xOpening Doors To Social Studies with Children's Literature


Title: The Desert Alphabet Book

Author: Jerry Pallotta

Illustrator: Mark Astrella

Publisher: Charlesbridge, 1994

ISBN: 0-88106-472-6


Curriculum Developer: Myndee Moulton

Summary: This is a beautiful picture book that uses each of the letters from the alphabet book to tell an interesting fact about something from the desert. It includes plants, animals, and landforms. It is written in a format that is easy to understand which is both entertaining and informational. Most of the facts that it talks about are things that are very unusual that most people are unaware of. It tells about the ways that plants and animals have adapted to extreme heat and a dry climate.

Social Studies Relevance: This book deals mostly with geography. It could be used to further learning because it tells about how things must adapt to survive in a region that receives less than 10% rainfall per year. Students could begin to use map skills, and identify similarities and differences from the environment in which they live. This book could help students learn about different ways of life in a different region of the world.

Grade Level Focus: 1-2

Relationship to Social Studies State Core:

Lesson Plans

#1 U.S. Desert Locations

#2 Desert Recall and Categorization

#3 Desert Plant Survival

#4 Animal Survival

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Lesson Plan #1

Title of Lesson: U. S. Desert Locations

Objective: *Given a map of the United States Of America, students will be able to identify the locations of the major deserts, and color them corresponding to a key.

Materials: Overhead of the USA, Overlay of the desert areas, copy of USA map with the deserts outlined and a key, overhead pen, colored pencils.



  1. Anticipation/prediction. Put up the overhead of the US states. Ask students to predict which states have a desert in them. Mark on the overhead where the students guess there is a desert. Remind students that a desert is a place that gets less than 10% rainfall each year. This means that during some seasons it might not rain at all, and when it does it does not get nearly as much water as other parts of the world.
  2. Put the desert overlay across the US map. Compare where the deserts are with where the students predicted. Point out which deserts are where.
  3. Map skills. Tell the students how important a key is to help us read a map. Give each student their own map. Tell the students to look at the key. Beside the name of the desert there is a pattern. Color the pattern with a colored pencil then find that same pattern on the map and color it the same color. Do this for all of the deserts using different colors for each one.
  4. Check for understanding by having students repeat the directions to you, and have them point to patterns that match.

Evaluation: Examine the maps and insure that each desert in the key corresponds to the correct desert on the map.

United States of America Map

Desert Overlay

Desert Map


Lesson Plan #2

Title of Lesson: Desert Recall and Categorization

Objective: After listening to the Story, The Desert ABC Book, the students will be able to recall at least four different things that belong in a desert and put them in the proper category.

Materials: Four sheets of paper with categories written on them, tape, four different colored markers.


  1. Explain to the students that today you are going to read a story that tells about some of the different things that are found in the desert. Share that the story they will hear today talks about one unusual thing for each letter of the alphabet. Ask them to listen to find out what can survive in a desert and how.
  2. Read the story.
  3. Ask the children to raise their hands if they learned about one new thing that lived in the desert. Randomly call on children to tell the class what they learned about and how it survives.
  4. Carousel Brainstorming. Divide the students into four groups. Post one of the large sheets of paper with the category written on it in each of the corners of the room. The categories will be Plants, Animals, Insects/Reptiles, and Nonliving Things.
  5. Tell the students what the categories are. Explain that as a group they will have to think of as many different things that belong in that category and can be found in the desert as possible. Tell the students that they may not write anything that another group has already written.
  6. Give each group a different colored marker.
  7. Send each group to a different corner and explain that when they hear the timer go off they must rotate to the next corner to their right.
  8. Set the timer for three minutes but watch the children to insure that it is not too much time or too little. Adjust the time if necessary. Give each group enough time to identify two things.
  9. After all of the groups have been to all of the stations have them come and sit back down. Review what has been written on each chart. Insure that everyone agrees that what is there is found in the desert and is in the right category.
  10. See if anyone else has anything to add to the lists. Point out what a variety of different things are able to survive in the desert. Tell the students that some people think that deserts are barren (empty) and dead but they have learned that many things really live there.

Evaluation: Insure that each group has contributed to the posters by making sure that their color of marker was used to contribute ideas. Observe students to insure participation. Randomly call on students to insure comprehension and input.


Lesson Plan #3

Title of Lesson: Desert Plant Survival


Materials Needed: Small planted flower, 6 small potted cacti that each look different, knife, white pieces of paper for each child, magnifying glasses or jewelers loops for each table.


  1. Guided discussion. Ask children what a plant needs in order to stay alive. List the elements on the board. Comment on how the book said that Saguaro trees and Living Stone both survive in the desert where there is little rain -but how could they live there without water, in intense heat?
  2. Let children talk about the problem and make predictions. Use the knife and cut one of the cacti in two pieces.
  3. Hands on. Let each student feel the inside of the cactus. Point out that the plant is wet inside because that is where it stores it's water. Let them see the big root that runs down the center. Ask the students what good a plant like this could do -what might some of it's uses be? How could someone stranded in the desert use this plant? People can cut into these plants to drink the water inside. People can eat the inside of cacti plants for food to stay alive. They also use the big Sagauro cacti as shields from the sun.
  4. Ask children if they know of any other plants that store water. Place a small cactus and a small potted flower in warm place in the room. Tell the students to leave them both in that spot without water and in a week you can check them to see how well storing water works.
  5. Give each group of four children a cactus plant and a magnifying glass. Ask them to draw a picture of it and write some words that describe it. Brainstorm some things that they might look for such as skin texture, amount and sharpness of spines, color, root visibility, flowers, smell etc. Post these things to look for on the board.
  6. When children are done have each group take turns sharing with the class what they found. Have one member of the group share what they wrote then give the other students in that group a chance to add something different that they came up with.
  7. Display cacti around the room.

Evaluation: Examine each child's paper to insure that they completed the written work and described/illustrated the cactus plant. Keep an anecdotal record of the children who participate in the class discussion so that I can identify which students do not participate and I can make an extra effort to pay attention to them on an individual basis and insure that they are learning the material.


Lesson Plan #4

Title of Lesson: Animal Survival

Objective: In pairs, the students will find information about a desert animal and its relationship to humans, and share it with the class in the form of an oral report.

Materials: Paper, pencils, Classroom or library access to books with information about desert animals.


  1. Show students pictures of the Bactrian and Dromedary camel. Ask them to identify the difference between the two of them. Show them a picture of a camel that has been kept in captivity and ask them to suggest reasons why the camel's hump is slumped over. Good photos can be found in zoo brochures, or on the Animal Fact cards put out by the American Wildlife Society.
  2. Share interesting camel facts.
  1. Tell students that there are interesting facts about all of the animals that were talked about in The Desert ABC book. Ask them to find a partner and choose a desert animal that they would like to research.
  2. Make a list of things that they should try to find out. It should include things like how big the animal gets, how it has adapted to a hot, dry climate, whether it is mean or nice(dangerous),What it eats, and how it interacts with humans. Is it hardly ever seen? Does it help us, or could it hurt us?
  3. Go to the library or use classroom resources to find information about the animals. World Book Encyclopedias and Ranger Rick Magazines work well.
  4. Have the children record the information that they find.
  5. Oral reports. Share the reports when each group has finished the project. Have the children all listen to learn one new fact about each animal that is talked about.

Evaluation: Listen to the students reports and insure that they have found information about an animal that lives in a desert area. Observe as they prepare the report to insure that both students are contributing. Collect their information sheets to see the work that they have done.


Overhead copy of the United States.

Desert Overlay copy

Desert Map worksheet