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Volume 63, Number 4July/August 2012

In This Issue

Classroom Guide

For students: We hope this two-page guide will help sharpen your reading skills and deepen your understanding of this issue's articles.

For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from Saudi Aramco World, by teachers at any level, whether working in a classroom or through home study.


Jump to McRel Standards


This issue’s Classroom Guide gets down to basics: What do living things need in order to survive? The most basic answer is, of course, “a hospitable environment.” But it gets more complicated than that. Which creatures survive, and which ones don’t, has everything to do with how well or poorly they adapt to their environment. In this edition of the Classroom Guide, you’ll look at how various adaptations serve various living things.

Theme: Survival

What constitutes a suitable environment for different living things?

All creatures need a suitable environment to survive. Begin thinking about suitable environments by focusing on the species you know the best: human beings. As a class, brainstorm a list of characteristics of the environment that people need in order to survive. For example, we need air. If the atmosphere were made of carbon dioxide, like Venus’s atmosphere, we couldn’t survive. Now you come up with the other features of a human-friendly environment. Have a volunteer write the ideas on the board or chart paper. As you come up with each characteristic, state why it is necessary. For example: Humans need air in order to breathe.

Read “Nature’s Best-Dressed” and “Mauritania’s Conservation Coast.” Then divide the class into groups of five. With your group, consider the sea slugs. Using the article as your guide, brainstorm a list of what constitutes a suitable environment for the sea slugs described in the article. Here’s a hint. Nathalie Yonow found all the sea slugs she wrote about in one specific location. To come up with your list, all you need to do is identify what it is about that location that makes it a good place for sea slugs to live. Create similar lists for some of the animals described in “Mauritania’s Conservation Coast,” such as spoonbills, flamingos and monk seals. What is it about the environment of that place that suits so many different species so well?

Theme: Adaptations

We humans can alter our environments so that they suit us better (or at least so that they seem to suit us better). For example, we dam rivers so we can live in places that might otherwise be too dry. Other creatures don’t alter their environments so dramatically; they adapt to them. In this section of the Classroom Guide, you’ll give close attention to some of those adaptations.

How does adaptation work?

Adaptations among species occur over long periods of time and often involve physical changes. It works like this: Let’s say there’s an area with very tall trees, and most of the edible leaves are near the top. Animals that can reach those leaves—say giraffes—are likely to survive in that area. Animals that can’t reach the leaves move to another area for food, or they die out. Over generations, the animals that are best suited to the tall-trees location are the ones that survive there. Think about human beings and some of the things that set us apart from many other animals. For example, the humans who could digest lactose—an enzyme found in milk—would be the ones who thrived once cows were domesticated.

How do different species adapt to different environments?

Most human adaptations at this point in history are technological (at least as far as we know). For example, we might install air conditioners so that our buildings stay cool, even in a climate that might otherwise be uncomfortably hot. With the class, brainstorm a list of ways that people adapt to different environments. When you’ve got a good list, check to see if any of the adaptations actually involve changes to human bodies. (For example, people living near water haven’t adapted to fishing by developing gills to better catch fish underwater, but people who live at high altitudes do tend to have larger lungs to cope with the thinner atmosphere.) When you look at the world today and imagine it in the future, which adaptations do you think will be most useful to help humans survive? Why do you think so?

Look again at “Nature’s Best-Dressed.” This time, pay particular attention to some of the physical adaptations that sea slugs have made over the millennia. Go through the article and highlight or circle these adaptations. Do the same with the spoonbills and monk seals on Mauritania’s coast.

What purpose does an adaptation serve?

Now that you’ve identified the adaptations, think about how each helped a species survive. With your group, focus first on the sea slugs. Make a three-column chart. In the left-hand column, list each of the adaptations you highlighted in the article. In the middle column, for each adaptation, ask the question, “What purpose does that adaptation serve?” For example, some nudibranchs have evolved so that they look like sponges. What purpose does their looking like sponges serve? Other sea slugs have evolved to have stripes. What purpose do the stripes serve? Fill in the second column of the chart in this manner. Do the same thing with the spoonbills and monk seals in Mauritania. When you’re done, look at your chart and ask yourselves: What basic survival needs are served by these various adaptations? In the right-hand column, write down the survival need each adaptation serves. For example: “Being striped helps protect a sea slug from predators.” That’s what you’d write in the third column. By the time you’re done, you should be able to see that there are a few basic survival needs, and all the adaptations help the creature meet those needs. What are those needs?

How do humans affect adaptations among other species?

Sometimes humans enter the changing relationship between species and environments. Read “Sugar, Please.” The article points out that sugar is a thirsty crop: It needs a lot of water to grow. How, then, did sugar thrive in the Jordan River Valley, “in a climate,” as writer Graham Chandler says, “nature hadn’t intended for it”? According to the article, what does sugar cane need in order to grow and thrive? Given that those conditions didn’t exist naturally in the region Chandler writes about, how did humans intervene? How does the article describe what sugar cane required in order to thrive along the Jordan River? Which of those characteristics existed in nature there, and which involved human beings? With human intervention, which do you think changed more: the sugar cane or the physical environment? Write a few sentences explaining how the adaptations involved in growing sugar cane in the Middle East differ from the adaptations among sea slugs, spoonbills and monk seals. What benefits do you see to human intervention? What possible drawbacks do you see?

What purpose do elements of human culture serve?

So far, you’ve been focusing on adaptations that facilitate physical survival. Now shift gears and think about what, beyond basic survival, helps human beings thrive. Think about elements of human cultures, specifically stories, and ask the question you’ve been asking about physical adaptations: what purpose(s) do they serve? Read “Monsters From Mesopotamia.” While the article traces the development of vampire, werewolf and zombie stories, one thing is certain: Monster stories seem to be everywhere, and so perhaps they serve some purpose for human beings. What do you think that purpose might be? The article gives some thoughts on the subject. Reread them, and discuss them with your group. Then think about your own experience. Do you like vampire, werewolf and zombie stories? If so, what do you like about them? Once you’ve answered that, go a step farther. Say, for example, you like vampire stories. Ask yourself: What purpose does being scared by a story serve for me? Discuss your answers with your group. If you don’t like this kind of story, talk about why you don’t like it. If, for example, you don’t like them because they’re not realistic, ask yourself what purpose realistic stories serve for you.

Bringing It All Together

Now it’s time to have a little creative fun. What if you think about the well-dressed sea slugs in the context of the vampires, werewolves and zombies described in “Monsters From Mesopotamia”? In other words, write your own horror story, but instead of one of the monsters you’ve read about, make your central character one of the sea slugs. It only takes a little creative exaggeration of their adaptations to make them into (fictional) invincible monsters of folklore. For example, some sea slugs have brightly colored tentacles that distract predators from their vital organs. If a predator bites off one of the tentacles…the slug can grow another one! Scary in itself, if you’re that slug’s prey, and true. But what if the tentacles were also poison? What if the predator died and the slug grew another tentacle? The possibilities are frightening—and abundant. Write your own story, creating a scary underwater-monster-slug as the central figure. Remember that your story needs to have the elements that define a story: a plot with a beginning, middle and end; a setting; characters; and conflict and resolution. Illustrate the story, if you’d like, or animate it if you’ve got the technology and the time. Share your work with the class.

Visual Analysis

Analyzing Visual Images

Look at the photographs that accompany “Nature’s Best-Dressed.” They’re extraordinarily beautiful. If you wanted to share them with someone far away, you could snap a photo with your smartphone and email it. But what if you needed to describe it, rather than show it, to someone who couldn’t see it? Even in this electronic age, there’s value in being able to use words to describe something beautiful. Just take a look at a good poem or novel, and you’ll see that descriptions of beauty can themselves be beautiful. Try it yourself. Choose one of the photos of the sea slugs and write a paragraph (or a poem) that describes it. Read out loud what you write to a partner, and have that person identify which picture you’ve described. Share your description with the class, if you’d like.

JA12 Standards Alignment
McRel Standards

Nature’s Best-Dressed?


Standard 6. Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment

Standard 7. Understands biological evolution and the diversity of life


Standard 14. Understands how human actions modify the physical environment/a>

Standard 16. Understands how human actions modify the physical environment/a>

Language Arts

Standard 5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Monsters from Mesopotamia

World History

Standard 3. Understands the major characteristics of civilization and the development of civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus Valley

Standard 20. Understands the redefinition of European society and culture from 1000 to 1300 CE


Standard 10. Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics

A Walk Through Historic Arab Paris


Standard 9. Understands the nature, distribution and migration of human populations on Earth's surface

Standard 10. Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics

World History

Standard 28. Understands how large territorial empires dominated much of Eurasia between the 16th and 18th centuries

Standard 37. Understand major global trends from 1750 to 1914

Mauritania’s Conservation Coast Geography


Standard 4. Understands the physical and human characteristics of place

Standard 8. Understands the characteristics of ecosystems on Earth's surface

Standard 11. Understands the patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface

Standard 14. Understands how human actions modify the physical environment

Standard 16. Understands the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution and importance of resources


Standard 6. Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment

Standard 7. Understands biological evolution and the diversity of life

Sugar, Please


Standard 11. Understands the patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface

Standard 14. Understands how human actions modify the physical environment

World History

Standard 13. Understands the causes and consequences of the development of Islamic civilization between the 7th and 10th centuries

Standard 14. Understands major developments in East Asia and Southeast Asia in the era of the Tang Dynasty from 600 to 900 CE

Standard 20. Understands the redefinition of European society and culture from 1000 to 1300 CE

Julie Weiss ([email protected]) is an education consultant based in Eliot, Maine. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies. Her company, Unlimited Horizons, develops social studies, media literacy, and English as a Second Language curricula, and produces textbook materials.