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About This Lesson Plan


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Owen & Mzee Teaching Resources

Meet Owen & Mzee

Create a Tortoise Shell Class Quilt

In this activity, the class will work together to make a tortoise shell for Mzee. Each section of the shell, called a scute, will represent a decade of Mzee’s life. When finished, the class should be able to assemble a life sized quilt of the shell that shows major events in human history and the class’s history that Mzee has lived through.


Students will:

  • Learn about the the tortoise shell
  • Practice historical storytelling
  • Work together as a team on a class project
  • Utilize creativity


Several large sheets of poster board; Pencil or Pen; Colored scrap paper; Scissors


  1. Explain to students that an aldabra tortoise, such as Mzee, can have a shell that is 4 feet in length and 3 feet wide and live for over 200 years. Mzee is a middle-aged 130 year-old and has seen a great deal of change in his life.
  2. Show students the sections of a tortoise shell and explain that each section is called a "scute".
  3. Explain that the premise of this assignment is that the tortoise shell bears the weight of every year of that tortoise's life. Each event, good or bad, affects the shell. The class will work in groups to create Mzee's shell, as if it were a timeline of human history. Each scute represents a decade of Mzee's life, from 1880 - 2000.
  4. Tell students that they will be working together as a class to create a tortoise shell quilt that shows events in history, including class events and the history that Mzee has lived through.
  5. To prepare, the teacher should draw out an outline of a shell on several large sheets of poster board put together. Then draw 13 scutes (5 central and 8 costal). The marginal scutes, or the ones that outline the shell, should have enough spots for each class member's name and the supracaudal, or bottom 2 marginal scutes, can be reserved for the teacher and class names.
  6. The students should be broken up into 13 groups and given a stack of colored scrap paper.
  7. First, have students trace and cut out their scute in whichever color they choose. Having a good deal of variety will increase the aesthetic value of this project. Each group should be given a decade in some random way, so as to keep the task fair.
  8. Each group should symbolize major events from their decade using only the space provided on the scute. As long as the size of the scute is not compromised, students are free to be creative with their materials and content.
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