Classroom Ideas: Kindergarten-Fourth Grade

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Tigers are among the world’s most powerful, beautiful, and agile creatures. They bestride the top of the food chain and are well equipped to defend themselves in nature. But like many large mammals, tigers seem destined for extinction if people don’t learn better ways to coexist with them. Three of the eight tiger subspecies (the Caspian, Bali, and Javan) have already vanished forever. The remaining five subspecies (Bengal, South China, Indochinese, Sumatran, and Siberian) persist in dwindling patches of habitat. Illegal hunting—poaching—of tigers and destruction of the forests in which they live threaten to erase tigers from the wild.

As wild tiger populations shrink, zoos become an increasingly critical reservoir for tiger survival. But how do zoos keep their precious tigers alive and well?

In this lesson, students will learn some of the threats to tigers in the wild and some of the challenges of keeping them in wildlife preserves and zoos. They will then sketch and explain their designs for sensible tiger enclosures in zoos.

Connections to the curriculum: geography, science

Connections to the National Geography Standards:

Standard 8: “The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth’s surface”
Standard 14: “How human actions modify the physical environment”
Standard 18: “How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future”

Time: Two hours

Materials required:

  • copies of the December 1997 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC articles “Making Room for Wild Tigers” and “Sita: Life of a Wild Tigress”
  • drawing paper
  • colored pencils, pens, or crayons
  • illustrations of tiger enclosures in zoos, such as those in Cyber Tiger (


    Investigate how tigers are threatened in the wild and how zoos manage the tigers in their care.


    Students will

    • become familiar with the threats to tiger survival;
    • learn some of the requirements for a safe tiger enclosure;
    • design and illustrate a suitable tiger habitat for a zoo.



    1. Read the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC articles on tigers, and share key points with your class. Discuss some of the threats to the world’s remaining tigers. These include
    • poaching, encouraged by the markets for tiger bones and skins;
    • destruction of the forests where tigers live;
    • depletion of prey species.
    2. Ask students to suggest what people could do to protect wild tigers. Point out that tigers have intrinsic value as well as financial value as a draw for tourists. Point out the expense of preserving wild lands in the face of human and economic pressures to develop and the incentives for poaching where well-paying jobs are scarce. These issues could become the focus of a class debate for older students (third and fourth grades).
    3. Note that with all the threats to wild tigers, zoos and other sorts of game preserves have become increasingly vital safeguards against tiger extinction.


    1. Ask students what zookeepers must consider when building an enclosure for tigers. Write a list of items on a chalkboard or an overhead transparency.
    2. Note that most of the needs fall into two broad categories: protecting and caring for the tigers and protecting people from the animals. (After all, tigers are large animals and have been known to attack and, on occasion, kill people.) Needs of tigers include shelter in bad weather, food, water, space to play and move about, protection from potentially overeager visitors, and perhaps items such as bouncing balls to relieve boredom. People visiting zoos need to know that tigers can’t escape their enclosures and come after them!
    3. If your school or classroom has Internet access, let your students explore Geoguide/tigers and Cyber Tiger to learn more about tigers and human-constructed tiger habitats.
    4. Ask your students to illustrate a tiger habitat for a zoo. This can be an individual or a group activity. Students could show several views: a schematic diagram from above, like a map, with different aspects of the enclosure labeled, and a view of the tigers as people visiting the zoo would see them. They could also draw a tiger’s eye view looking out at people!
    1. Have each student or group share sketches of finished tiger enclosures.
    2. Discuss the choices that students made. Was it difficult accommodating both the needs of the tigers and the needs of visitors? Could tigers thrive as well in zoos as they do in the wild, where their ranges commonly span thousands of acres (or hectares)?
    Suggested student assessment:
    • diagrams and discussion of tiger enclosures
    • a short paper on one of the remaining or extinct tiger subspecies
    Extending the lesson:
    • Visit a local zoo to see how real tigers are kept.
    • Build three-dimensional models of tiger enclosures.
    • Create a tiger bulletin board with class sketches and news articles about tigers.

    Peggy Clay, the National Geographic Society’s teacher in residence, contributed classroom ideas for this Geoguide.

    ©1997 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.