Before We Drove Cars We Rode Animals


LESSON OVERVIEWGrade Level & Subject: K – 4 Social Studies, Civics, Geography, ArtLength: 1 - 2 Class PeriodsObjectives:

After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

·Evaluate the positive and negative attributes of various transportation methods·Consider the abilities of animals to be used for transportation·Comprehend the issues people are confronted with when deciding on a feasible transportation method·Create their own ideal form of transportationNational Standards Addressed:[1]This lesson addresses the following National Standards for History from The National Center for History in the Schools:·Content Standard: NSS-USH.K-4.4 THE HISTORY OF PEOPLES OF MANY CULTURES AROUND THE WORLD§Understands selected attributes and historical developments of societies in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe§Understands major discoveries in science and technology, some of their social and economic effects, and the major scientists and inventors responsible for themThis lesson addresses the following National Geography Standards from The National Geographic Society:·Content Standard:NSS-G.K-12.1 THE WORLD IN SPATIAL TERMSAs a result of their activities in grades K-12, all students should:§Understand how to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.This lesson addresses the following National Standards for Arts Education from the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations:·Content Standard:NA-VA.K-4.3 CHOOSING AND EVALUATING A RANGE OF SUBJECT MATTER, SYMBOLS, AND IDEASAchievement Standard:§Students select and use subject matter, symbols, and ideas to communicate meaning·Content Standard: NA-VA.K-4.6 MAKING CONNECTIONS BETWEEN VISUAL ARTS AND OTHER DISCIPLINESAchievement Standard:§Students identify connections between the visual arts and other disciplines in the curriculumMaterials Needed:·Reproducible #1 – Transportation Around the World·Reproducible #2 – Animal Comparison: Who Travels Best?·Reproducible #3 - Packet of Animal Facts·Reproducible #4 – When is this Transportation Best?Reproducible #5 – When is This Transportation Best Answer Key·Blank white paper·Colored pencils/crayons/markers·World MapAssessment:Students will be assessed through the following activities:·Participation in warm-up activity·Participation in activity questions·Thoroughness of reasoning and creativity in producing a picture of an ideal transportation animal·Depth and insight involved in presentation of the animal each student has created·Participation in Wrap-Up questions·Participation and level of thought involved in extension activity LESSON BACKGROUNDRelevant Vocabulary:

  • Fossil Fuels:a fuel (as coal, oil, or natural gas) formed in the earth from plant or animal remains[2]
  • Fuel:1. Combustible matter used to maintain fire, as coal, wood, oil, or gas, in order to create heat or power. 2. Something that gives nourishment; food. 3. An energy source for engines, power plants, or reactors.[3]

·Public Transportation: Any form of transportation that charge set fares, run fixed routes, and are available to the public such as buses, subways, ferries, and trains.[4]·Transportation: Any device used to move an item from one location to another. Common forms of transportation include planes, trainsautomobiles, and other two-wheel devices such as bikes or motorcycles.[5]Background Information:For all of human existence, transportationhas been of the utmost importance.  From the transport of a nomadic community across barren lands to the current import of oil to America, human societies have always been forced to devise ways to move items from one place to another. It seems only natural that in a landscape so full of biodiversity, early humans would have turned to animals as a form of transportation.  Many wild creatures have truly amazing traits that make them ideal for transport.  For example, Peregrine falcons can regularly reach a flying speed of 60 miles per hour and can go as fast as 200 miles per hour when bulleting towards their prey[6] and Alaskan huskies can travel 150 miles in one day.[7] The trunk of the African elephant can lift 800 pounds[8] and camels can go several weeks without water.[9] There is such a large diversity of skills in the animal kingdom that it was just a matter of determining which animals had the best qualities and the most convenient dispositions for domestication.The first animal to be domesticated was the dog approximately 31,000 years before present (B.P.)[10]  The domestication of the dog was followed by livestock animals that could be used both for meat and for transporting people and goods such as the sheep, goat, cow, horse, camel and llama. The horse was perhaps one of the most important domestications, for it was especially important in warfare and colonization. During wartime, messages and troops were transported easier and quicker with the power of domesticated horses. This important advantage during wartime helped contribute to the strength and longevity of the Persian Empire, as opposed to empires seen previously. Horses allowed for a sophistication in technique, weaponry and strategy that was not seen previously.During times of peace, the domestication of horses also allowed societies to travel further across lands to exchange ideas and technology more quickly and consistently. This helped quicken the pace of development for many societies that might not have come into contact as easily if limited by transportation. The basic standard of living for many people improved with the use of horses, especially in regards to the increase in trading capacity. Horses were very expensive to purchase and care for, and thus they became a symbol of power and status.[11] Horses were also beneficial to the medical community. Doctors were more quickly able to reach their patients, which saved many lives. When the automobile was invented in 1885,[12] animal transportation gradually became obsolete for most cultures.  In the United States, it is very rare to see a cattle drawn plow or a horse and buggy. For the most part, cars, trucks, ships and planes have replaced animal transportation.  This replacement has both pros and cons. Mechanized transport has created a global market place in which people in the United States can have access to stylish clothes from Europe, coffee from Central America, bananas from South America, tea from Asia and oil from the Middle East all in their own American communities.  However, replacing animal transport with machines has polluted our environment through the burning offossilfuels. Learning about transportation is important for students because it is part of everyday life. Studying an era so different from our own when people could not hop in the car to get to a grocery store or their friends house, will help students understand the world they live in and think about transportation in their own lives. Resources:Horses: Introduction PBS: Public Broadcasting Service., Animal Pictures, Wild Animal FactsNational Geographic“The History of Transportation” Judith Herbst, Google Books New JerseyCity University STEPSWarm-up: Thinking about Transportation1.What transportation do you and your family use? Answers will include cars, walking, subways, bus, planes, trains, bicycles.2.What other kinds of transportation do people around the world use? As students answer, display a copy of the world map and located each place as students answer or as additional answers are supplied by the teacher. Name common ones they might not have said in the above response. 3.After students have come up with as many ideas as they can, mention these lesser known forms of transport.  As each is mentioned, show the corresponding picture from Reproducible #1 – Transportation Around the World.a)In India, auto rickshaws, small three wheeled vehicles are the most popular and inexpensive form of hired transportation. These vehicles can fit into small alleyways and pass cars stuck in traffic.b)In Pakistan, large decorated trucks are used to transport people, livestock, and building materials.c)Feluccas are the sailboats that have been used to travel the Nile River in Egypt since Pharaohs; they use the breeze and the river’s current to move.d)Segways are electrically powered and a common form of simple and fun transportation introduced to the public in 2001 in the United States.[13]4.Ask students, “Have you ever heard of animals being used for transportation? What types of animals?” Answers will vary but may include: Horses, camels, elephants, llama, etc. Introduce others that were not mentioned, such as that elephants are extremely important in Thailand. They were once an essential form of transportation in battle and are now used for tours. Dogs pulling sleds over the ice were for hundreds of years the only form of transportation in Lapland and are still one of the most popular methods of travel. The horse has been used in Mongolia for about 6,000 years, and many people still use them. Humans are also a form of transportation used in Japan; human-pulled carts carrying other people are called Rickshaws and were first used in the 1800s when the social elite used them most commonly because human labor was less expensive than horses.[14]5.Tell students, “people used to walk everywhere, but they travelled slowly and couldn’t travel very far each day. Bringing many things from one place to another was very difficult.” Ask students, “What do you think happened when people started using animals for travel? They could go farther distances, carry heavier loads on the animals’ backs, meet more people, interact with different societies, learn new things, have more advanced warfare, hunt more easily and less dangerously, etc.6.Ask students, “In terms of transportation, how are cars, planes, trains, and buses different from animals?” Answers will vary. They will include that vehicles are faster, more comfortable, less tiring, more spacious, run on gasoline instead of food and water as fuel, need to be repaired rather than nurtured..Activity One:Creating your own Transportation Animal1.Start out by reading the following facts to the class.·Camels can carry 200 pounds and walk 20 miles a day in the desert.·Horses and camels travel at the same speed.·Camels can survive for a week or longer with no water and several months without food.·Camels have special eye coverings and can close their nostrils so sand doesn’t get in.·Camels can survive in temperatures from -20 degrees F to 120 degrees F![15]2.Explain to the students that food is a form of fuel that people and animals need to survive, just as cars need gasoline.3.Tell students, “Camels have many good qualities for transportation, but there are also some drawbacks. Can you think of some?” They require a lot of food and water when they do eat and drink; they aren’t big enough to carry more than one person; they aren’t extremely fast; you have to spend time training them, etc. 4.Show Reproducible #2 – Animal Comparison: Who Travels Best? on an overhead projector.  Have the class fill it out together. 5.Ask students, “Wouldn’t it be great if you could create the perfect transportation animal? What do you think this animal would be like?” Answers will vary but may include ideas about the animal being fast, not needing a lot of fuel, big, comfortable, easily trainable, can go long periods of time without fuel, strong, doesn’t get tired quickly, can survive in all different places and temperatures, can fly, can swim, look cool etc. 6.Give students time to do some research using Reproducible #3 – Animal Factsand the Internet to discover important transportation strengths and weaknesses of various animals. Have them look for things such as “fastest animal”, “largest animal”, etc. Use the information section as a resource to talk to them about the attributes of different animals.7.Pass out blank paper, and instruct the kids to draw their perfect transportation animal and label its different parts. Would it fly, run, or swim?  What special powers would it have?  What would it eat and drink? Tell them that their animals can contain parts of existing animals or imaginary characteristics that would allow them to provide the best transportation.8.Allow the students to present their creations to the class and explain how their animal functions and why it would be a good transportation animal.

Wrap Up: Thinking about the Impossibility of Perfection

  1. Ask the students, “Do any animals that are used for transportation remind you of any machines we use for transportation today? Answers will vary but may include ideas about animals with wings being similar to airplanes or bigger, stronger animals like elephants being used to haul heavier materials like trucks.
  2. Have the students fill out the tables in Reproducible #4 – When is This Transportation Best? and help them if necessary.
  3. Have students compare their answers.

Extension: What’s Best for your Town?

  1. Have the students consider their own town. What type of climate do you live in? Do you live in a city, the country, the suburbs? Answers will vary.
  2. How does this affect the modes of transportation people use? Answers will vary but if students live in a city they will more likely use a subway system, if they live in the country or the country they might depend on cars, etc.
  3. As a class, discuss the different types of transportation used in their town and write them on the board. Have the students add other forms of transportation they think would be good ones.
  4. Take a vote on what the students think would be the best one to use in their town.



During this lesson, students examined the many attributes involved in choosing an ideal form of transportation for a given situation. To learn about past forms of history and solidify ideas about how transportation evolved, students investigated animal-based transportation methods. Students also designed their own “ideal” transportation animals and presented their ideas to the class. They used critical analysis to study similarities between transportation animals and the various modes of transportation used today. Students then used the knowledge they acquired about the preferred features of a transport method to analyze the transportation system in their own town and brainstorm ways it could be improved.


LESSON PLAN CREDITSAutumn Rauchwerk – Author            Education Intern, Earth Day NetworkMaggie Ollove – Editor            Education Associate, Earth Day Network  

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[3] fuel. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved April 05, 2011, from website:

[4] public transportation. (n.d.).'s 21st Century Lexicon. Retrieved April 05, 2011, from website: transportation.

[5] "What Is Transportation? Definition and Meaning, Business Dictionary." - Online Business Dictionary. Retrieved 05 April 2011 from

[6]“Frequently Asked Questions.”  Peregrine Watch. Retrieved June 30, 2011 from

[7]“Description and Origin of the American Husky.” Mushing. Retrieved June 30, 2011 from

[8]“How Much Can an Elephant Lift?” Elephant. Retrieved June 30, 2011 from

[9]“Bactrian Camel.”  National Geographic Animals. Retrieved June 30, 2011 from

[10]“Dog History.” Archaeology.  Retrieved June 30, 2011 from

[11]McLaughlin, J. Andrew. "The Impact of the Equine Revolution." 2001. Retrieved 06 April 2011 from  `

[12]“Who Invented the Automobile.” Everyday Mysteries from the Library of Congress.”  Retrieved June 30, 2011 from

[13]"17 Wonderful Ways to Get Around The World (PHOTOS)." Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. Retrieved 20 April 2011 from


[15]"San Diego Zoo's Animal Bytes: Camel." Welcome to the San Diego Zoo. N.p., n.d. Retrieved 30 March 2011 from