Swahili Coast and Indian Ocean Exchange, Lesson Plan

Students learn about the effects of Indian Ocean trade along the East African coast using the Swahili language.  This lesson plan could be one or two days, depending on pacing, student grade, class length, course, and possible extension.  Materials were designed for eleventh graders, but could be used with younger students. In addition to learning about East Africa, students practice corroborating historical evidence.  More Swahili-based lesson ideas here.

Lesson steps

  1. Spotify playlist with songs—dance hall, hip hop, and pop—in Swahili.  Fun to play as students come into class.
    Photograph of a road side shop
    “The Duka is an archive.” This photo of a road-side shop in northern Tanzania The Story of Swahili is a starting point for this lesson.
  2. Introduce Swahili, including students learning to introduce themselves, slides 1-5.
  3. Explore loan words in a list of items at a duka (small shop) in East Africa, slides 6-7 and first page of worksheet. Students look through the list, in both English and Swahili, and guess origins of the words.
    1. Note how words are Bantuized: all syllables in end in a vowel
    2. Examples: biaskeli and petroli come from English.
    3. Students may guess that sukari is from Spanish.  The Arabic word for sugar, sukar, entered both Spanish and Swahili.
    4. When John Mugane says “The duka is an archive,” he means that the words for all of the items in the shop show some of the history of East Africa by way of the places with which it interacted.
  4. Present context: Indian Ocean exchange network, slides 8-10.
      1. Focus on the meanings of the words in the third column
      2. Students should look for patterns.  What kinds of words entered Swahili from the Indian Ocean world?
      3. Students record their analysis on the worksheet.Students investigate, by closely examining the table of loanwords on the second and third pages of the handout. Directions on slide 11.
  5. Students read Ibn Battuta’s recollection of travel along the Swahili Coast (embedded in this page below)
    1. Focus on “Mogadishu,” other sections can be enrichment
    2. Students look for connections to the loan words
  6. Students support a written claim, fourth page of the worksheet  Slide 12 has sentence frames to help students phrase arguments that corroborate linguistic and textual evidence.
  7. Possible extension: linguistic evidence left by Portuguese entry into the Indian Ocean world.  See slides and word tables in the uncut presentation and worksheet.

Presentation to organize class:

Google slides here

Hand out for students:

Google doc here:

Click here for Ibn Battuta

5 replies on “Swahili Coast and Indian Ocean Exchange, Lesson Plan”

I’m so glad I’ve stumbled on this, and hoping to adapt some of it for remote learning. As I don’t speak Swahili I was wondering how “clean” the songs were on the spotify playlist. I don’t think I have any students (or their parents) that speak Swahili, but I can’t be sure.

Thanks for reading, Amber! I don’t speak Swahili either. I did run a few of the songs by a Swahili speaker at one point, I can’t vouch for all of the songs. I do have a few Swahili speakers in my classes, and none have ever indicated anything untoward.

I really love this! For Black History month, my co teacher and I are taking another approach and for our unit are sharing with our students Voices/Stories of Triumph. Definitely using this as inspiration.

Thank you! I’m using this to create more depth to the documents in the APAAS course and will be using this next week. It looks wonderfully interactive!

You’re welcome! I am glad to hear that may be useful for you. Let me know if you have any suggestions based on your experience. I will be doing it in two classes next, too. Both are AP World History classes, and, one student in each class speaks Swahili. I am extra excited this year!

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