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Learning area: Geography
Year level: Year 5
Country: Cambodia
General capability: Intercultural understanding

This learning sequence explores how the people of one region have adapted to seasonal floods. Students use a collection of photographs and limited resources to imagine how it would be to live in such conditions by writing a day-in-the-life diary.

Key inquiry questions

  • How have people adapted to life on a floating village that experiences great seasonal changes?
  • How can communities adapt to seasonal flooding to take advantage of both wet and dry seasons?
  • What would it be like to live in an area where every year it goes from dry to flooding?


Kompong Floating VillageHouses perched 10 metres above the ground

Related resources

Activity 1: About a floating village

In this activity you will learn about life in a floating village, Kompong Khleang, where in the wet season the area floods, but in the dry season the waters recede and houses sit 10 metres above the ground.

Key inquiry question: How have people adapted to life on a floating village that experiences great seasonal changes?

Location and features of Tonlé Sap

  1. Look at the Map of Cambodia (on the right) and locate Tonlé Sap lake. The village of Kompong Khleang, which is not marked on the map, is situated by Tonlé Sap Lake.
  2. As a class, discuss the physical features of the lake and the surrounding area.

In many parts of the world, particularly the Asia-Pacific region, people face an uncertain future because of rising sea levels. Islands such as Kiribati are sinking into the ocean and Bangladesh suffers from devastating floods. Yet some regions are able to adapt and take advantage of seasonal floods. One such village is Kompong Khleang in Cambodia.

Kompong Khleang is located in the flood plain of the Tonlé Sap, the biggest lake in South-East Asia. The water level of the lake fluctuates greatly throughout the year so the villagers live either in houses built on stilts or on floating platforms. During the wet season, from October to January, the Mekong River floods into the Tonlé Sap and the surrounding area. By February and March the water begins to recede so that by April the outer areas of the lake are dry. Now the villages are no longer 'floating', but perch on stilts 10 metres above the ground.

Because of the regularity of the flooding and the gradual rise of the flood plain, the villagers of Kompong Khleang have been able to build a permanent community within the flood plain of the lake. Its population is estimated between 10,000 and 20,000 people live in harmony with the changing ecosystem that the lake provides, mostly fishing in the lake and farming in the rich flood plains around it.

In Kompong Khleang you can see a range of activities. The centre of the village, which is actually an island, is busy with its markets, shops, pagoda and schools, whereas a short distance away, century-old traditions continue as residents of every age prepare the smoked and dried fish that is sold in stores across Cambodia and South-East Asia.

About Kompong Khleang

Visitors to the floating village in Cambodia are amazed at how the residents have adapted to an ecosystem that changes drastically with the seasons.

  1. Discuss with another student what it would be like to live in a place where half the year you can only travel by boat and the other half you climb down 10 metres to farm on huge flat fields.
  2. Look carefully at the picture of Kompong Khleang (on the right).
  3. Use the See–Think–Wonder routine to see the human structures in the photograph that are different from your neighbourhood.
  4. Describe why you think these are the way they are.
  5. Wonder, or raise questions, about things in the photograph you may not understand or want to learn more about. Discuss these with members of your class.

Daily life

  1. Identify at least five human activities that you think are most important to how you would live in a floating island setting.
  2. Describe how your daily life would be different in the wet and dry seasons.
  3. Make a list of five things you do every day that would be very different in the wet season when your house is surrounded by water.
  4. Make a list of five things you do every day that would be very different in the dry season when your house stands on stilts 10 metres off the ground.
  5. Write five questions about aspects of daily life in Kompong Khleang that you would like to find out about.
  6. Use these questions when you are searching for information later in this module. 

Acknowledgements

Images: Map of Cambodia courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin; Kompong Khleang, Cambodia by Lechua Photography(CC BY 2.5)

Activity 2: Living with seasonal change

In this activity you will investigate how people live on Tonlé Sap lake and gather information from photographs about daily life in Kompong Khleang village.

Key inquiry question: How can communities adapt to seasonal flooding to take advantage of both wet and dry seasons?

Gathering information

Very little written information is available on the internet about what it's like to live in Kompong Khleang. However, by sifting through a range of sources and looking closely at photographs, you will be able to gather more information.

  1. Begin with your own ideas and build your knowledge by using the lists you created in Activity 1.
    • Five activities in Kompong Khleang based on a single photograph
    • Five things in daily life that would be different in the wet season
    • Five things that would be different in the dry season
    • Five questions you would like answered
  2. Look at the map of Tonlé Sap lake (on the right).
  3. Read about the Tonlé Sap Lake & Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary. Use the subtitles, captions and images to create a list of facts about life in the floating village.
  4. When you have enough information, write a diary entry about life in the floating village. Be willing to change your mind if the facts from this brochure tell a different story from the one you imagined.
  5. Using the images as a guide, consider what people might be talking about, what they eat, think and care about.
  6. Watch the video about Cambodia's declining fish stocks.
    Cambodia's declining fish stocks
  7. Write notes on things you find interesting or imagine are happening.
  8. Read the Life on the Tonlé Sap blog entry.
  9. Use it only to check your facts one last time. Is there anything you think that might not actually be true?
  10. Add or delete anything from your notes that will help you write a factual account of daily life in Kompong Khleang.

Activity 3: My diary about life in a floating village

In this activity, you will write and publish a blog entry, based on your imagination, of a child living in Kompong Khleang.

Key inquiry question: What would it be like to live in an area where every year it goes from dry to flooding?

Writing a blog

An international project is creating a website that will gather together blog entries from children all over the world on one day to create a snapshot of a day in the life of the world’s children. The project team has come to your village and selected you to write a blog entry about one day in your life.

Before starting, consider that for centuries villagers along the flood plain of the Tonlé Sap have lived in harmony with the ebb and flow of this 'pulsing heart' of Cambodia.

  1. Decide if you will write about life during the wet season or the dry season.
  2. Check your facts about the weather and conditions by looking at the climatic graph of Siem Reap, the largest city near Kompong Khleang.
  3. Choose a month from the graph and note the temperature and average number of days with rain.
  4. Date your diary entry in your chosen month and include details from the climate statistics to make your entry more realistic.
  5. Write a diary entry describing what the main events of your day might be like. Consider what you have seen in the photographs, your imagination and the resources you have explored.
  6. Re-read the entry to see if you have more ideas and details you'd like to add now that you are going to publish the writing.
  7. Consider exchanging your diary entry with a classmate to see if you can improve on it. Use this as a source of inspiration but don't copy another's ideas and imagination.
  8. Look for images you can legally use to illustrate your diary entry.

Collecting images

  1. Save images you find from the collections below to your hard drive so you can later upload them.
  2. Explore the collection of Tonlé Sap images in the Wikimedia Commons. If you use one of these images, make sure you link back to the author cited.
  3. Find an image from the collection. Go to the Creative Commons search page. Enter 'Kompong Khleang' in the search field. Un-tick the checkboxes for 'use for commercial purposes' and 'modify, adapt, or build upon'. Make sure the 'Flickr' button is selected in the panel. Click the large green 'Search' button. View the thumbnail images in 'medium' size so you can get a better view of what’s shown. If you use one of these Creative Commons images, make sure you link back to the author cited.
  4. Use the Instructions for Tackk to publish your diary entry and images.
  5. Follow the instructions to share your masterpiece with the world, for example, as a blog.

Activity 4: Reflection

You have looked at photographs of people living in a very unusual environment.

You have explored more photographs and online resources to get a better idea of what life would be like living in Kompong Khleang.

You took all these ideas and shaped them into a piece of creative writing where you imagined a 'Day in the life'.

  1. Now, reflect on your thoughts and feelings about how it would be to live in a place where dramatic changes in the environment are not tragedies, but regular cycles that you and your community adapt to and live with happily and in harmony.
  2. Respond to the prompt or freely reflect on what you have learned: I used to think … but now I think …

This learning sequence is designed to help students appreciate a very different lifestyle that exists in a Cambodian fishing and farming village. Photographs offer a poignant insight into the lives of these people who have lived for centuries in harmony with the floods and floodplains of the vast Tonlé Sap lake. Additional information about Cambodia and the lake allows students to imagine what life would be like in such an environment.

Activity 1: Life in a floating village

Students begin by looking closely at one image and then engaging with a collection that portrays life in this 'floating village'. This approach invokes the pedagogy of Visible Thinking as championed by Project Zero of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Activity 2: Living with seasonal change

Exploration is guided by students' earlier conjecture into how they think life would be different.

Additional resources are provided to augment students' imaginations. An Al Jazeera video reporting on declines in fishing harvest offers great detail on many aspects of daily life. Furthermore, links to other websites share a tourist's impressions of the people and their pastimes.

Activity 3: My diary: Life in a floating village

The inquiry process now shifts to its creative synthesis phase. Students are asked to draw from their imagination and the information gained through research to illustrate a diary entry of a typical day-in-the-life of a young villager in Kompong Khleang. Students publish their diary entries to a wider audience as a way to increase their engagement, accuracy and self-esteem.

Activity 4: Reflection

Finally, students reflect on what it would be like to live in a place where dramatic changes in the environment are not tragedies, but regular cycles that you and your community have successfully accommodated for hundreds of years.

Useful websites

From the Asian Development Bank


It is recommended that teachers preview websites to ensure they are suitable for their students prior to use in class. Content accessed via these links is not owned or controlled by Asia Education Foundation and is subject to the terms of use of the associated website.

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