History can be hard to relate to for kids, especially when it is so old and they are so young. They often don’t see the connections to their own lives, or the impact it has had on society. One of my favorite stories to share with students is how the size of the space shuttle is directly related to the size of Caesar’s horses. It’s a fascinating one and shows how one decision can impact thousands of decisions throughout history. So when teaching ancient Mesopotamia, a teacher just needs to make it relatable for their students so they begin to see how it affects and connect to their lives.
Making things hands-on can entice learners to really take in their learning and understand it. The student often must come to terms with the concept and understand it, in order to to manipulate it and build with it, complete it, or work with it, so more sense is made of the concept and how it fits in to history and the world around them. This can be done in a variety of fun and entertaining ways that still teach history and get the point across.
1. Write an Epic Poem like Gilgamesh
Explain to your students who the Sumerians were and who Gilgamesh was. Give them some background information on the epic poem of Gilgamesh and why it is important and has remained an important piece of history. Then, read a bit of the poem to them, discussing it as you go. Have your students then try their hand at writing an epic poem by picking a topic and writing. Make sure to spend some time allowing kids to share their poems with the class.
2. Try Your Hand at Cuneiform
When I was a teenager, one of my favorite hobbies was to write love letters to my boyfriend in ancient runic. He taught me the alphabet and only he and I really understood it, so we could write in a secret code that no one else understood. Writing in cuneiform is much the same way and will give kids a fun, entertaining power, but teach them some history at the same time. Explaining to students that cuneiform was originally a pictographic language, a lot like our emojis, that turned more complicated and complex over time, might help them to understand how languages evolve and change. You can then show them the complicated cuneiform and have them try to write with it, or have them try to create their own language with emojis or some other form of signs, symbols, and pictographs.
3. Explore the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World
The Seven Ancient Wonders of the World are seven incredible feats of architecture, built by the ancient civilizations, that amazed and bewildered society with their grand beauty, size, and structure. Built by the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians, these 7 structures can still elicit beauty and wonderment today. In Mesopotamia, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were a huge ziggurat of plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers. These tiers of foliage ascended upwards, creating a large green mountain of mud bricks and plants. Although the Hanging Gardens exist in the writings of 5 individuals, the exact location and/or some evidence of them has never been found, so some doubt that this wonder ever existed at all. Having kids look at these seven wonders, examine their size and structure, debate their existence, and draw/construct a model of one for study is a great way for students to get to know the ancient realm and build meaning in their study of history.
4. Build Your Own Ziggurat
Ziggurats were fortifications on which a white stone temple stood. They were built to try to connect the heavens to the earth, so the Mesopotamians would make them as tall as possible. In the time of ancient Mesopotamia, building methods were crude and so these ziggurats were not nicely sloped pyramids. They were instead, stacked rectangles or trapezoids, that rose jaggedly up to the sky. Students could use boxes, folded paper, or even 2-dimensional trapezoids on a screen to create their ziggurats. I have this activity in my Governments of Mesopotamia lesson, where students can build a ziggurat in any number of ways.
5. Be the Judge, Like Hammurabi
Have your students read an article about Hammurabi and his penchant for law-making or simply discuss his nature for creating laws on how people should live their lives. Then hand out some sample laws to your students and have them read through and share them together. Take note of how barbaric they tend to be and how the punishments are very one-sided (death). You might also want to point out how a lot of Hammurabi’s laws dealt with property rights. Prepare a couple case studies for your students where they can examine or simulate a case in Hammurabi’s time, arguing for and against a certain outcome and the punishments that come with that decision. When all is said and done, see if they agree with what they did and the laws they put forth or if they have doubts and reservations about the steps they had to take to follow the law under Hammurabi’s rule.
There’s lots of ways to bring history alive and make it more memorable for students. Making it hands-on is just one way to accomplish this. Do you have other ways to make learning about Mesopotamia memorable? I’d love to hear them. Share your ideas in the comments.
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