget or are unable to bring in a barter item.
Day 4 – Heterogeneous groups have already been carefully structured for project work. Help will be available, however, for any students who needs or requests it. The groups will move through the additional centers together, so that help will be available for students who need help with a reading or writing activity. The center projects are very fluid and flexible, so that students can draw on their own particular strengths to participate and will have support for tasks requiring skills in which they may be weak. For example, in the “Folk Tales” literature activity, students can choose from texts on a variety of reading levels.
Day 5 – Presentations will be made by groups. Participation requirements will vary according to the skills of each student.

  1. Attachments: (Include copies of assessments, rubrics, handouts that support this lesson.)

Ancient Africa resource information from the Fairfax County POS

Oral Presentation Guidelines

Oral Presentation Rubric

6. Annotated Bibliography: (Include information so that others are able to access the same resources.)
Angelou, Maya. Kofi and His Magic. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2003.

This book describes a present-day West African village as seen through the eyes of Kofi, an Ashanti boy.

Fairfax County Social Studies Program of Studies.

The POS includes helpful resource information about Mali, Ghana, and Songhai.

Finney, Susan. Independent Reading Activities. Scholastic, 2003.

This book contains a variety of reading center activities. We have adapted the “Folk Tales – Ten to Talk About” project to be used with African tales.

Herr, Myra, and Christopher Ronan. West Africa: Ghana (Ancient and Living Cultures). GoodYear Books, 1992.

In this book, students can explore the culture of Ghana, including myths and stories. The book also contains art projects based on traditional Ghanaian crafts.

Levtzion, Nehemia. Ancient Ghana and Mali. Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1980.

This is a good teacher resource book for extra background information.

McDermott, Gerald. Anansi the Spider.

This is one example of a story that could be used as a read-aloud on the first day of the unit.

Merrill, Yvonne. Hands-On Africa: Art Activities for All Ages Featuring Sub-Saharan Africa. Kits Publishing, 2000.

This book includes facts about and crafts from a variety of African cultures.

Viola, Herman. Why We Remember.

This is a student textbook.


This site is a collection of other sites that teachers can use.

Here you can find outline maps and research sources.

This site provides background and geographical information about Mali.

This site contains interesting information about Mali for students as well as comparisons to other well-known kingdoms.

Here students can view photographs from a recent tour of Mali.

Students can take a virtual tour of present-day Mali and learn about sports, arts and crafts, and other topics.

Teachers can use this site to get background information and plan student activities.

At this site students can participate in a variety of activities including a tour of Africa with Anansi.

This webquest could be used by students for research or review.

Ancient Africa resource information from the FCPS 6th Grade Social Studies POS
Ghana was the first great African empire of the western Sudan. Historians believe that a group of people called the Soninke founded Ghana as early as the year 300 and it thrived until around 1200. Ghana became known for its rich culture, wealth, organization, and power. The name Ghana means both “warrior king” and “king of gold.” These were good names for an empire with an army who ruled with iron spears and an incredible supply of wealth derived from their control of the gold trade in West Africa.
The Soninke people belonged to a larger language group called the Mande. A typical Soninke family included a man, his wife or wives, their children, and other relatives. This big family was referred to as a clan. Each clan had one member of the family who kept and told the family history through stories. A rich person or king might have had an advisor/historian called a griot that related his stories in the forms of storytelling, music, poetry, drama, and dance.
Many people in Africa believed in a main or high god, as did the Soninke people. Although it was believed that the main creator was responsible for everything, the Soninke also believed that all living and nonliving things had a spirit that could be good or evil. Rituals were important to the Soninke, and they used them to keep the spirits happy. They also wore charms to protect themselves from spirits that might do them harm. Most Soninke people today are Muslims or Christians, but some still practice their old beliefs.
Ghana became very rich as a result of the “salt-gold trade” between West and North Africa. This trade was very important, and Ghana came to control not only gold and salt but also the trade routes that went through their land.
Why was the salt-gold trade important? People from North Africa desired gold and people from West Africa needed salt. There was a place called Wangara to the south of Ghana that was incredibly hot. The Wangaran people lost so much natural salt through sweating that they had to eat salt in their daily diets to survive. Unfortunately they had no salt in their land. Gold is what the Wangaran people had plenty of, and they were happy to trade it to get the salt they so desperately needed.
Salt was mined to the northeast of Ghana in the Sahara Desert, and Arab traders from the north loaded their camels and donkeys with salt to trade for gold. Traders had to go through Ghana, and so Ghana became like a middleman in the world of the salt-gold trade. Other goods were brought from the north as well, like dried fruit, leather, cotton cloth, and copper.

Locations of the gold mines were a well-kept secret. As a result, the trading was done in a most unusual manner called silent barter. The traders swapped gold for salt and other goods without ever meeting face to face. Northern traders piled their salt along a stream or river for the gold traders of Wangara to inspect. Drumbeats played to declare that trading could begin, and the traders ran and disappeared from sight several miles away. The secretive traders from Wangara came quietly and carefully inspected the salt. They placed bags of gold dust next to each pile of salt and left. Later, the Northern traders returned, and if the amount of gold was acceptable, they took it and left. If not, the process was continued until each side was satisfied. It is believed that salt and gold had equal value. Remember, the traders of each side never saw one another!

The salt-gold trade allowed Ghana to become a rich empire. Gold dust was used in trade, but the king kept the gold “nuggets” for himself, allowing the people to trade using only gold dust.
The king collected taxes from all traders who traveled through Ghana, thus adding to Ghana’s wealth. This tax or tariff provided funds that were needed to take care of Ghana’s army and support its government. The king taxed all goods that entered and left Ghana. A merchant had to pay with a gold coin called a dinar when he came to Ghana. The merchant paid another two dinars to leave Ghana. Merchants were not upset about this tax because some of the gold collected was used to pay for protection of the merchant traders. This taxation system made Ghana a safe place for travel and trade.
Ghana continued to thrive until the mid 1200s. It started losing power when Muslim raiders began attacking areas across the empire. The attackers’ main goal was to convert as many people to Islam as possible, but they also wanted control of the salt-gold trade. Ghana fought the Muslims for more than thirty years and tried to continue ruling their empire. The empire began to crumble as many smaller provinces began to break off to form their own kingdoms.
During this time, Ghana was also plagued by a horrible drought. People began to move out of the area in search of a better area to live.

A new and more powerful empire rose in Ghana’s place. What do you think this new empire was called?

The Empire of Mali was founded in the mid 1200s and lasted through the late 1400s. Ancient Mali was located in western Sudan. The name Mali means “where the king resides” or “hippopotamus.” The people of Mali were called Mandinkas, Malinkes, or Mandingoes. They lived in kafus, small communities headed by a chief or sultan.
The original small communities of Mali were not in a position to control trade as Ghana had done; therefore the Sudan and trade routes were taken over by the Soso people. Sumanguru, a very greedy leader, led the Sosos. Sundiata, a son of one of the Mandingo chiefs, was able to rally the people of Mali against Sumanguru. In 1240 the two armies met in a fierce battle. Sundiata was victorious and earned the title “Lion King of Mali.” In his lifetime, Sundiata was able to bring all of the kafus together and turn Mali into a rich empire based on the salt/gold trade.
Mali’s greatest growth came under a king named Mansa Musa, who ruled from 1307-1332. The word Mansa refers to king, emperor, chief, or sultan. The name Musa means Moses and he is often referred to as “the Black Moses.” Mansa Musa encouraged knowledge and the teachings of the Islamic faith. He invited Arab scholars to come to Mali and study. Timbuktu, the capital of ancient Mali, became a center of learning for scholars throughout the Muslim world in Africa.
Mansa Musa created an empire where he used armies to maintain peace. The soldiers were also used to protect trade routes and increase the size of Mali. Mansa Musa was very good to his officers and soldiers who kept his empire peaceful.
Mali became known to the world when Mansa Musa went on his hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca. He gave away so much gold that its value dropped because there was so much of it! Mansa Musa’s trip became one of the most famous and well documented in history.

As Mali continued to grow in size it became too difficult to control. After the death of Mansa Musa his son, Maghan, took control of the Mali empire. Eventually warriors from outside of Timbuktu attacked this great city. Timbuktu’s mosques, or places of prayer, were burned down and marketplaces were destroyed. Mali continued as an empire for another 200 years, but its Golden Age was over.

What was the next great empire that replaced Mali as the most powerful trading empire in West Africa?
Songhai became a major West African empire as Mali’s empire began to crumble in the late 1400s. Ali-Ber, a fearless warrior, began ruling Songhai in 1464. His name meant “Ali the Great,” and he lived up to his name! He expanded the empire by first conquering Timbuktu, then spreading in all directions to capture all of the areas of the former empire of Mali. Ali-Ber continued capturing more land, and his empire spread from Gao to Timbuktu.
Songhai divided its great land holdings into five large provinces. Each province had its own governor, courts, and army to make sure people paid taxes. Each city in the province had its own mayor. Under this system Songhai became the most well-organized empire in ancient West Africa.
Songhai grew rich like Ghana and Mali by controlling trade routes across the Sahara. The Songhai people settled along the middle area of the Niger River. They had war canoes along the Niger River to protect their trading cities from raiders. The two groups of people who lived along the Niger River were the Sorko, masters of the rivers, and the Gabibi, masters of the soil.
The city of Gao in Songhai was rich in gold, and the people traded their gold with the Muslim merchants who visited this area. Many scholars came to study in Gao, which later became the capital of Songhai.
The Songhai empire did not last long. The ruler of Morocco in North Africa wanted to capture Songhai. In 1591, the ruler sent his soldiers into the Songhai empire. The Moroccans fought with guns while the people of Songhai fought with swords. Songhai could not defend itself from the Moroccans, who had better weapons. The great Songhai empire was brought to an end by this fighting, drought, and disease.
The Songhai empire became divided into several small states. The trade routes from the empire were still used, even though the empire of Songhai was no longer in power. Warfare continued in the Sudan region for many years. The area was very weak because of the fighting. Eventually the Portuguese, sailing along Africa’s West coast, created new trade routes and replaced the overland paths. No other nation in West Africa was able to achieve the greatness of the empires of Ghana, Mali, or Songhai.

Ancient African Kingdoms

Oral Presentation Guidelines


Kingdom: _________________

It’s your turn to teach the class! You are going to work with your group to create an oral presentation about one of the ancient African kingdoms. Then you will present your report to the class, making sure to teach them the important facts about your kingdom. After your presentation, you will give the class a quiz to see if they have learned what you have taught.

Your first task is to do some research. You may use the list of websites as well as your textbook and the other books already provided for you. You may also check out other books at the library. And you have some background information from the Fairfax County POS. As you do your research, remember to record your sources for your bibliography – name of website, or title and author of book.

What do you need to teach? You need to explain where your kingdom was located and when it was powerful. You also need to discuss the leadership of the kingdom, how the kingdom made money, and what the kingdom traded. You should mention any important leaders and explain what their accomplishments were. You should include information about the religion of the kingdom. Finally, you should explain why the kingdom declined and lost power.

The format of your presentation is your choice. You may do a lecture lesson, a skit, a song, or some other format. You may make a handout and/or poster to accompany your presentation. You should be creative and make your presentation interesting; remember, if you don’t catch your classmates’ attention, it will be tough to teach them! Your presentation should take about 3-5 minutes.

Finally, you need to make a 10-question short-answer quiz which covers the most important information from your presentation. You will give this quiz to the class after your presentation.

You will be graded on your work according to a rubric.

Ancient African Kingdoms

Oral Presentation Rubric
Name:____________________ Date: __________

Kingdom: ____________________

Think about your presentation. Assign yourself a score (1-4) for each Element listed below. Then turn in your rubric to the teacher, who will consider your self-assessment and assign your final grade.



Consistent Control


Reasonable Control


Inconsistent Control




Oral Skills

Eye contact, volume, expression


Geography of kingdom and era of power

Politics, Economics, Religion

Government, trade, reasons for decline


Overall presentation format and style


At least 3 sources, including at least 1 print source, cited correctly


Complete, clear, covers essential info

10 short answer questions

Scale: Total Points:

22-24 A

19-21 B

17-18 C Grade:

15-16 D

6-14 U

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