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Blue Savanna by Dahlov Ipcar (1978)

Dahlov Ipcar
Blue Savanna, 1978

The Living Planet

Science Lesson, Grade 4


Students will be able to:
  • Describe and interpret Ipcar’s Blue Savanna.
  • Define what a biome is and research and identify the location, animals, plants, and climate of a specific biome.
  • Work as a team to create a poster that describes their biome.
  • Research an animal that lives in their biome.
  • Understand the energy chain of a biome and the role their animal plays in the food chain.
  • Work as a team to use art elements and design principles to create a collage that communicates information about a biome, its animals, and the energy web.


Note: Before beginning this lesson, the teacher should identify the biomes the students will study and gather research materials about each biome.
Teacher Reflection 1

Discussion of Blue Savanna and research about the savanna biome (five 45-minute classes)
  • Introduce the lesson by discussing what a biome (or ecosystem) is and have the class develop a definition for a biome.
  • Students will understand biomes through the example Ipcar’s Blue Savanna, which illustrates many of the life forms that are found within the savanna biome (a tropical or subtropical grassy plain). Using a map, review with the students where the east African savanna regions are located.

Teacher Reflection 2

  • Discuss the climate of the savanna biome and use the painting to discuss what animals, plants, birds, and insects are found in this biome. Create a chart with two columns to document the class discussion about Blue Savanna: “What do we know about the savanna biome?” and “What do we want to know about the savanna biome?”

Teacher Reflection 3

  • Ask the students to identify the different animals they see in Blue Savanna. Use the Animals in Blue Savanna sheet to help identify the animals. What are the animals doing? Ask the students to describe the animals, paying careful attention to the designs, patterns, and colors Ipcar used to portray them. How do these painted animals look different from photographs of them? Have the students describe the background. What geometric shapes do you see? How do the plants and animals interact within this geometric space?
  • As students use books and the Internet to research the savanna biome, create a new class chart with the columns, “Animals,” “Plants,” and “Climate” to help organize the information.
  • Introduce students to the concept of an energy web. Most science textbooks have many examples of energy webs, food chains, and life cycles of animals. As a class, create an energy web for the animals found in Blue Savanna.
Biome posters (four 45-minute classes)
  • Select the biomes students will study (freshwater, marine, taiga forest, rainforest, temperate deciduous forest, desert, tundra, grassland, etc.), divide the class into small groups, and assign each group a biome. Have the biome resources available for students, and ask students to begin their research using the Biome Research Worksheet.
  • Show students examples of the biome poster: Tundra Biome Poster and  Fresh Water Biome Poster. Hand out copies of the biome poster model for students to follow and to help them organize their research.
  • Once students have researched their biomes, each student should select one animal from their biome for further study. Students should use the Animal Research Worksheet.

Teacher Reflection 4

  • Once students have completed their individual research worksheets, have them work as a group to assemble the research on the biome poster. A tip: precut the papers for the biome poster, rather than have students do it themselves, it will save quite a bit of class time.
Biome collages (six 45-minute classes)
  • Once students have completed their group biome posters, have them return to their individual animals. Using 3 x 3 inch pieces of colored paper, have each student create at least four drawings of various aspects of their animal: its physical characteristics, where it lives, its life cycle, the plants and animals it interacts with, and other details from their research. Students can make their drawings with pencils then outline them with markers.

Teacher Reflection 5

  • When the students have completed their drawings, have them work as a group to arrange these pieces onto a large piece of poster board, creating a collage of the biome. The students will need to arrange their drawings to show both the inter-relatedness of their different animals and to create a visually pleasing design. They may cut their drawings into interesting shapes or overlap them to create an interesting design.

Teacher Reflection 6

  • It will be helpful to review various collage designs and techniques with the students. Also, return to Ipcar’s Blue Savanna and review the following design principles: rhythm, balance, emphasis, movement, pattern, variety, and unity.
  • Once the students have decided on an effective and pleasing design, have them glue the drawings to the poster board.
  • The students can go back to the collage and draw details on top of the collage pieces to unify the image, if they wish. Have them refer to Ipcar’s painting to see how different plants and animals overlap the different geometric shapes.
  • Once the collages are complete, have each group present its work to the class, describing the biomes, the animals, and how they are interdependent.
  • For a final assessment, have students complete the Student Reflection sheet.

Teacher Reflection 7


•    Poster board or large sheets of craft paper, two sheets per group
•    Precut white paper, precut construction paper, and world map for biome poster
•    3 x 3 inch squares of light colored construction or copy paper
•    Pencils
•    Fine-line permanent black markers
•    Colored markers
•    Colored pencils
•    White glue


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