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Looking for Miza: Lesson Plans


Meet the Mountain Gorillas (Grades 3-5)

National Standards

  • Geography (The World in Spatial Terms; Places and Regions: Physical Systems; Human Systems; Environment and Society)
  • Language Arts (research; oral presentation)
  • Science (Life Science; Science in Personal and Social Perspectives)
  • Social Studies (Global Connections)


  • Students identify their preconceptions about mountain gorillas and correct any misconceptions.
  • Students learn characteristics of and threats to the mountain gorilla.
  • Students identify the similarities between mountain gorillas and humans.

  • "Amazing Gorilla Facts" from the Gorilla Foundation (optional; see procedure section for link).
  • Pictures and videos of mountain gorillas from Web sites (see procedure section for suggestions), magazines, or books.
  • Student Activity 1: Meet the Mountain Gorillas (PDF)

Mountain gorillas are highly intelligent primates that live in close family groups caring for each other, eating, communicating, playing, and sleeping. In many ways mountain gorillas are just like humans. In fact, mountain gorillas and humans share almost 98 percent of their genetic makeup. Sadly, these majestic creatures are endangered, or at risk of disappearing from the planet, and need our help.

Only about 720 mountain gorillas remain today. About 380 of the world's mountain gorillas live in the Virunga (Vee-ROON-gah) Mountains, in Central Africa. Of the three parks in this region, Virunga National Park is home to the largest mountain gorilla population, around 200. Another roughly 340 mountain gorillas live outside the Virunga Mountains in Bwindi (Ba-WEEN-dee) Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

Several languages are spoken in these countries.
  • Rwanda has three official languages: Kinyarwanda, French, and English; Swahili is also used.
  • In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the official language is French.
  • Uganda’s official language is English.

The mountain gorillas face many threats. Among the most severe is habitat loss. In 1994, conflict between Rwanda’s two main ethnic groups erupted. This caused Rwandans and rebels to flee into the DRC, bringing conflict to the gorillas’ home in Virunga National Park.

Up to one million people live in camps at the base of the mountains. Charcoal is their main source of fuel for cooking, boiling water to make it safe to drink, and for heat. People are cutting down the park's trees to make charcoal. In the process, they are destroying the forests where the gorillas live and the plants that they eat.  While rangers work to protect the gorillas and the land in the park, they face obstacles. First, there are not enough of them to stop the charcoal production. Second, leaders of Virunga's illegal charcoal trade make millions of dollars from the business making it difficult for rangers to even get involved. Third, rangers are not paid well.
Other threats to the mountain gorillas include hunting and poaching. Poachers, who catch or kill animals illegally, try to catch mountain gorillas to sell to individuals or kill them to sell their parts. They also set traps to capture other animals, which can seriously hurt the mountain gorillas. Gorillas are susceptible to such human diseases as strep throat and measles. It is dangerous for the animals to be in close contact with humans for long periods of time.


1. Ask students: What do you know about mountain gorillas? Where have you seen gorillas? What words would you use to describe mountain gorillas? Have students share their responses. Then on a sheet of paper, have each student begin a KWL chart, creating three columns with the labels "What I Know," "What I Want to Know," and "What I Learned." Instruct students to complete the first two columns with information about the mountain gorilla. (Note: You may wish to have students create their charts the day before you teach the remainder of the lesson, so that you may preview what students would like to learn, as well as incorporate additional resources and facts, if necessary.)

2. Write the following words on the board: Africa, primates, silverback, knuckles, communicate, intelligent, gentle, endangered. Explain that each word has something to do with the mountain gorilla. Create small groups of students. Have students research each word and write one sentence for each that shows its significance. Also, instruct students to note similarities between humans and mountain gorillas as they research. To help students complete these tasks, you may choose to distribute hard copies of "Amazing Gorilla Facts" from the Gorilla Foundation at Or, have students visit the library for books about mountain gorillas, and/or direct students to the following Web sites for information:

3. When students have finished, have one volunteer from each group share sentences. Correct answers may include:
Mountain gorillas live in Africa.
Mountain gorillas are primates, an animal family that includes monkeys, apes, and humans.
One silverback, or strong male gorilla with silvery-gray hair on its back, protects and leads a gorilla family.
Gorillas walk on the knuckles of their hands.
Gorillas can communicate through gestures, expressions, and sounds. They can even learn sign language.   
Gorillas are very intelligent animals.
Gorillas are often called "gentle giants" because they are shy, peaceful, and would only attack a human if they felt very threatened.  
With only about 720 left, mountain gorillas are an endangered species.

4. Share why mountain gorillas are endangered. Refer to the background section to discuss the major threats to the mountain gorillas: habitat loss, conflict, hunting and poaching, and disease.

5. Return to students' group work. Have a volunteer from each group share similarities between mountain gorillas and humans, which may include: they are primates (bodies shaped like human bodies); mammals (warm-blooded animals that have backbones and hair or fur on their bodies and may produce milk to feed their young); share 98 percent of the same genes (segments of DNA that determine physical traits); can be gentle and shy; live in family groups; can be six feet tall; can communicate with sound, expressions, and gestures; can catch human diseases; adults normally have 32 teeth, ten fingers, ten toes, and ears on the side of their heads.

6. Have students return to their KWL charts and complete the last column, "What I Learned" with five facts about the mountain gorilla. Then have students correct statements in the first column, “What I Know,” if necessary.

7. Download and distribute Student Activity 1: Meet the Mountain Gorillas (PDF). Have students complete the activity at home to identify where mountain gorillas live, explore their natural habitat, and begin to think about why it is important to save them.  Answer Key: 1. Africa; 2. Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Red Sea, & Mediterranean Sea; 3. East; 4. Uganda; Rwanda, & DRC; 5. Answers will vary.

8. To explore further, read aloud Looking for Miza: The True Story of the Mountain Gorilla Family who Rescued One of Their Own  (Scholastic, 2008).

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