One Grain at a Time

6, 7, 8

This lesson introduces the learners to the human and physical characteristics of desert regions around the world, including vegetation and animals that inhabit those deserts.  

PrintOne 30 – 45 minutes class period

The learner will:

  • identify five major desert regions around the world.
  • describe general human and physical characteristics of deserts of those regions.
  • give examples of animals and vegetation particular to those deserts regions.
  • A variety of cacti. Try to get at least one with a bloom.These can be found at most garden centers in the house plant sections.Remind students not to handle plants with needles. If live plants can’t be obtained, post 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.
  • Several resource books about deserts.(See Bibliographical References for suggestions). Also check the school Media Center or public library for books about deserts.)
  • Several different color markers for recording information on charts.
Home Connection 

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

  • Woodford, Chris. Biomes Atlases: Arctic Tundra and Polar Deserts. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn Publishers, 2002.
    ISBN: 0-7398-5246-9
  • Allaby, Michael, and others Anderson, Robert, and Crofton, Ian. Biomes Atlases: Deserts and Semideserts. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaught publishers, 2002. ISBN: 0-7398-5247-7       
  • Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. Life in a Desert. Minneapolis: Learner Publishing, 2003. ISBN: 0-8225-2140-7
  • Johnson, Rebecca L. A Walk in the Desert. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, Inc., 2001. ISBN: 1-57505-152-4


  1. Anticipatory Set:At the beginning of the class period place several cacti, a container of sand, a container of rocks, and ice representation on a desk or table in front of the learners.Allow the learners to make some observations about the items on the table.Record their observations on the chart paper and keep for future reference.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.Responses might include: hot, dry, not many plants, cacti, snakes, ice, lots of sand, camels.

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

  4. Arrange the class into small groups of four or five students Give each group one or two resource books.(The teacher should use a grouping method that works best for his/her class.)

  5. Allow the class ten minutes to look over the books and create a list of physical characteristics (not human made) and human characteristics (things made by humans {roads, picnic tables, signs}) of the desert. (Setting a timer is a good management technique to keep the learners focused.)

  6. After ten minutes ask the groups to chose a spokes person and have that person share what the group has on their lists. The list should include both human and physical characteristics.

  7. Ask the learners what new information they want to add to either of the two charts. Record all new information in the “new” color.

  8. 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 are considered deserts because these regions get less than ten inches (25cm) of precipitation a year.

  9. As learners come across new vocabulary words, create a “word wall” or word chart. (See Handout One for a suggested list of vocabulary words.) Keep this list posted and add to it in future lessons.


Explain to the learners that they are going to write a short essay consisting of five or six paragraphs 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. The essay should include the names of at least five deserts,two types of vegetation and two types of animals indigenous to each desert (See Handout Two: Rubric for Writing Activity)This writing assignment could be done as a homework assignment.