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					           Nature and Place Names in Arkansas
                             Lesson Plan by Ellen E. Turner
                                 2001-2002 Butler Fellow
            with Gordon Bradford, Ozark Natural Science Center Field Instructor

       Revised 2007-08 School Year Utilizing 2006 Social Studies Frameworks Including
       2007 Arkansas History Amendments and 2007 School Library Media Frameworks

In this lesson students will explore one of the impacts of the natural environment on
culture—the creation of Arkansas place names. Using Arkansas highway maps, they will
locate place names derived from the unique characteristics of each of the state’s six natural
divisions, becoming more familiar with these divisions in the process.

Grades:               5th -8th
                      Lesson may be modified for fourth grade or adapted for ninth
                      through twelfth grades.

Arkansas Curriculum Frameworks:

Arkansas History Student Learning Expectations:
G.1.4.2             Locate and describe physical characteristics of the six natural regions
                    of Arkansas:
                    *      Arkansas River Valley
                    *      Crowley’s Ridge
                    *      Mississippi Alluvial Plain
                    *      Ozark Mountains (plateau)
                    *      West Gulf Coastal Plain
                    *      Ouachita Mountains

H.6.4.3               Examine historical settlements in Arkansas:
                      *     Arkansas Post
                      *     Old Washington
                      *     Fort Smith

H.6.4.17              Identify areas in Arkansas that were explored by the following:
                      *       Hernando DeSoto
                      *       La Salle/De Tonti
                      *       Marquette
                      *       Joliet

G.1.5.2               Identify and describe the region of the United State in which Arkansas
                      is located

G.1.6.2               Examine the location, place, and region of Arkansas and determine the
                      characteristics of each
G.3.6.1          Describe the location of major cities in Arkansas and the United States
                 and the availability of resources and transportation in those areas

G.1.AH.7-8.1     Compare and contrast the six geographical land regions of Arkansas:
                 *    Ozark Mountains (plateau)
                 *    Ouachita Mountains
                 *    Arkansas River Valley
                 *    Mississippi Alluvial Plain
                 *    Crowley’s Ridge
                 *    West Gulf Coastal Plain

G.1.AH.7-8.2     Identify and map the major rivers of Arkansas

G.1.AH.7-8.3     Describe factors contributing to the settlement of Arkansas

G.1.AH.7-8.4     Research the origins of key place names in Arkansas

EA.3.AH.7-8.1    Discuss the impact of the first European explorers in Arkansas:
                 *      Hernando DeSoto
                 *      Robert de LaSalle
                 *      Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet

EA.3.AH.7-8.2    Identify key individuals and groups related to the settlement of
                 *       Henri De Tonti
                 *       John Law
                 *       Thomas Nuttall
                 *       William Dunbar
                 *       George Hunter
                 *       Henry Schoolcraft
                 *       G.W. Featherstonhaugh
                 *       Bernard de LaHarpe

G.1.AH.9-12.1    Investigate the six geographical land regions of Arkansas
                 *       Ozark Mountains (plateau)
                 *       Ouachita Mountains
                 *       Arkansas River Valley
                 *       Mississippi Alluvial Plain
                 *       Crowley’s Ridge
                 *       West Gulf Coastal Plain

G.1.AH.9-12.2    Examine the practical uses of the major rivers in Arkansas

G.1.AH.9-12.3    Analyze factors contributing to the settlement of Arkansas

G.1.AH.9-12.4    Research the origins of key place names in Arkansas

EA.3.AH.9-12.1   Research pre-historic cultures in Arkansas:
                 *     Archaic
                 *     Woodland
                 *     Mississippian traditions
School Library Student Learning Expectations:
A.4.5.1, A. 4.6.1, A.4.7.1, A.4.8.1, A.4.9.1, A.4.10.1, A.4.11.1, A.4.12.1 – Use resources and/or
technology tools for a predetermined task

Encyclopedia of Arkansas Resources:
Arkansas Overview, Geography and Geology

The teacher will need to select the appropriate social studies student learning expectations for
his or her students, review the key terms, and make copies, as needed, of map included in
lesson plan. Collaboration with the school library media specialist is suggested for utilization of
the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. See above links for lesson resources
or see the link for this Arkansas History technology resource at

Key Terms Defined:
landscape: An expanse of scenery that can be seen in a single view.

topography: The surface features of a place or region.

plateau: An elevated, comparatively level expanse of land.

invertebrates: Simple animals without backbones or spinal columns.

mesa: A broad, flat-topped landform with one or more cliff-like sides, common in the
southwest United States.

alluvium: Sediment deposited by flowing water, as in a riverbed, flood plain, or delta.

loess: A buff to gray windblown deposit of fine-grained soil.

Time Frame:       Three or Four Fifty Minute Class Periods

  • Access to a computer lab
      Thirteen Arkansas State Highway Maps. Note: The teacher can order free copies in
      boxes of 25 or 50 from the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Dept., Map
      Sales, PO Box 2261, Little Rock, AR 72203-2261 / phone: (501) 569-2444.
      Permanent marker
      Pushpins in five different colors
      Large bulletin board
      Masking tape
                           Arkansas’ Six Natural Divisions

 Adapted from Foti, Thomas and Gerald T. Hanson. Arkansas and the Land. Fayetteville: University of
                                  Arkansas Press, 1992, p. 36.

Note: For a very nice full-color topographic map of Arkansas without the county lines see

Also use the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture Map of the Six Natural
Divisions of Arkansas.
Background Information:
        People have given names to features of the natural environment of Arkansas,
including mountains, streams, springs, caves, etc. They have also given names to the built
environment, including towns and cities. Most place names in Arkansas were given during
the time of European settlement of the state, between 1600 and 1900. Some place names
are French, Spanish, or other languages, since many of the early explorers of the state
were from France, Spain, and other countries. Native Americans had their own place
names, and the early settlers also adopted a number of these as well.
        Many of the place names chosen by European explorers and early settlers reflect
the natural characteristics of the area. For example, the town of Prairie Grove was
established on a once vast tall-grass prairie located in Northwest Arkansas, and Hot
Springs was named for the unique thermal springs that attract thousands of tourists to Hot
Springs National Park each year.
        As they traveled across Arkansas, the early European explorers noticed striking
differences in the landscape. The eastern part of the state was covered with thousands of
acres of hardwood bottomlands, while the northwest region consisted of rugged hills and
dry, rocky soils. These different patterns of topography and vegetation form what scientists
call natural divisions. The natural divisions of Arkansas are drawn on the map above. Each
of Arkansas’ six natural divisions has unique characteristics, summarized below:

Ozark Plateau Natural Division: The Ozark Plateau (often called “mountains”) consists of
a large plateau that has been uplifted and later eroded by water, forming flat-topped
“erosional hills.” A shallow sea once covered this area. As the living organisms in the sea
died, their shells fell to the bottom of the water, forming deep layers. Eventually pressure
transformed these layers into a sedimentary rock known as limestone. Layers of sand and
clay eventually formed sandstone and shale as well. These layers can be seen in road
cuts, hillside bluffs, and in large bluffs beside streams.
        The streams of the Ozarks are fast flowing and clear, with gravel bottoms. Because
limestone is easily dissolved, the Ozarks are riddled with caves and sinkholes. Clear, cold
springs are also common. Caves provide a unique habitat for living things, and some
unusual animals in the Ozarks include the blind cavefish and a wide variety of bats and
cave-dwelling invertebrates.
        Native vegetation includes tall-grass prairies and a mixed oak-hickory hardwood
forest. Shortleaf pines are sometimes found on the south-facing slopes, and eastern
redcedars are common in the rocky soils typical of the region.

Arkansas River Valley Natural Division: The primary feature of the Arkansas River Valley
is the large river that flows through the region. However, the most interesting feature may
be the large, flat-topped mountains, called “mesas,” that are found here. One of these, Mt.
Magazine, is the tallest mountain in Arkansas, rising to an elevation of about 2,700 feet.
The topography of the Arkansas Valley offers a striking contrast
between the low bottomlands in the river valley and the tall mountains. Most of this natural
division, however, consists of gently rolling uplands.
        Vegetation varies from an upland hardwood/shortleaf pine forest to bottomland
hardwoods in the low, often-flooded lands in the heart of the valley. Prairies may also be
found in this natural division.
Ouachita Mountains Natural Division: The Ouachita Mountains were formed by folding,
which occurred when layers of rock were squeezed up—much like a rug pushed up against
a wall. Layers of twisted rock may be seen today in locations eroded by water. The long,
narrow ridges typical of this area run roughly west to east, so there are extensive north- and
south-facing slopes. The variety of conditions on these slopes has created unique plant
and animal communities. Shortleaf pine and upland hardwoods typify the forests, with pine
favored on the warmer and drier south-facing slopes, and hardwoods on the cooler and
moister north-facing slopes.
        Clear, spring-fed, fast-flowing streams are found in the Ouachitas. Lowland streams
are also found, as well as lowland rivers like the Ouachita River. Thermal springs are
unique to this natural division. A 20-acre area of Hot Springs National Park contains 47 of
these springs, whose temperatures range from 94-147° Fahrenheit.

West Gulf Coastal Plain Natural Division: The name West Gulf Coastal Plain describes
this natural division well. Once the north shore of the Gulf of Mexico, the topography the
Coastal Plain consists of gently rolling, sandy hills. The southwest portion of this natural
division once teemed with shellfish while covered by the Gult, creating beds of chalk from
their shells. The sandy soils of the Coastal Plain favor pine trees. Bottomland hardwoods
are common in the flat, low areas near the slow-moving streams typical of this natural
        Natural gas and oil are found in this part of the Coastal Plain. Ancient marine
organisms formed the petroleum deposits that brought wealth to many people near El
Dorado. Bauxite, a mineral used to make aluminum, is also found here, but the most
unique mineral found in the Coastal Plain is diamonds, which were created by the intense
heat of a volcano millions of years ago.

Mississippi Alluvial Plain Natural Division: Another name for this natural division is “the
Delta.” Created by the action of large rivers, the Delta consists of low, flat bottomlands with
rich soil that is ideal for farming. The Mississippi, Arkansas, and White Rivers meandered
over the surface of the Delta for many years, leveling the rolling hills that were once there
and creating a fertile plain. Sand, rock, silt, clay, and other material deposited by the water
(alluvium) give this natural division its name.
        Parts of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain flood frequently, so the plants that grow here
must be well adapted to flooding. Cypress and tupelo are two trees that can live in the
permanently flooded lakes and swamps of the Delta. Many of the forests have been
removed for agriculture, but the remaining bottomland forests provide good habitat for
animals like fish, ducks, and even black bears.

Crowley’s Ridge Natural Division: Crowley’s Ridge is a small natural division, consisting
of a strip of land only 150 miles long and no more than ten miles wide and
surrounded by the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. The base of Crowley’s Ridge consists of
gravel and sand deposited millions of years ago when Arkansas was covered by an inland
sea. Rivers meandering on either side of Crowley’s Ridge removed those deposits from the
Delta, but the Ridge was left standing. Later the glaciers melted and glacial dust known as
loess (pronounced “luss”) was carried by wind across the continent. A deep cap of this
wind-blown soil was deposited on Crowley’s Ridge.
       The steep hills of Crowley’s Ridge support a unique plant and animal community.
Much of the forest is oak and hickory, typical of the Ozark Plateau, but tulip trees and other
plants more common east of the Mississippi are also found on Crowley’s Ridge.

Activity 1:
1. Using a permanent marker, refer to the map above and outline just the Ozark Plateau on
two of the Arkansas State Highway Maps. Do the same for the other five divisions until you
have two maps for each of the six divisions, for a total of twelve maps. (Alternatively, you
might want students to do this.)

2. Describe the characteristics of the six natural divisions of Arkansas, including plants,
animals, and geological features of each unique division, using the “Background
Information” above.

3. Invite students to think about the importance of the Arkansas landscape for the people
who settled the state. Ask the students to think of some names of towns and cities that
reflect living and non-living components of the Arkansas landscape. You might want to help
get the list started with names of cities like “Pine Bluff” and “Bauxite.”

4. Divide the students into pairs and give each pair one of the twelve marked Arkansas
        Note: Because Crowley’s Ridge and the Arkansas River Valley are both small in
comparison with the other natural divisions, you may wish to assign both of these divisions

5. Assign each pair the task of listing the names of communities, counties, bodies of water,
and public lands (national forests, state parks, wildlife management areas) that are derived
from plants, animals, or geological features.
        Note: Students may be confused about when to list bodies of water. These should
be listed only if the name of the aquatic feature is that of a plant, animal, or another body of
water. For example, the Mulberry River and Cedar Creek should be listed, because these
were named for plants. The Buffalo River should also be listed because it was named for
an animal, but the Arkansas River should not be listed because it was not named for a
plant, animal, or geological feature of the landscape.

6. Bring together the pairs of students assigned to each division into groups of four.
Ask them to select five of the place names from their lists that describe a prominent
feature of that natural division and write a brief description of the importance of that
feature to the people of the region. For example, students who are assigned the
Ouachita Mountains Natural Division might include Magnet Cove, Crater of Diamonds State
Park, and Hot Springs.
7. Have the students report their findings to the class.

Activity 2:
1. Assign colored pushpins to the living and non-living components discovered in Activity
One. For example, green for plants, red for animals, white for minerals, brown for
topographical features (mountains, bluffs, etc.), and blue for water and waterways.

2. Using a permanent marker, outline all six natural divisions on the remaining Arkansas
State Highway Map. Affix this map to a large bulletin board.

3. Have each group of four students in turn mark all of the natural place names they found
in their division with the appropriate colored pushpins.

4. When all of the groups are finished ask the students to look for patterns in the colors of
the pushpins. For example, is there a division that has more mineral place names than the
other divisions? If so, why?

Activity 3:
1. Sketch a large map of a section (or all) of the school ground, then divide the map into a
workable number of divisions.

2. Assign students into cooperative learning groups of three and assign each group a
division of the school ground based on the map.

3. Take the students to the school ground and assign each group the task of giving a place
name to at least ten features of their assigned division. When the students return to the
classroom, list the names on each division of your map.

4. Next, switch the groups assigned to each division. With lists of place names and
masking tape in hand, take the students outdoors again and challenge the new groups to
identify five of the features named by the old groups and label them with masking tape.

5. Discuss the names selected by the students. Were most of the names geological (e.g.,
Sandy Hill, Rocky Top), or did the names reflect the plants and animals located on the
school ground (e.g., Bird’s Nest Tree, Lone Elm)? Were any of the names derived from
human-made aspects of the school grounds?

Activity 4:
1. Have each student select a place name from his or her natural division (Activity 1) to
research. Some names have interesting histories associated with natural resources; for
example, Oil Trough was named for the structures used to store black bear fat. (Note:
A good resource for information regarding place names is Ernie Deane’s book Arkansas
Place Names available at most local libraries; see “Sources” below.)
Have each student select a place name from the Arkansas Department of Parks and
Tourism’s website:
2. Ask students to report their findings to the class and answer two questions:
    A. Is the feature the place is named after still noticeable? Give details. For example,
       where is the “little rock” that gave the capitol city its name?
    B. Would there be a better name for the place based on the landscape as it is today?
       For example, black bears are no longer used for oil; is there a better name for Oil
       Trough? (A related question: Is there historical value in place names?)
1. For French names that reflect features of the landscape refer to
1.html. (You may know that Bois d’arc Lake in Southwest Arkansas is named for the
common tree, Osage Orange (Bois d’arc), but did you know that Lake Chicot in Southeast
Arkansas is named for the French word chicot, which means “stump”? Or the name
“DeGray” (DeGray Lake, near Arkadelphia) is derived from the French name de gres, which
means sandstone?)

Arkansas Department of Planning. 1974. Arkansas Natural Area Plan. State of Arkansas,
Little Rock, Arkansas.

Dean, Ernie. Arkansas Place Names. Branson, Mo.: Ozarks Mountaineer, 1986.

Foti, Thomas and Gerald T. Hanson. Arkansas and the Land. Fayetteville: University of
Arkansas Press, 1992.

Greer, Tom and Lavell Cole. Arkansas: The World Around Us. New York:
MacMillan/McGraw Hill School Publishing Company, 1991.

Smith, Kenneth L. et al., Bill Shepherd, ed. Arkansas’s Natural Heritage. Little Rock:
August House, 1984.

    These lesson plans are made possible in part through the support of the Arkansas
  Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Arkansas Natural
   Heritage Commission, and the Bridge Fund at the Arkansas Community Foundation.

     The Taylor Foundation (Little Rock, Arkansas) makes Butler Center lesson plans possible.
 Contact the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System, 100 Rock St., Little
            Rock, AR, 72201. 501-918-3056 and


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