Unit 1: Ancient Mesopotamia
Explain the features of civilisations and the development of civilisation in Mesopotamia.
Examples of learning activities
- Develop a glossary of key terms relevant to Ancient Mesopotamia and the features of a civilisation, such as Euphrates, agriculture, city-states and priest-kings. Add to the glossary over the course of the unit. Test each other on the glossaries (for example, at the start of class) checking for spelling and understanding.
- Discuss the meaning of the word ‘civilisation’. Investigate whether this meaning has changed over time and provide historical or archaeological arguments to support views on the features of civilisations.
- Evaluate a definition of the term ‘civilisation’, such as that proposed in R. Chadwick’s
First Civilizations: Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, Equinox Publishing, London (page 20). Create a table that identifies the technological, political, cultural and social features of a civilisation.
- Create a detailed timeline starting at the Early Dynastic Period (2900 BCE) and concluding at the end of the Ur III Period (2004 BCE) in a table format that includes the headings: social, political and economic features of Mesopotamia. Update regularly as a summary activity throughout the unit, identifying different historical interpretations and providing evidence to support the arguments.
Create an annotated map that shows the physical environment and its influence on the development of civilisation in Mesopotamia. The map should include the geographical location of Mesopotamia, natural features and resources, as well as urban settlements.
- Create an annotated poster about one of the following and how it provides evidence of the early features of early societies: art, iconography, writing, tools, building complexes and archaeological sites.
- Create a diagram that illustrates the process of Carbon-14 breakdown and the way this process can be used to determine the age of material culture. Write a paragraph on relative and absolute dating and compare stratigraphy to radiocarbon dating.
- Create a table that compares the theories of the development of agriculture. Explain why the theories changed over time and provide evidence.
- Use a visual organiser, such as a mind map or fishbone diagram, to document the development and impact of agriculture on the societies of Mesopotamia. Use this information to write an evaluation of the role of agriculture on the development of civilisation in Mesopotamia. Reflect broadly and consider wider impacts, such as the growth of cities, monumental architecture and writing.
- Investigate both the material remains and the translated cuneiform tablets from Ebla, Tell Mardikh in Syria as an example of a key northern Mesopotamian city. Consider what may be learnt about the economy and trade by examining the tablets and reflect on how the idea of a large urban centre ‘travelled’ from southern Mesopotamia to northern Syria.
- Read extracts from
The Epic of Gilgamesh and create a table with the headings: social, political and economic. Note any relevant examples and quotes from the text. Use a lotus diagram, or similar visual organisier, to evaluate the significance of
The Epic of Gilgamesh as a source of evidence about Ancient Mesopotamia.
- Examine the causes and consequences of the reign of Sargon of Akkad in a video blog. The video blog should refer to the growth of the Akkadian empire, Sargon’s later reign and the Third Dynasty of Ur, and draw on the Chronicle of Early Kings and the epic King of Battle as sources.
- Create a collaborative annotated poster about Sargon of Akkad. In groups of three, each student examines a different aspect of Sargon’s reign, including his rise to power, the characteristics of his reign and the growth of the Akkadian empire. Combine all the research findings to create the poster.
- Evaluate the representation of Sargon in historical sources. Working in two groups, one examines the
King of Battle; the other, the
Chronicle of Early Kings. Write an evaluation of the representations of Sargon in these historical sources.
- Undertake a ‘silent talk’ activity to explore the cultural expressions of the Akkadian empire. Examine a series of A3 posters placed around the room that depict Akkadian sources such as artworks, sculpture, and written texts. Using post-it notes, add observations to the posters about the example’s significance. Use the post-it note comments to frame a class discussion that evaluates the significance of Ancient Mesopotamia.
- Complete an alphabet brainstorm to recall as much information as possible about an idea, person, event or concept that begins with a selected letter of the alphabet. The brainstorm could be in response to a stimulus, such as a primary source, a video or media resource, or a question derived from the key knowledge.
Construct an annotated map of Mesopotamia
Students are provided with an outline map of Mesopotamia that includes rivers.
Students require access to an atlas and online geographical information in order to annotate the map.
Students complete the following activities:
- Annotate the map with the following:
- rivers – draw over them with a blue marker and indicate their flow with arrows
- topographical features, such as hills and mountain ranges, including names
- natural resources, such as metals – label with their chemical symbol, such as Au for gold
- early urban settlements – label with a square with their name above.
- Label the map with trade networks; for example, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, shells from the Persian Gulf and timber from Lebanon.
- Write a description of how geography influenced the growth of urban settlements and the need to construct canals.
- Read the article ‘Mesopotamian climate change’.
- Discuss in pairs how this article corresponds with the annotated maps and the development of early settlements in Mesopotamia.
- Using the annotated maps, write an evaluation of the geographical features of early Mesopotamia. Comment on the growth of human settlement, availability of natural resources and how this may impact upon those settlements, and the development of a civilisation.
Explain continuity and change in Ancient Mesopotamia.
Examples of learning activities
Discuss and evaluate the Law Code of Hammurabi
Background information and text of the
Law Code of Hammurabi.
Photograph of the basalt stele of the Law Code of Hammurabi and background information (The Louvre, Paris)
Students complete the following activities:
- Working in groups of two or three, each group is allocated ten to fifteen laws from different sections of the Law Code.
- Each group reviews their allocated laws and evaluates the significance of social status in the laws. The results of this interpretation of the historical source can be summarised by annotating the allocated laws.
- Groups then consider the implication of Law 196: ‘If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.’ [An eye for an eye.]
- Based on the laws examined and consideration of Law 196, students discuss, as a class, whether the Law Code Stele illustrated equality before the law.
- Use the discussion to create a
- Drawing on the background material and wider reading, individually write an extended paragraph evaluating the importance of social status in the Law Code of Hammurabi and the wider historical significance of the code.
Unit 2: Ancient Egypt
Explain the features of the Old Kingdom Egypt and the First Intermediate Period and analyse the distribution and expression of power.
Examples of learning activities
- Build a shared glossary of key terms and features of Ancient Egypt. Format the glossary as a table so that it can be easily maintained. One student in each lesson is appointed to update the glossary, which can be used as the basis of a range of classroom activities; such as spelling tests to increase familiarity with unusual words and names, and matching games to test understanding of terms.
- Create an annotated timeline that includes dynastic periods and key examples of the material record and written sources. Update regularly, as a short activity at the beginning or end of a class. This becomes a source for referral in other activities in order to support an argument that requires sources as evidence; for example, essay writing or source analysis.
- Construct an annotated map that shows the physical environment and its influence on the development of civilisation in Egypt. The map should include the geographic location of Egypt, natural features and resources at the start of the Old Kingdom. Add other features as they are studied; such as growth and patterns of urban settlements, trade routes, the expansion of Upper Egypt, the building of the pyramids of Djoser and Meidum, the pyramid fields at Dashur and the complex of Dynasty VI at Giza, the cemeteries of Saqqara, Giza and Dashur. The evidence included on the annotated map can be regularly reviewed to explain how civilization developed in Ancient Egypt.
- Create a diagram outlining the organisation of power and the role of kings in Old Kingdom Egypt.
- Create a table outlining how the features of Ancient Egypt changed and/or stayed the same in the transition from Old Kingdom Egypt to the Early Dynastic Period. Include the distribution of power, location of key settlements and borders, cultural beliefs and practices, and key architectural monuments. In groups, fill in the table and then update changes at the end of each dynasty. Use this table as a record of evidence to write an explanation of the extent of continuity and change, explaining its causes and consequences. This activity can be repeated at various points in the course.
Analyse primary sources, such as the Narmer Palette or the Pyramid Texts, using a thinking routine such as FCCF (Form, Content, Context, Function).
- Write an extended response explaining how the Narmer Palette can be used as evidence of the significance of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.
- Identify beliefs about the afterlife and funerary practices and customs in Old Kingdom Egypt. Plan a funeral for a pharaoh, noble or worker. Choice Mutual’s
A Historical Look at Ancient Egyptian Burial Practices contains a collection of useful online sources.
- Create an annotated timeline of the history of excavations and archaeological discoveries of the Old Kingdom. Include historical interpretations about the significance of each find. Write a report tracing how interpretations have changed over time.
- Use the question ‘How does Egyptian architecture represent the authority of the king?’ and, in groups, choose a topic from: the pyramids of Djoser and Meidum, the Pyramid Texts, the pyramid fields at Dashur, the complex of Dynasty VI at Giza, the cemeteries of Saqqara, Giza and Dashur. Identify three historical sources to draw on as evidence in response to the question. Each group presents their findings in the order that that buildings were built.
The Admonitions of Ipuwer and make a list of the problems presented in the text. Using knowledge about the organisation of power, write a response to Ipuwer’s letter from a king.
- In response to the question: ‘What factors contributed to the collapse of centralised power in the Old Kingdom?’, create a table that identifies the causes of change and their consequences.
- As an exit task, make a poster of the historical inquiry questions (provided in the Study Design) for Unit 2 and display it on the wall. At the end of each lesson, answer the questions based on the new knowledge gained. Keep a record of responses or create a class set in a shared drive.
Analyse sources using a thinking routine
Choose from a range of teaching strategies for analysing historical sources. The FCCF thinking routine (Form, Content, Context, Function) is designed to assist students to analyse sources before they use them as evidence in their responses.
Students are presented with a primary source(s), either visual or written, such as the Narmer Palette, an extract from the Pyramid Texts, an extract from
The Admonitions of Ipuwer or selected examples of tomb goods or decoration from the University College London’s webpage ‘Burial customs of the Old Kingdom’.
A graphic organiser is a useful means of visually organising responses. Alternatively, students can make notes in their notebooks next to each letter in the acronym.
Students look at or read the source before they begin the thinking routine.
- Form: Students identify the form of the source using captions, titles, authorial attribution and their knowledge of types of primary source (e.g. papyri, statue, relief, tomb painting). They ask: What type of object is the source?
- Content: Students describe what they can literally see or read in the source to identify what is represented in it. They do not interpret the source. They ask: What is represented/depicted/described in the source?
- Context: Based on content, students establish the historical context in which the source was created by considering what else was happening at the time the source was produced. They ask: What was happening at the time the source was created?
- Function: Drawing on the previous three steps, students make inferences about the purpose and meaning of the source. At this point, they should consider the limitations of its representation and possible bias. They ask: What does the source tell us about the past?
Recommendation: Model this routine as a class activity before students attempt individual or group responses.
Explain the changes in Ancient Egypt and analyse the use and representation of power in Middle Kingdom Egypt and the Second Intermediate Period.
Examples of learning activities
- Brainstorm questions arising from this unit and area of study. With the class divided into four groups, each one is assigned a Unit 2 Area of Study 2 historical inquiry question (such as ‘How did the rulers of the Middle Kingdom use their power?’). Drill down with further questions about the historical questions (such as ‘Who were the rulers of the Middle Kingdom? ‘What did ‘power’ mean in the Middle Kingdom?’). Record the extra questions as a shared document and revisit the document to answer the historical inquiry questions as the unit progresses.
- Create a booklet (either in hard copy or electronic format) that includes:
- glossary in which to record key terms
- simple timeline in which to record dynastic periods, rulers and key examples of the material record and written sources reflecting on each rule
Regularly update booklets as the study progresses.
- map that can be annotated to show changes, including of capital cities and cult centres
- detailed timeline in a table format that can be annotated to show change in key areas over the whole area of study. Include headings for political, religious, social and economic features of the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period Egypt.
- Create a political biography of Mentuhotep II. In groups, study different aspects of political developments during his reign, as outlined in the Study Design. Groups identify three sources that they will use to explain their feature of the political developments in Mentuhotep’s reign. Groups present their findings as an online exhibition or an annotated poster.
- Analyse the representation of royal power and propaganda in primary sources. Read
The Prophecy of Neferti,
The Story of Sinuhe,
Lay of the Harper or
The Instructions of King Amenemhet. Analyse the source using a thinking routine, such as Form, Content, Context, Function or
Form: What type of object is the source?
Content: What is represented/depicted/described in the source?
Context: What was happening at the time the source was created?
Function: What does the source tell us about the past?
- Write an extended response explaining how
The Prophecy of Neferti upheld the power of Amenemhet I.
- Investigate changes in religious beliefs and practices during the reigns of Senwosret II, Senswosret III and Amenemhet III through a detailed case study of the rise of the Cult of Osiris at Abydos. Create a table in which to list continuities and changes in architecture, tomb types, grave goods, relief decoration and literature. Sources of digital information include the
Penn Museum digital collection,
the University College London’s Digital Egypt for Universities, and the Penn University lecture ‘Built on memory and hope: the sacred city of Abydos, Egypt’
- Create a table outlining the distribution of power at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom and during the Second Intermediate Period. Write a paragraph explaining the extent of change that occurred.
- Create an online exhibition linking features of the tomb of Khnumhotep II to the power of the nomarchs and cross-cultural trade.
- Create an annotated map of Egyptian military campaigns and fortresses in Nubia. Write a paragraph describing the subjugation of Nubia by Middle Kingdom pharaohs.
- Write a report on how the architecture of the fortress at Buhen, Nubia, supported the subjugation of Nubia.
- Make an archaeological study of Mentuhotep II’s mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri. Include a description of the archaeological remains and an evaluation of their significance as representations of political developments in the reign of Mentuhotep II, the political and religious power of the king, and changes in funerary practices.
- In groups, create posters about the emergence of the Hyksos. Topics could include: their origins, assimilation into Egyptian culture, rise of the Hyksos kings to power in Lower Egypt, development of a professional army, introduction of new innovations in weaponry, horse chariot, methods of crop irrigation, metalworking in bronze. Using the posters as reference, write an essay on the topic: ‘To what extent did the Hyksos impact Egyptian isolationism?’
- Read the
Autobiography of Ahmos and the
Tale Apepi and
Seqenenre. Identify how the Thebans represented the Hyksos.
- Read the inscription of
Kamose at Karnak, an account of Kamose’s war against the Hyksos and Kamose’s account of the message from the King of Avaris to the King of Kush seeking an alliance against Kamose. In three groups, consider a perspective. Stage a conference in which each side puts forward their view on who should rule Lower Egypt and why.
- Evaluate the historical significance of the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period’s contribution to the development of Egyptian civilisation by creating a pro/con table.
Analyse features of the tomb of Khnumhotep II using a thinking routine such as
Analyse the online exhibition of the tomb of
Access Macquarie University’s
Beni Hassan@Macquarie website. The university has created a ‘visual dictionary’ of elite tombs at Beni Hassan in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Select the tomb of Khnumhotep II (Tomb 3).
Students work independently or in groups on one or more features, depending on the depth of study desired or time available.
The autobiographical inscriptions describe the achievements of Khnumhotep II. The reliefs include images of him receiving trade emissaries. Both include commentary and translations, where relevant.
- Set an inquiry question such as ‘How does the tomb of Khnumhotep II represent his power as a nomarch and/or cross cultural trade in the Middle Kingdom?’
- Distribute features of the tomb (based on photographs in the visual dictionary) for student analysis.
- Use a thinking routine such as
SCIM-C to analyse the materials. In this thinking routine, students interrogate a source by summarising, contextualising, inferring, monitoring and corroborating, before they attempt to interpret the source.
What type of historical document is the source?
What specific information, details and/or perspectives does the source provide?
What is the subject and/or purpose of the source?
Who was the author and/or audience of the source?
When and where was the source produced?
Why was the source produced?
What was happening in the immediate and broader context at the time the source was produced?
What summarising information can place the source in time and place?
What is suggested by the source?
What interpretations may be drawn from the source?
What perspectives or points of view are indicated in the source?
What inferences may be drawn from absences or omissions in the source?
What additional evidence beyond the source is necessary to answer the historical question?
What ideas, images, or terms need further defining from the source?
How useful or significant is the source for its intended purpose in answering the historical question?
What questions from the previous stages need to be revisited in order to analyse the source satisfactorily?
Corroborating (if more than one source is used):
What similarities and differences between the sources exist?
What factors could account for these similarities and differences?
What conclusions can be drawn from the accumulated interpretations?
What additional information or sources are necessary to answer more fully the guiding historical question?
- Write a paragraph in response to the inquiry question, using evidence gained from the interrogation of the source to support the argument put forward.
- Prepare materials for exhibition:
- Image: Screenshot of the image, with full reference
- Caption: include title, brief description of materials
- Label: In 100 words, explain how the materials represent Khnumhotep II’s power as a nomarch and/or cross-cultural trade in Middle Kingdom Egypt.
- References: full references to website and any other materials used.
Options for online platforms for presentation include Google Sites, Wix and Wordpress, or work could simply be collected into a PowerPoint.
Unit 2: Early China
Explain the features of civilisation in early China and analyse how these features developed and changed.
Examples of learning activities
Analyse primary sources using a thinking routine
There are a wide variety of thinking routines that can be used to scaffold the analysis of historical sources. The
SCIM–C Strategy (Summarising, Contextualising, Inferring, Monitoring and Corroborating) is a useful tool because it scaffolds students’ approach to a more detailed reading and evaluation of a source and the identification of evidence.
Present students with a selection of primary source(s), either visual or written. These sources may include:
- Oracle bones photographs, with translations
- Bronze inscriptions, with translations
- Extracts from key texts, such as Sun Tzu’s
The Art of War, Sima Qian’s
Records of the Grand Historian or the works of Confucius.
The routine can be undertaken in a teacher-prepared template that includes detailed instructions. It would be useful to walk through the template with students in advance of them undertaking the activity.
Once students have completed the routine, the results of each source reading can be combined as a shared class resource. The summaries could then be used as a repository for other activities, such as annotated timelines and essay planning.
Explain the rise and fall of the Qin and Han dynasties and analyse the use and representation of power in early China.
Examples of learning activities
Analysis of sources: representations of power
Each student is assigned one the following people as a character in a debate: Heaven (tian); Confucius (trad. 551–479 BC); Laozi (trad. C6th BC); Shang Yang (390–338 BC); Qin Shi Huangdi (r. 221–210 BC); Li Si (ca. 280–208 BC); Han Emperor Gaozu (r. 202–195 BC); either a Xiongnu or Modun (r. 209–174 BC); Han Emperor Wu (r. 141–87 BC); Dong Zhongshu (179–104 BC); Wang Mang (r. 9–23 AD); Han Emperor Guangwu (r. 25–57 AD); either a Yellow Turban rebel (late C2nd–early C3rd AD) or Zhang Jue (d.184).
Students prepare a brief biographical sketch of their characters. They also develop a list of their character’s contributions to the formation and survival of empire as a political concept. They order these contributions according to their tactics for the debate: some may prefer to place their strongest contributions first; others may keep them in reserve for when the debate grows more intense, assuming that they will survive its early rounds.
The scenario for the debate is this: all characters find themselves in a vessel – a hot-air balloon, for example – that is fated to imminent destruction. Only two characters can remain in the vessel to ensure its survival; the others must be evicted. The vessel is the Chinese empire. Each character must therefore argue for the importance of their survival to the future fate of the empire. There may be more than one vessel in a class, though no character should appear twice in any one vessel.
For the first round of the debate, students introduce their historical character. They also set out the first of their contributions to the formation and survival of empire. A second round follows, in which all students present their characters’ second major contribution to the strength of empire.
Evictions start after two rounds. A fixed number of characters are evicted at each round. Evictions are judged either by those in the vessel itself, through a vote, or, if there is more than one vessel being used in a class, by any bystanders. Those who are evicted then take responsibility for interrogating survivors, for determining further evictions, and for explaining their judgments. This continues until only two survivors remain and the debate is over.
The debate leads to an inquiry into the relationship between the individual and the early imperial state. This may take several directions, but it lends itself in particular to an exploration of the ways in which an individual’s actions might be shaped by different types of representation and argument. As a corollary, it encourages consideration of how modern historians interpret such representations when forming judgments about early Chinese empires.
Some of the print resources contained in this list may be out of print. They have been included because they may still be available from libraries, bookshops and private collections.
At the time of publication the URLs (website addresses) cited were checked for accuracy and appropriateness of content. However, due to the transient nature of material placed on the web, their continuing accuracy cannot be verified. Teachers are strongly advised to prepare their own indexes of sites that are suitable and applicable to the courses they teach, and to check these addresses prior to allowing student access.
Bienkowski, P & Millard, A 2000,
Dictionary of the Ancient Near East, University Press, Philadelphia
Boardman, J, Edwards, WJES, Hammond, NGL & Sollberger, E (eds) 1992,
The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. 3, Part 2: The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and Other States of the Near East, from the Eighth to the Sixth Centuries BC, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Bottero, J 2001,
Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia, University of Chicago Press, Chicago
Chadwick, R 2005,
First Civilizations, 2nd edn, Equinox Publishing, London
Kiriwaczek, P 2012,
Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization, St Martin’s Griffin
Kramer, SN 1963,
The Sumerians, University of Chicago Press, Chicago
Kuhrt, A 1995,
The Ancient Near East, c3000–330 BC, 2 vols, Routledge, London
Radner, K 2015,
Ancient Assyria: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford
Richardson, MEJ 2000,
Hammurabi’s Laws, Texts, Translations and Glossary, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield
Roux, G 1993,
Ancient Iraq, 3rd edn, Penguin
Van De Mieroop, M 2006,
A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000–323 BC, 2nd edn, Blackwells, London
Aldred, C 1985,
Egyptian Art, Thames Hudson, London
Chadwick, R 2005, First Civilizations, 2nd edn, Equinox Publishing, London
Cooney, K 2018,
When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt, National Geographic Press
Cooney, K 2014,
The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt, Crown Publishing Group
Dodson, A 2014,
Amarna Sunrise, The American University Press in Cairo, Cairo
Dodson, A 2018,
Amarna Sunset (Revised edition), The American University Press in Cairo
Fletcher, J 2016,
The Story of Egypt, Hodder & Staughton, London
Manley, B 1996,
The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Egypt, Penguin Books, London
Shaw, I 2004,
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford University Press, Oxford
Tyldsley, J 2005,
Nefertiti (Revised edition), Penguin Books Ltd, London
Tyldsley, J 2006,
Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt from Early Dynastic Times to the Death of Cleopatra, Thames & Hudson, London
Van de Mierop, M 2011,
A History of Ancient Egypt, Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, UK
Waterson, B 1992,
Women in Ancient Egypt, St Martin’s Press, UK
de Bary, WT & Bloom, I (eds) 1999,
Sources of Chinese Tradition, Vol. 1: From Earliest Times to 1600, 2nd edn, Columbia University Press, New York
de Crespigny, R (ed.) (trans) 1989,
Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling, Faculty of Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra
Dubs, H (trans) 1944,
History of the Former Han Dynasty, Baltimore, Waverly Press, Baltimore
Feng, L 2013,
Early China: A Social and Cultural History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Lewis, ME 2010,
The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han, Belknap Press, Cambridge, USA
Minford, J (ed.) (trans) 2014,
I Ching: The Essential Translation of the Ancient Chinese Oracle and Book of Wisdom, New York: Penguin
Tanner, H M 2010,
China: A History (Vol. 1): From Neolithic Cultures through the Great Qing Empire, (10,000 BCE–1799 CE), Hackett Publishing
Twitchett, D 1986,
The Cambridge History of China, Vol. 1: The Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 BC–AD 220, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge