The Sahara Desert


Author: Julie Jacobs Young
Grade Level: Early Elementary

Background Information and Resources

1. The children will create a watercolor picture of the Sahara Desert and label it.

Materials Needed:
map of the world, pictures off Internet site listed in background information (or other Sahara Desert pictures), white paper, paintbrushes, watercolor paints, water containers, pencils, paper towels

1. Ask the students to close their eyes and imagine that they are in the desert.  Ask them what they see.
2. Tell the students that there are deserts all over the world.  Identify deserts in your area with which the children are familiar (e.g., the Great Salt Lake Desert, the Painted Desert, the Mojave Desert).  Point these out on the world map.  Next, explain that the largest and hottest desert in the world is found in Africa and is called the Sahara Desert.  Point this out on the world map.
3. Show pictures of the Sahara Desert found on the Internet site listed in the background information (or other pictures that are available).  Ask the students to describe what they see.  Explain to the students that not all deserts are the same.  However, all deserts do have dry air, little rain, high daytime temperatures, and lots of wind.  Aside from these characteristics, all deserts are different.  For instance, the Sahara is extremely desolate.  There is very little plant and animal life.  Other deserts have much life found within them.
4. Instruct the children to create a watercolor picture of the Sahara Desert.  Ask them what colors they saw in the pictures of the Sahara.  What shapes did they see?  When they are done with their pictures, have them label the paintings with "Sahara Desert, Africa."

1. Based on each child's accuracy in creating and labeling a painting of the Sahara Desert, it will be evident whether or not the concept of desert is understood.  (For example, does their depiction of the Sahara Desert appear desolate?)



offers information on the general characteristics of deserts


offers information on the general characteristics of African deserts and the African continent

The Living Desert

discusses deserts around the world and shows maps

African Deserts
(brown and orange zones)




Background Information

     When people visualize a desert, they typically think of sand, lack of water, and intense heat.  Though these views may be based on some fact, the criteria for deserts are actually super dry air, less than ten inches of rainfall per year, high daytime temperatures, and lots of wind.  Although deserts are normally very hot, they can get quite cold depending on their elevation and latitude.  In fact, it has been known to snow before in the world's largest desert, called the Sahara.
    The Sahara is one of 22 deserts on the earth.  In Arabic, the word ìSaharaî means ìwilderness.î  The Sahara is 3.5 million square miles and stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.  The world's highest recorded temperature was in the Sahara, where it reached 136.4 degrees Fahrenheit.  The Sahara occupies the northern part of the African continent.  The other great desert in Africa is the Kalahari Desert in the south.  Additionally, there is a smaller, more arid desert located on the western coast of Namibia called the Namib Desert.
    It is believed that in prehistoric times, deserts were more fertile and were more conducive to life.  However, over time, deserts expanded and became drier and sandier.  Today, deserts are caused by wind patterns and climate, primarily located in regions along the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
    Many plants and animals exist in the desert.  Rainfall in the desert is rare.  Only if plants can absorb and retain rainfall are they able to last.  The desert is also home to some palm varieties and shrub-like trees.  It should also be noted that some areas of the Sahara are virtually devoid of vegetation.
    Although all desert organisms have difficulty in finding water, animals have an additional hindrance to survival.  They are much more susceptible than plants to the temperature extremes of desert life.  Fortunately, most have evolved behaviorally and physiologically.  For example, most desert animals are nocturnal.  They sleep in a cool den, cave, or burrow by day and carry out their activities in the cooler night temperatures.  Other animals hibernate through the hottest part of the summer when the days become too hot and the vegetation too dry.  Some birds escape the hot midday temperatures by flying high through the cool air.  Additionally, many desert animals acquire water from plants.
    Of the animals found in the desert, most are from the reptile family.  The desert iguana is a common inhabitant found in the desert.  Also found in the desert is the Arabian camel.  This animal is one of the few mammalian animals found in the desert that can withstand the climate.  The camel adapts by taking in large amounts of water and storing it for large amounts of time in either one or two humps on its back.  Also living in the desert is the Costa hummingbird, the masked quail, the     bark scorpion, and the African land snail.  Additionally, gazelles can be found on the higher plateaus of the Sahara.
    As far as human beings are concerned, several million people live in the Sahara, mainly along the margins of the desert.
    Pictures of the Sahara Desert are not easily found.  The best source I found, which is still limited, was on the Internet at "Photos To Go."  When on this page, use "Sahara Desert" as search words with which to find pictures.


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