How to Save a Baby Elephant

A young elephant in Africa was alone and starving—and attacked by a lion. This is the amazing story of the people who worked hard to keep her alive and send her back into the wild.

Lexile Level: 590L / Guided Reading: Q / DRA Level: 40

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Learning Objective

In this first part of an incredible suite of connected texts, students will read a nonfiction story about an injured elephant in Africa who was nursed back to health. The story is paired with another about poaching, as well as a poem. All will build vocabulary and help make connections between texts.

Featured Skill

Main Idea and Supporting Details

Content-Area Connections

Social studies: geography
Science: animals, environment

Key Skills

Main idea and supporting details, vocabulary, cause and effect, key details, inference, author’s purpose, close reading, text connections


Standards Correlations

This article and lesson support the following standards:
Common Core anchor standards: R.1, R.2, R.3, R.5, R.6, R.9, W.2, SL.1, L.4, L.6
TEKS: 3.2, 3.4, 3.13, 3.20, 3.29, 3.30

Teaching Materials

Video Read-Aloud

 In this video, your students will hear Executive Editor Kara Corridan narrate the article as they watch gripping images and footage!

Vocabulary Slideshow

Activity Sheets

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Close Reading Questions
Pause and Think
Quiz - On Level
Quiz - Higher Level
Reading Kit: Main Idea and Supporting Details
Reading Kit: Inferences

Lesson plan

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Watch a Video/Preview Text Features (25 minutes)

• This story is accompanied by a Video Read-Aloud, in which editor Kara Corridan narrates the article as gripping photos and footage help students visualize what’s happening. Consider showing the video as a “first read.”
• Have students open their magazines to pages 4-5 and look at the headline, subhead, and photos. Make a point to go back to the photos after you read the story, when their significance will be clearer.
• Explain that this story takes place in the African country of Kenya. You can point out Kenya on a map for your students. (We have a small image on page 4, but you may want to show the country in larger context.)
 • Understanding poachers and poaching is key to comprehending this story, as well as the paired text that follows and the poem on page 32. Read the third paragraph of the article together. Ask: What is a poacher? Why do poachers kill elephants?



Introduce Academic Vocabulary (15 minutes)

• We have highlighted in bold the words that may be challenging and defined them on the page. Preview these words by projecting or distributing our vocabulary activity and completing it as a class.
• Highlighted words: baobab, endangered, illegally, herd, collapse, revive (Point out the baobab tree on page 4!)


Set a Purpose for Reading (5 minutes)

•  Call on a volunteer to read the Think and Read box on page 5 for the class.

Reading and Unpacking the Text

First read: Read the story as a class. At the end of each section, use the Pause and Think questions to quickly check comprehension.
Second read: Distribute some or all of the close-reading questions and preview them together. After the class answers the questions, discuss the answers together. Then discuss the critical-thinking question.


Close-Reading Questions (30 minutes)

• Read the first section. What usually happens to baby elephants that don’t have a mother? Why?  (cause and effect) They usually die because the other elephants cannot take care of these orphans.
• In “Surprise Attack,” what were the workers doing when they found the baby elephant? What does this tell you about the area where Ishanga lived? (key details) They were removing deadly wire traps that poachers had set throughout the park. This tells you that Ishanga lived in a dangerous place.
• In “Close to Death,” why do you think Ishanga was so scared of the workers who were trying to help her? (inference) She may not have trusted humans, especially if she saw the poachers kill her mother.
 • “Close to Death” says that the workers’ hearts pounded as they huddled around Ishanga. What can you infer about why their hearts were pounding? (inference) After Ishanga passed out, the workers were scared that she wouldn’t live.
• In “A New Home,” why does the author describe the tour Ishanga took in such detail? (author’s purpose) The author wants to show that the orphanage would be a nice place for Ishanga to live.

Critical-Thinking Question (10 minutes)

• Think about the title. How did the workers help save Ishanga’s life? How did the other elephants help her? (main idea and supporting details) Workers rescued Ishanga from the park where she had been attacked. They brought her to an orphanage, cared for her, and gave her medicine. She stayed at the orphanage, where older elephants showed her around, and she had many elephants to play with. Ishanga was able to leave when she was healthy. She roams free with her friends, and still comes back to the orphanage to visit the younger elephants.

• Call on a volunteer to read aloud the Think and Write box at the bottom of page 9.
• Have students work in pairs to underline details that answer the questions. One student can concentrate on the first question; the other can focus on the second. Regroup as a class to discuss which details are most important.
• Have students write their paragraphs in class or as homework.

Teaching Extras

Ishanga Footage

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has a Youtube channel where you can watch many videos. We recommend this one documenting an important moment for our very own Ishanga: The day she was transferred from the nursery to Ithumba, where older orphans live before they transition back to the wild. Note: This video relies on subtitles to tell the story, and they might be too quick for some of your students to read. We recommend reading them aloud as you watch. (If you want to explore other videos from DSWT, we highly recommend you watch them before sharing with your class. Some videos contain graphic footage of injured wildlife.)

No-Nonsense Ishanga

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust keeps detailed keeper diaries on their website, and we combed through them to learn more about Ishanga’s journey in the 4 years since Storyworks originally published this article. We learned that she is a strong, independent elephant. She is often referred to as “no-nonsense Ishanga” because she doesn’t take any nonsense from anybody!

Can You Tell Them Apart?

It can be tricky telling the difference between African elephants (like Ishanga) and Asian elephants. This graphic is super helpful!

Elephant Rescue in the United States

There’s a whole other side of elephant rescue right here in the United States: Rescuing elephants from circuses and zoos. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is a home for these retired elephants, where they can roam with other elephants and live out the rest of their lives in peace.

The Research Process

Our nonfiction articles provide a great opportunity to teach your students about the research process. Check out this post on the Storyworks Ideabook where we provide some easy questions to ask your students to get them thinking about the role of research in writing.

Learning Extensions

For every issue, we pick a story and curate some relevant learning extensions on the Storyworks Ideabook. Check out these four powerful extensions about poaching.