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Lake of the Big Snake Free Unit Study

Lake of the Big Snake

Author: Isaac Olaleye
Illustrator: Claudia Shepard
ISBN: 0758729510
Summary:   Two boys outwit a hungry snake in an African rain forest village.

Literature Based Unit Study by Celia Hartmann

Social Studies – Nigeria, Africa
Locate Nigeria on a map/globe. Print out a map/flag. Nigeria is about twice the size of the state of California. Discuss the varied terrain and climate of Nigeria, explaining terms where necessary. In southern Nigeria are lowlands and the climate is equatorial. Central Nigeria has hills and plateaus and the weather is tropical. Northern Nigeria has plains and is arid. (Source: Visualize World Geography in 7 Minutes a Day by Theresa A. Blain) Nigeria is part of West Africa (Teacher may wish to glean info on West Africa)

Nigeria Flag
Nigeria Outline Map

Social Studies/Science – African Rain Forest
Explain to your student that a tropical rain forest is an environment that has lots of tall trees and receives lots of rain (160 to 400 inches each year!). Show him on a globe that tropical rain forests exist in Africa, Australia, Asia, and Central and South America. (Source) Not all of Africa is a rain forest. The African Rain Forest makes up only about a fifth of the continent.

If you already discussed the Equator, the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer and the layers of a rain forest when you studied the Amazon Rain Forest (The Great Kapok Tree), remind your child of the lessons.

Make a book of the animals in the Rain Forest
Animals in the Rainforest Information

Relationships – Best Friends
In this story, the two boys were best friends, as were their mothers. What makes a person a "best" friend? Can you have more than one best friend? Discuss friendships with your student. You may also want to discuss that there may be times during his/her life when there is no best friend, or when someone else becomes a best friends instead.

Relationships – Peer Pressure
Discuss peer pressure with your student.  Peer pressure can be defined as the influences that people of the same age or rank have on each other.  This can be positive or negative.  Discuss positive and negative influences with your student.   Discuss the importance/necessity of learning to stand alone even when others are doing what is wrong.  You may want to include the Bible story of Daniel in this discussion.  Daniel prayed three times a day at his window even when it wasn't popular.   It got him thrown into a den of Lions (yikes!).  There are more instances when Daniel did what was right even when others were pressuring him to do what was wrong.  He would be a great character study.

History – Explorers & Missionaries of West Africa
This would be a great time to discuss different explorers and missionaries of West Africa.

Richard Lemon Lander

Mary Kingsley
More Information

Book: Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa by Don Brown

Mary Slessor

Samuel Crowther

Mongo Park

Language Arts – English as a Second Language

Note how the author "re-arranges" some sentences...

Best friends they were. (instead of They were best friends.)

A sloping trail they followed. (instead of They followed a sloping trail.). if by a magnet they were pulled. (instead of as if pulled by a magnet.)

You may wish to explain that the "re-arranging" in this story is more likely from English being a second language, but that it could also be an Author's Choice to make a story more interesting.

Language Arts – Elements of a Good Story
Lake of the Big Snake is a good time to review the elements of a good story: Setting, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, and Denouement (FIAR Vol. 1, p. 44)

Language Arts – Alliteration

babbling brook

sudden splash sent ripples across the still lake

snake slithered smoothly

waiting, watching

stopped bickering and began

limb landed limply

Language Arts – Vocabulary

    (Read author's note for definitions unfamiliar words)

Math – Patterns
The African people use lots of different colors and shapes in their decorations. Use magnetic pattern blocks to make designs and/or patterns for your child to copy. Allow him or her to make their own designs and patterns for you copy, or try this activity.  

Art – Make Dashikis
Buy 45 inch African print fabric. Measure the length from your shoulder to desired hem. Double that number and add 2 inches for the hem. That is the length of fabric needed. Supplies needed: sewing machine, needle and thread, or tacky glue

1) Wash the fabric to preshrink and press.

2) Fold up an inch hem on both cut edges of the fabric. Stitch or glue it down to prevent unraveling.

3) Fold the fabric in half, wrong sides together, with the finished edges (selvedges) together and the sewn hems together.

4) For the neck hole, cut a slit along the top center fold about 10 inches across. From the center of the slit, on the front edge only, cut 10 inches towards the hem. Slip this over the head. If it won't fit, make small adjustments to the slits until it does.

5) Fold the front edges down in a V-shape to make a narrow edge around the neck. Stitch or glue in place.

6) Pin a seam on both side of the length about 8 inches from each outside edge. Stop the seam 18 inches from the top edge. Try on the dashiki. Adjust the seams to allow the garment to fit. Finish sewing or gluing.

Another variation--
Sew two bandannas together and leave an opening on each side for the arms, an opening at the top for the head to slip through, and make a slit in the front and hem around the slit.  Then, use some wonder under to add the cuff and neckline trim with a different bandana print.  The wonder under will last through a few washings. 

Craft – Spiral Snake
Let your younger child practice their cutting skills by following the spiral lines you draw. An older child can try their hand at making the spiral design.

Science – Magnets
"....the boys galloped toward the lake as if by a magnet they were pulled." What is a magnet? A magnet is a piece of iron (or other material) that attracts other iron or metals. Every magnet has two poles–a north pole and a south pole. These poles are at opposite ends of a magnet. (It helps to pictures the horseshoe-shaped magnets as a bar magnet that has been stretched and bent.) It is these poles that attract (pulls toward) or repel (pushes away) another object. Like magnetic poles repel each other and unlike poles attract each other. For example, if you bring the north poles of two magnets together, they will repel each other. And if you bring the north pole of one magnet close to the south pole of another magnet, they will attract each other. This behavior is called the Law of Magnetic Poles.

Internet Lessons,1607,7_155_13481_13482_13485_37808__,00.html  and,1607,7_155_13481_13482_13485_37775__,00.html 

Library List:
What Makes a Magnet? by Franklyn Branley (HarperCollins, 1996)
Magnets by Janice Van Cleave
Usborne's Book of Science Activities Volume I has GOBS of science activities using magnets

Science – Quicksand
Quicksand is a soupy mix of sand and water that can no longer support any weight. Basically sand floating on water. Quicksand will not suck you down in, but if you panic and struggle the movements will cause you to go deeper. If you do not struggle, and you lay on your back, you will float. (Source

Science – Snakes
Snakes are cold-blooded reptiles. Cold-blooded means that their bodies do not make their own heat, their bodies are whatever the temperature is around them. From the author’s note, we are told that the snake in our story might be anaconda (also known as a water boa).

[Note: from what I found on the internet, Anacondas are in South America, not Africa. I couldn’t seem to find any African snakes that fit the author’s description...lends to the idea that this snake only exists in legends. If the snake were an Anaconda, it would not have been fooled by the boys throwing the danziki in the water....the Anaconda would have still sought the heat of the boys, not the shirt. But we’ll discuss Anacondas since that is the one mentioned by the author.]

Anacondas are the heaviest and most powerful snake in the world. They use their tongue to taste and to smell. Their nostrils are positioned on top of their nose so that they can breathe as they swim. An Anaconda’s sight is not like ours...they see the heat that is put off by various things. For example, the vegetation around them may be dark blue/purple even on a sunny day, but an animal that gives off body heat will show up orange. This makes it pretty hard for the anaconda to miss it’s prey. Anacondas squeeze their prey until it can no longer breathe, then they swallow their prey whole. Their jaws open very wide to allow them to swallow things much larger than they.

If you want to view some pictures of anacondas, go to and use the image feature!  Be prepared (yikes!).

Anaconda Coloring Sheet
More Snake Print-outs

Science – Floatation
"...the limb...landed limply in the water and floated." Experiment with things that float and that do not float. Bath time is a great time for this!


The Solid Rock"
Sing this hymn with your children this week.  (Words and music)

Memory Verses

Friendship: Proverbs 18:24 A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.

Forgiveness: Mark 11:26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

Obeying Parents: Col 3:20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.


Just for Fun

Recipe:  West African Benne Cakes
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup softened butter
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup toasted sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 325.  Mix together the sugar and butter until creamy.  Stir in the other wet ingredients.  Add flour, baking powder, salt, and sesame seeds.  Drop by rounded teaspoons (2 inches apart) onto a greased cookie sheet.  Bake 15 minutes.  Remove promptly from cookie sheet. 


Library List
From the Girlhood Journey Series: Kai (books 1, 2, and 3). Set in 1440 in Africa, your older child (8 to 12) may enjoy reading on her own or the whole family may enjoy listening to you read it aloud.

When Africa Was Home
Masai and I

Website for Africa