Into the Desert

3, 4, 5

This lesson will introduce the learners to the human and physical characteristics of desert  regions around the world. It will include plants and animals that inhabit those deserts and how people living in desert regions use resources wisely.

PrintOne 30 – 45 minutes class period

The learner will:

  • identify three major desert regions around the world.
  • describe general human and physical characteristics of deserts.
  • give examples of animals and vegetation particular to deserts.
  • identify how the people that live in desert regions conserve water and other resources.
  • learners will describe how working to take care of the land is an act of philanthropy.
  • A variety of cacti. (Note: Try to get at least one with a bloom.These can be found at most garden centers in the house plant sections.Remind learners not to handle plants with needles. If live plants can’t be obtained, post some pictures of different cacti for the learners to see.)
  • Container of sand
  • Container of rocks
  • Ice or representation of ice
  • Any other relative material that you might have that would represent physical characteristics of a desert.
  • Chart paper for recording observations about the plants and other items on display. Chart paper will also be used for creating the two question charts.
  • Picture book: Cactus Desert (One Small Square) by Donald M. Silver and Patricia Wynne. Teacher Note: While this is a 4-9 year old reading level, learners will enjoy having the book read to them.
  • Several different color markers for recording information on charts.
  • A copy of Handout One: Desert Vocabulary List or a representative vocabulary list.
Home Connection 

Ask learners to talk to their families or other adults about deserts. Ask learners to share the writing assignment with members of their families or other adults.



  1. Anticipatory Set: At the beginning of the class period place several cacti, a container of sand, a container of rocks, and ice or ice representation on a desk or table in front of the students. Allow the learners to make some observations about the items on the table. Record their observations about what these items have in common, or how they might be related, on the chart paper and keep for future reference. You want to guide them to the idea that these things are found in a desert.

  2. Label a sheet of chart paper with the question “What do we know about deserts?” Record learners’ responses. Some responses might include: hot, dry, not many plants, cacti, snakes, ice.

  3. Label a second sheet of chart paper with the question: “What do we want to know about deserts?” Record learners’ responses. Some responses might include: What kinds of animals live in a desert? How hot does it get? Does it get cold? What animal life is in the desert? What do the animals eat? Do people live there? How much water is in the desert?

  4. Read the book Cactus Desert (One Small Square). Discuss the story and concepts found in the book. Ask the learners what new information they want to add to the two charts. Guide them to the idea that the people living in the desert regions need to act responsibly to protect the limited resources. They should be good stewards of the Earth. (Define and discuss “stewardship” as needed.) Remind them that physical characteristics are things that are not human made and human characteristics are things that are human made. Record any new information in a second color on the chart.

  5. Point out that deserts are located on all continents including the Polar Regions of northern Europe and North America, and the continent of Antarctica. These regions are considered deserts because they get less than ten inches (25cm) of precipitation a year. (For more desert information see: Principal Deserts in the World at

  6. Create a “Word Wall” (chart) of some of the vocabulary discussed in the book. (See Handout One: Desert Vocabulary List for a list of some of the words.) Keep this list posted and add to it in future lessons.


Ask the learners to write two short paragraphs (3-4 paragraphs for older learners) on what they have learned about the human and physical characteristics of deserts. Remind learners to use a proper paragraph writing style that the teacher/school supports. Tell the learners to include at least three kinds of animals that live in the desert, three kinds of plants that live in the desert. (See Handout Two: Rubric for Writing Activity)Teacher Note: This writing assignment may be done as a homework assignment.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark E.5 Recognize the wise use of resources as <i>stewardship</i>.