Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Alaska the Elephant

Joyce Honeychurch
Colleges and Universities - Florida


The global location of Alaska is established when the shape of a map of Alaska is identified as a silhouette of an elephant that moves to reach for contiguous (or nearby) geographic neighbors--and, indeed, to overlay a part of Canada.


The student knows various map forms and other geographic representations. (for example, maps, globes, aerial photographs, satellite-produced images).

The student uses various map forms to acquire information (for example, location, distance, direction, scale, symbol).

The student uses various map forms to process and report geographic information (for example, patterns of land use, connections between places, patterns and processes of migration and diffusion).


-Overhead Projector
-Map of the United States at:
-Two transparencies: One of a map of Alaska and the other an overlay of a drawing of an elephant head (see Associated File)
-Maps of Alaska, World, & North America:
-Globe of the World
-Alaska Worksheet (print and make copies)


1. See Alaska on a globe or in an Atlas for its proximity to Russia, Japan, and Canada, and its separation from Western United States. Recognize that Alaska is shaped like an elephant head and imagine the silhouette of the elephant head as animated, e.g., squirting the trunk at Siberia. Use the vision of a moving elephant to promote interest in Alaska's geography and to have students see and understand this state’s global position.
2. Print out the Alaska Map and its matching overlay drawing of an elephant head. Make a transparency of each (see Associated File.)
3. Prior to Lesson: Set up the computers so that the Web pages needed have desktop icons (shortcuts) so that the students can simply click on each to get to the sites that are important in the lesson:
FIND THE ELEPHANT: Map of the United States --;
TRACK THE ELEPHANT: Alaska, World, & North America maps--
ALASKA WORKSHEET: (Print and make a copy for each student)


1. To gain attention, help students to FIND THE ELEPHANT. Project the transparency of an elephant’s head and have students go to a map of the USA on the Find an Elephant Website (see Weblinks "50"). Ask students to find a state in the United States that is shaped like the elephant head. Ask questions, such as, “Look at this elephant head and look at the map on the computer. What state is this elephant shaped like? Is it shaped like California? Does it look like Massachusetts?” Etc . . . until they come up with the correct answer.

2. Tell students that by studying a map of Alaska they identify where people have built towns and cities in Alaska, and they learn what bodies of water surround the state. Perhaps most importantly, they understand Alaska’s global location in relationship to other other states and other nations. They pretend an elephant head silhouette comes alive, and reaches out into the bodies of water around the globe to touch, or almost touch, many things, including another country. Alaska, the elephant, shows itself to be extremely geographically unique and different from any other state in the United States. (Tracking the elephant, students will locate the following: Siberia, Aleutian Islands, Kamchatka, Japan, Cook Inlet, Kodiak Island, Alexander Archipelago, Canada, Juneau, and the Western United States.)

3. Have students do a timed fast writing to access prior knowledge. Students write in their journals about what they know about Alaska or list everything they know about Alaska. They break up into small groups and share among themselves what they wrote. One designated spokesperson from each group shares his or her group’s findings aloud.

4. Students will TRACK THE ELEPHANT. Using computers, students access an Alaska map see Weblinks "Atlas." ( click on three maps available on this website: (1) Alaska, (2) World and (3) North America (Students will move from projection to projection on this one Internet site, tracking the elephant and responding to the teacher prompts a - f below.)
NOTE: To promote students’ imaginations, give them the following prompts as the elephant moves and reaches:
a) Show where Alaska, the elephant, is head-to-head with *Siberia, Russia.
b) See how the elephant’s trunk, which is made up of the *Aleutian Islands, is reaching for *Kamchatka and *Japan.
c) Find the elephant’s mouth which is *Cook Inlet, and see how the elephant is about to swallow *Kodiak Island.
d) See the spotted necktie that the elephant wears which is a group of islands known as the *Alexander Archipelago which dangles down toward *Canada (British Columbia) and the *Western part of the United States.
e) Notice that *Juneau, the capital of Alaska, is pinned to the elephant’s necktie.
f)Find an elephant ear that flops over into the *Yukon Territory of Canada.

5.Provide practice: Students will fill out the Alaska Worksheet.

Students will fill in the worksheet and on the map provided they will add as many of the starred places that were named when they were tracking the elephant, i.e., Siberia, Aleutian Islands, Kamchatka, Japan, Cook Inlet, Kodiak Island, Alexander Archipelago, Canada, Juneau, and the Western United States.

6. Provide feedback by having an open forum directly following the practice exercise with higher- level questions like the following: “What is different and unique about Alaska in comparison to the other states in the union? Why is it difficult to see how close Japan is to Alaska on most maps? Why would the capitol of Alaska be situated in the elephant’s necktie and not on the elephant’s eye? What are you likely to remember about Alaska? Name one reason a person would like to visit Alaska; name one reason why a person would not want to visit Alaska.”


Formative Assessment

1) Use a silhouette of an elephant head super-imposed over a map of Alaska with questions relating to the elephant’s behavior in order to identify geographic information concerning the state of Alaska. (See Associated File.) Students answer questions about Alaska’s location as they track movement of the elephant utilizing information provided on a Website.

Circulate and formatively assess students as they use the technology tools. Provide assistance for students who are experiencing difficulty and monitor accordingly.

2) Given ten locations related to Alaska’s global presence, students place nine on a map of Alaska.

3) Students complete the Alaska Map/Quiz Printout (see Weblinks "Enchanted Learning" for document).(This assessment should only be given when students have had sufficient time to review and study the information they learned.)


Students look at other forty-nine states' shapes for possible silhouettes overlays, e.g. Michigan, the Hand.
Students will search Internet for facts on Alaska. (WebQuest). e.g.,
Diverse Learners: Students will identify Pacific Rim connections between Asian Cultures and Alaska and discuss the land bridge linking Alaska with Native cultures in Russia.
ESE Students: Students will learn the major place names on the Alaska map and point out Canada and Western United States, noting the separation of Alaska from other states in the U.S.

Web Links

Web supplement for Alaska the Elephant
50 States. com

Web supplement for Alaska the Elephant
World Sites Atlas

Web supplement for Alaska the Elephant
Enchanted Learning

Attached Files

An Alaska Map and its matching overlay drawing of an elephant head .     File Extension: pdf

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