The Last King of Angkor Wat

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The Last King of Angkor Wat is a beautiful book by Graeme Base. Younger students will enjoy the story, a fable about a group of animal friends. Older students will get a good introduction to a study of Cambodia, where Angkor Wat — the largest religious structure in the world — is located.

Begin by reading the story to your class. We read picture books to all ages!

Four animal friends are hanging out in the ruins of Angkor Wat, on the Terrace of Elephants., debating which of them would make the best king. The Tiger points out his strength, the Buffalo her perseverence, the Gibbon his kindness, and the Gecko his bravery.

They suddenly notice an Elephant in their midst. The Elephant suggests that they solve the question with a race up the mountain.

As the animals completes their journeys and wait for admiration, the elephant points out not only the good things they’ve done, but also the areas in which they’ve failed.

It’s tough on the animals to get that feedback, but they learn from it. In a surprise twist on the typical fable ending, none of the animals wins. Instead, they continue living as friends, learn from one another, and improve. This is a different kind of happily every after.

Discuss how the feedback they received from the Elephant helped the animals to improve. Then choose from an elementary and a secondary level lesson plan below.

Adjective Animals (elementary)

The Tiger says he’s strong. The Gibbon says he would rule with compassion and kindness — he’s kind. the Water Buffalo says she would be a ruler who never gave up — she would be resilient. The Gecko says he is fearless.

Point out that the animals use adjectives, but they also use a verb phrase and a couple of nouns to describe themselves.

Review parts of speech if need be.

More adjectives used in the story:

  • worthy
  • old
  • brave
  • fearsome
  • fearless
  • mighty
  • broken
  • tangled
  • distant
  • tired
  • unaware
  • endless
  • afraid
  • slow
  • twisting
  • handy
  • astonished
  • happy
  • determined
  • untiring
  • foolhardy
  • alone
  • fabulous
  • considerate
  • lazy

On a second reading of the book, have students write adjectives as they hear them. As a class, list all the adjectives on your board or on sentence strips to use in your pocket chart.

Sort the adjectives: which one goes with which animal? Some of the adjectives refer to more than one animal, or to something else in the story, so there will be some adjectives left over from your sort.

Now, explore Angkor Wat with Google Maps Street View or Google Earth. Visit orientalarchitecture.com and look at the “fabulous carvings” of the Elephant King mentioned in the book.

Angkor Wat Exploration (secondary)

Read The Last King of Angkor Wat to the class. Invite students to explore the book’s pages visually. There’s a butterfly on each spread — can they find it?

Once students have had an opportunity to look at the pictures, ask them to tell you where they think the story takes place.

Remind students of other ancient cultures you’ve studied, find Cambodia on the map, and plunge in!

Online resources:

After spending a few class sessions exploring information about Angkor Wat, challenge students to create a project to share with the class:

  • Make a Pinterest board. This is a good group or class project. It provides good tech practice: search, highlight and copy, choose an image, edit text, drag and drop to change order, and more.
  • Create a diorama. Have students choose a section of Angkor Wat to recreate. They can write information about their chosen place and add their writing to the diorama.
  • Use Prezi to make a presentation to share.

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