Spanish Learning Scenario:
Los elefantes del mundo

Author: Sarah Thompson & Pam Young
Level: Novice (Elementary School)

In this scenario, students are introduced to a study of elephants through a Spanish version of a traditional African folk tale, El preguntón (The Elephant Child). El preguntón tells the tale of a very curious little elephant who never stops asking questions. It also gives an explanation of how the elephant came to have a trunk. In the course of the scenario, students retell the story using Spanish and pantomime, label and describe elephants, and compare the physical aspects (body parts, size) of elephants with an animal from a Latin American country. They also investigate facts about elephants (gestation, birth weight, life span, adult weight, food intake, strength, etc.) and their habitat (environmental requirements, location, climate). Spanish songs about elephants are introduced throughout the scenario.

ACTIVITY SET 1: Elephant Tale
Students listen as the teacher reads aloud the folktale, El preguntón (see Resources), using facial expressions, pantomime, and illustrations to help them understand the gist. (English can be used for support as needed.) The teacher identifies key vocabulary and uses simple sentences to retell the key scenes of the story. Students listen and create gestures/pantomime with the teacher’s help to correspond to key vocabulary words. The simplified story is repeated, and the children gradually learn to retell the story themselves with the appropriate gestures. They choose a key scene from the tale to illustrate and hang the drawings around the room in the chronological order of the tale.

ACTIVITY SET 2: Elephant Description
Students have developed an interest in elephants from the folktale they heard. Now they learn additional words and simple sentences to describe elephants and compare them with another animal. First, students look at illustrations of elephants in artwork from different cultures around the world including Spanish-speaking ones. Using these pictures, students brainstorm as a class, listing common characteristics they find. They learn the words for colors, body parts, size, etc. and a variety of techniques are used to practice the vocabulary using a “Natural Approach” sequence. Students demonstrate what they have learned by drawing an elephant and labeling the parts (trunk, tail, etc.)

Students now practice making comparisons between elephants and another animal. The class looks at a picture of a llama (or other animal from a South American country or the Latin American rain forest such as a snake, three-toed sloth, toucan, etc.) and uses a
T-chart or other graphic organizer to compare and contrast characteristics of the two animals. They use simple, learned statements such as Es más ____. No tiene _____. As a follow-up, children work in twos to create a paired drawing of an imaginary animal; one student describes the animal to be drawn (e.g., three feet, four eyes), and the other student does the drawing.

ACTIVITY SET 3: Elephant Fact File
Students have learned to “tell” a story and to describe elephants and compare them to other animals in Spanish. Now they do research, with the teacher’s help, to create a fact file about elephants that includes information such as gestation period, birth weight, life span, adult weight, food intake, strength, and their habitat requirements. Students use reference books, Web sites, and other resources in English and Spanish for their investigation. The class discusses what has been learned and develops a mind map on a large piece of butcher paper that is taped to a wall. They also consider what they would still like to know and prepare questions they could ask an elephant expert. (See Expansion Ideas for suggestions about contacting an expert.)

ACTIVITY SET 4: Elephant Habitats
Students use Internet resources to discover where elephants are found around the world. Based on their findings, they list three primary needs of elephants with regard to habitat (temperature, altitude, rainfall, flora/fauna, etc.) Students make small cut-outs of the animal and place them in appropriate numbers (according to elephant populations in each region) on a large map of the world. Students discover that elephants are found in Africa and Asia, but not in Spain or Latin American countries. (Equatorial Guinea is the only country with Spanish as an official language where elephants are found.) As a follow-up, the class investigates the climate in several Latin American countries to determine possible reasons why elephants are not found there.

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Targeted Standards

  • Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretative, & Presentational Modes
  • Cultures: Practices & Perspectives, Products & Perspectives
  • Connections: Access to Information, Other Subject Areas
  • Comparisons: Nature of Language
  • Communities: Within & Beyond the School Setting, Personal Enrichment & Career Development

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  • El preguntón (The Elephant Child), an African folktale paraphrased and written into a Spanish poem (included at the end of this scenario)
  • Artwork from various cultures depicting elephants
  • Pictures of animals native to Latin America (e.g., llama, toucan, sloth)
  • Basic vocabulary list of other animals for Activity Set 2
  • Spanish and English language books and Web sites pertaining to elephants
  • Large world map
  • Art supplies for drawings, card game, mind maps, etc.
  • Audio recordings of songs, including Los elefantes (Orozco), En el zoológico (Knowles & Morse), Dos elefantes (Lozano), and ¡Quiero ir al zoológico! (Lozano)
  • Computers with Internet access

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Reflections on How the Standards Are Met

Communication: The interpersonal mode is used as students retell the story of El preguntón and in the paired drawing activity. The interpretive mode is used in listening to the folktale and songs and in doing research for the elephant “fact file.” The presentational mode is used as students share charted/graphed information from Activity Set 4 with the class.

Cultures: Students demonstrate an understanding of different cultural products by viewing pictures and other artistic representations of elephants and other animals native to different countries from different cultures. They may also develop understanding of cultural practices, such as conservation or the lack of conservation, and the perspectives that underlie these practices.

Connections: Students will access information in the target language by using Spanish resources to expand their knowledge of elephants. Students use Spanish to make connections with the fine arts when they view pictures and other artistic representations and create their own illustrations of elephants and other animals. They connect with English language arts when they listen to the story and analyze its sequence of events. Social studies/geography comes in to play when the students map the elephant habitats. Science is supported as the students develop their elephant fact files.

Comparisons: In the poem, students compare words (cognates), word placement, gender and number agreement, and word usage in Spanish and English as they learn songs and learn to make simple statements about elephants.

Communities: Students use Spanish both within and beyond the school setting (e-mail, Internet, possible trip to zoo, possible visit by elephant expert) to develop a fact file about elephants.

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Expansion Ideas

  • Students hear or view an excerpt of an elephant scene from El libro de la selva (The Jungle Book).
  • Students create and present a smoosh book about their own imaginary pet elephant.
  • Students create cards with pictures of elephant body parts to use in a Go Fish-type card game. ¿Tienes una trompa larga? ¿Tienes una oreja muy grande? "Sí, tengo ___!" "No, no tengo _____!"
  • Students use e-mail to submit their questions to an elephant expert
    such as Jorge Barreda at the Circus World Museum in Wisconsin (, or they visit a local zoo and ask their questions of a Spanish-speaking zoo keeper.
  • Older children write a reflection or create relevant art about how they would feel if their body were drastically changed, e.g., they suddenly had an elephant’s trunk.
  • Students hear another folktale about elephants, Los seis ciegos y el elefante (The Blind Men and the Elephant), an East Indian legend translated into Spanish.
  • Students play “Animal Keepers” (see Resources)

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Backstein, K. (1999). Los seis ciegos y el elefante. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.

Disney, W. (1990). Disney’s el libro de la selva. United States: Walt Disney Company.
This version includes a cassette.

Mouseworks Staff. (1995). Disney’s el libro de la selva cuento clásico en español. USA: Mouse Works.

Nelson, W. E. & Glass, H. (1992). International playtime: Classroom games and dances from around the world. Torrance, CA: Frank Schaffer Publications, Inc.
This book includes the game “Animal Keepers” mentioned in the Expansion Ideas.

Young, P. (2000). El preguntón. Unpublished property of Pamela A. Young. E-mail for permission to reprint:


Knowles, R. & Morese, K. (1991). Lyric language. Carlsbad, CA: Penton Overseas.
This book contains the song En el zoológico.

Lozano, P. “Dos elefantes” and “Hay que ir al zoológico.” On More Music that Teaches Spanish [CD]. Houston: Dolo Publications, Inc.
There is a book by the same title that accompanies the CD.

Orozco, J. (translator) (1994). “De colores” and other Latin-American folk songs for children. New York: E P Dutton.
This book contains the song Dos Elefantes.


NOTE: These Internet resources may have changed since publication or no longer be available. Active links should be carefully screened before recommending to students.

    This site is hosted by a South African Elephant Park and contains extensive information about elephants.
    This site has two pages of detailed elephant information, followed by four pages of great full-color elephant photos.
    Focusing on elephants in and near Sri Lanka, this site is good for young children (Grade 3 and up), but also includes interesting information on cultural, geographical, environmental, and animal ethics issues.
  • coelomates/ deuterostomes/ chordata/ craniata/mammalia/proboscidea/african-elephant.htm
    This is a kid-friendly site that offers a fact-file of detailed information for successful research. It includes a section on ecology and conservation and a bibliography.
    Older students will appreciate this site, which offers extensive information on the role elephants have played in world culture. Teachers will benefit from the broader perspective of elephants in myth, legend, religion, and war.
  • (Spanish)

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