Teaching Resource

A River Child: The Life of a Young Muslim Child in Africa

A series of cross-curriculum lesson plans and resources to support the creative teaching of a geography-led scheme of work for pupils aged 9-12.

This cross-curriculum project consists of a set of activities that are related to learning outcomes in Geography, Science, Design and Technology, English, Drama and ICT for children aged 9-12. It also provides the opportunity for teachers to introduce Religious Education through the study of Islam as practised by Mohamed, the boy whose story is the focus for the project.

Teaching about a distant place
When teaching about experiences outside of our own culture it is very easy to present other people and places as very different from our own. Children in Britain can often hold very negative views about other people and other places – often reinforced by media representations of developing countries as violent places suffering terrible disasters. If you ask the children in your class to produce a mind map about Africa before beginning the activities, the likelihood is that their ideas will be influenced by media images of poverty, war, famine and disease. One aim of the activities in this project is to challenge such images of Africa through the study of Gashaka village.

The approach taken in this study can be described as a ‘common needs’ approach. This is based on the idea that all people have common needs and these needs may be met in different ways depending on where we live and who we are. The similarity of human experiences is emphasised first, before acknowledging differences.

Collaborative learning
The activities are designed to promote collaborative learning. It is recommended that all group work be undertaken in mixed ability groups. Students are required use their existing knowledge to find out about things that are different to their experience. The activities are designed to empower the learners and help them take responsibility for their learning. 

The village of Gashaka
Gashaka village is found on the edge of the Gashaka-Gumti Game Reserve in Taraba State in Nigeria. This area contains extensive montane and lowland moist forests, a considerable portion of which is conserved in a network of forest and game reserves. The area is very important because one of Nigeria’s two major rivers, the River Benue (pronounced Benway) flows through Taraba State. Some of the most important tributaries of this major river have their headwaters in the mountainous country alongside the border with the Cameroon just above the reserve. The forests of the area protect these headwaters. If the conservation of these forests collapses then the watershed and catchment of this major river system will be in serious danger of irreparable damage with consequently disastrous effects on water resources and river flow patterns. The existence of these forests is essential for the economies of many villages.

A River Child is divided into three parts:

Part 1: Life in Gashaka
A River Child is the true story of Gashaka, a village in Nigeria and the lives of Mohamed and his family who live there. Part 1 focuses on the village’s culture, location, its inhabitants and their needs in order to compare and contrast the lives of the villager’s with their own in four important respects: food, work, leisure activities and religion.

Part 2: Threats to Gashaka
Part 2 of the project focuses on the environmental problems facing Gashaka. It is vital for the pupils to understand the interdependent relationship between the river and the forest. The activities here are designed to help pupils gain a principled ecological understanding of the relationship between forest and the water cycle and the role of forests in protecting rivers

Part 3: The creation of Gashaka- Gumti Game Reserve
In the final part of the project the pupils learn about the establishment of the Gashaka-Gumti National Park and the progress that has been made in dealing with the threatening environmental issues in the area. An activity, which involves the entire class, aims to find out more about National Parks in the UK is included and the project concludes with a Design and Technology task where students are asked to create a board game about the guards in Gashaka Gumti Reserve to show how they are battling to protect the reserve from poachers and cattle herders.

Learn about rivers in the local area:
An excellent way to follow up this project is to undertake work on a watercourse in the local area to help children experience a river or stream first hand. Wherever a school is located in the UK, there is bound to be an aspect of rivers within easy travelling distance which students can explore. Google Earth is an invaluable tool in locating an aerial view of the river nearest to your location.

Key questions on rivers:
The following questions are useful for the children to address when investigating a river or stream:

• What is the source of a river or stream?
• Is it a tributary of a bigger river?
• Where does it enter the sea?
• How long is it?
• What fish can be found in it?
• What is the river used for today?
• What about the past?
• Is the river showing signs of pollution?
• If so, what is the source?
• Is anything being done?

Download the River Child story and accompanying resources here: 

Story: Mohamed of Gashaka (Open Access)

Part 1: Life in Gashaka 

  • Lesson 1: The People of Gashaka: Culturegram
  • Lesson 2: Map Work
  • Lesson 3: Mohamed of Gashaka
  • Lesson 4: Life in Gashaka

Part 2: Threats to Gashaka

  • Lesson 5: Newsflash! (find out more about the environmental threats facing Gashaka)
  • Lesson 6: Role-Play
  • Lesson 7: The Water Cycle
  • Lesson 8: River Talk
  • Lesson 9: Journey of a River

Part 3: The Creation of Gashaka-Gumti Game Reserve

  • Lesson 10: Newsflash! (find out about the creation of the Gashaka-Gumti National Park)
  • Lesson 11: What is a National Park? 
  • Lesson 12: Design a Game

‘A River Child’ pack, from which the lessons featured here have been extracted, includes:

  • Culturegram – Six copies of a full-colour poster that depicts photographs and images of the people, animals and landscape of Gashaka. Through examining the culturegram the children form their initial ideas about life in this small village in Nigeria.
  • Card-Sorting and Drama Activities to deepen children’s understanding of different cultures, the environmental risks to river-based communities and how environments can be saved through positive intervention.
  • Extensive Teachers Handbook to support a thinking skills approach to the cross-curriculum project.
  • Mohamed of Gashaka Storybook – Mohamed tells his own story of life in Gashaka and illustrates it with colour photographs, which he has stuck on the pages. There are five copies of this A5 booklet for children to share in class. 
  • Also includes a CD with Powerpoint presentations, templates and resources.

The full pack is available to purchase for £60. For details visit the Teaching Times Bookshop.