Explorer Study: Ibn Battuta


I particularly wanted to study the Islamic, medieval explorer Ibn Battuta.  Being a contemporary of Marco Polo, who we had studied at the beginning of the year, I felt a comparison study would be quite interesting.  Both travelled widely throughout the Eastern Medieval world; both met with similar tribes and peoples; and most importantly both wrote about it.  However, they came from different vantage points thanks to their religions.  What we had available to us was two pieces of primary evidence, written by the actual person during his life time, and written during a similar time period in history.  It was perfect!  We had already read about Marco Polo’s travels and carried out an fairly extensive study on him, the silk road and the Mongols:

As this would be a fairly short study, due to the fact that I do actually someday want to move past the crusades (!), they perused Wikipedia and watched the following video:

And then used this amazing picture book as our starting point:


This is a seriously informative and imaginatively illustrated book which really captured the Islamic influences of the time.  It contains Battuta’s own words and although it is obviously not his full works, it was good enough for our study:


As a quick revision and to check they had taken everything on board I set them the quiz, found here.  As we do comprehension exercises so infrequently, they were quite excited by the prospect!

I also asked them to write a quick paragraph about Battuta:


I had the children make up a very quick and simple map, adding details to it each day, from an old used, paper table-cloth.  A nice frugal way to envision exactly the route he took.  I drew an outline map of the world.  I gave the children the freedom to label any country or sea they recognised.  I wanted to test their knowledge of world geography, given I really do not do enough specific geography and kind of hope they learn what they need to vicariously through their other studies:

They got stuck in...
They got stuck in…
And I was fairly pleased with what they knew, given I've taught them little!
And I was fairly pleased with what they knew, given I’ve taught them little!

After painting the sea blue, the children (using the map at the back of the above book) mapped out Battuta’s route using some wool.  This activity not only consolidated Battuta’s travels and route for the children but also gave them practice transferring information from one map to another:

Ibn Battuta's travel
Ibn Battuta’s travel

The children also retraced Marco Polo’s steps in a completely different colour, adding to the key.  It was also such an easy method to add Marco Polo’s journey by simply copy off our previous map we had made during our Marco Polo studies:

Marco Polo and his route to Cathay

Thus a comparison could easily be seen:

Showing both travellers, with Marco Polo in red wool and Ibn Battuta in brown
Showing both travellers, with Marco Polo in red wool and Ibn Battuta in brown
The key
The key

The children read this and this.  To make the comparison study simpler for them, I also sourced the comparative passages from the two original books and made photocopies of the passages I wanted them to compare.

I photocopied Jimmie’s comparison note pages (free) for the children to fill in, as and when they came across similarities and differences between the two explorers.  I chose these particular Venn diagram type comparison note pages because I am teaching L11 Venn diagrams and groupings in her maths and I thought it tied in nicely:


I kept this study simple and mainly verbal.  It was, nonetheless, a useful exercise comparing the two using their very own written evidence, but coming from two very different points of view culturally speaking.

In my own research I came across these maps, information and questions.  I always like the idea of incorporating a bit more maths and the following lesson, linking geography, maths and a nice comparison of both travellers, fit in rather nicely.  That said, it was unfamiliar maths and all of us (including me) found it stretching!  But we did it and I think learnt something from it.  Mapping and calculating distances and then converting them between miles and kilometres made me remember why we might avoid geography.  I’m rarely bored but I was definitely heading in that direction:


All in all, this was a really good study, employing work carried out previously.  The past year or so I can really see the benefit to studying history deeply and in chronological order.  In so many cases one event or person in history is intrinsically linked to another.  Having some knowledge of the people who went before those we are currently studying is so helpful and gives us a really rounded picture of the history of this world.

As you can probably guess, geography wouldn’t be a strength of mine, a fact which will be rectified during the next couple of years when we look in-depth at the explorative age, covering all the well known explorers.  Maybe then I’ll be able to find my way around a map better than my 11 year old girls!

    Homegrown Learners


  1. This is really great! I love your map work and comparative studies! Thanks for sharing all your wonderful resources too! Sigh, I don’t know when we’re resuming our Marco Polo study. It’s constantly at the back of my mind!

    1. You know what? Sometimes it’s okay just to move on. Tiger’ll return to it when he is interested again, I’m sure! You’re doing such brilliant stuff with weather at the moment, I shouldn’t worry too much.

  2. I know what you mean about geography. It seems I am learning more now than I did in school – and happy about it! I love studying history chronologically. It is so very interesting to see how everyone fits together. Thank you for sharing all the resources you used.
    The children did a fantastic job on the map. We do the usual map studies, but one day I want to do a large one like you all have done. It is on the “list.”
    Have a blessed day, Claire.

    P.S. Evan wants to know if you have a brother. If so, did he grow up with Action Man? Did Gary grow up with Action Man or Geyperman? (He loves his GI Joes.)

    1. The map was so easy and quick, and best of cost nothing!
      Re. Action man, no neither T or Gary have ever played with action man. I’m not even sure what that is (sorry – that’s really showing my ignorance!)

  3. I continue to be amazed at the lessons and things that you kids do. Can I just send my kids to your house? I am impressed with what your kids are learning.

    1. I don’t keep anything. Nada. We live in a two bed house and there is no space for living, let alone art projects! I’m very unsentimental about it all (or at least I try to be). Personal presents that they have drawn me or made me, well, that’s a different matter all together!

  4. I like the map, but it doesn’t look that simple. It looks like a lot of time went into it. I think comparing these two explorers is an excellent idea.

    I was wondering about storing projects too. We sometimes keep favorites, useful or small things. We have done a few displays of our work at the local library. I also have a notebook for each child that spans about 5 years of schoolwork that was interesting.

  5. I LOVE your map idea! We are always looking for unique map activities and I haven’t seen anything like this before. I have several of those old table cloths…how did I know they would come in handy some day?!

    Thanks for sharing at the Finishing Strong LInk-up!

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