Ancient Sumer and the Beginnings of Civilization

8th Grade Social Studies

This lesson is meant to serve as a transition from the first cities of humanity and into the world of Ancient Mesopotamia.  This lesson serves to teach students the value of artists renderings versus the use of tradition evidence.

Requisite Knowledge:

  • A working knowledge of the origins of the first cities.
  • The lifestyles of nomadic peoples and city dwellers.

Learning targets:

  • Contextualization

Learning Segment Goal:

Students will apply their precious knowledge of early humanity to answer questions that focus on the comparison between the Sumerian City Dwellers and the Nomadic Shepherds of the Middle East.  Students will also begin to question what makes a primary source valuable and what place speculation has in history and archaeology.

Part 1: Shelter

Students will begin the class by looking at these two images that would be projected onto the board.

Image 1
Image 1
Bedouin Tent
Image 2

After looking at these two images, the students will be asked a series of questions that pertain to who lived in these societies and why they chose to live there.  Possible questions could include:

  • What kind of people do you think lived in each?
  • What is the main difference you see between the two images to the side?
  • Why do you think some individuals decided to live in Image 1 and not Image 2?

Simply put these two images depict ways of life that have existed simultaneously since the Neolithic era: those of the city-dwellers and the nomadic peoples.  Though more pronounced in the days of Sumer, these two groups have co-existed since ancient days.  By looking at these pictures, the goal is to teach the students about function of architecture and how that relates to the way we choose to live our lives.

Part 2: Food

This section of the lesson is meant to teach the students about how the choice of food for a society can affect the way they live, beyond dietary and health reasons.  Again the students will be called to look at a pair of images.  This time however, the students will be asked to match the appropriate images from part one.  On the projector, all four images should be displayed.

Image A
Image A
Shepherds Life Style
Image B

After the students match the images individually, they will present their choices to the class.  Once the correct answers are established, the teacher will ask questions pertaining to what is in the image and how it pertains to the images of shelter in the previous section.  Possible questions include:

  • What are pictured in the above images?
  • Why would the people in both images choose to live in either form of shelter?  What are the advantages of moving? What are the advantages of staying in the same place?

The purpose of these questions should be to get the learner to examine the cause and effect relationship that is food and shelter.

Part 3: Contextualizing Sources

This final portion of the lesson is meant to serve as an introduction in to historical methodology by utilizing the images/sources we have just used.  The teacher would open up the section by asking if the students have noticed anything about the majority of the images.  The answer to this is that most of the images are not photographs but drawings or renderings of objects.  The following questions will then be asked of the students:

  • Why aren’t actual photographs of the city of Ur useful for learning about it?
  • Why are artist renderings useful as when we compare things from thousands of years ago?

Two final images will be presented in conjunction with Image 1 and 2 of part 1. These images show either an actual photograph or artists depiction.

Image 3
Image 3
Image 4
Image 4

By comparing these new images to the old ones, students should begin to understand that while actual physical evidence is key to our understanding of what has happened in the past, artist renderings allow us to fill in the blanks (in an academic sense) by literally filling in the blanks.By seeing beyond the ruins and to what was once there, we begin to see the scope of what life was like.


Image 1:

Image 2:

Image A:

Image B:

Image 3:

Image 4:


While designing this lesson, I became acutely aware that contextualizing is not truly apparent in the first two sections of the lesson.  Instead I have come to understand that the academic knowledge that the students are learning will allow me to transition into a more direct discussion on how and why a primary source is to be considered viable.  By familiarizing the students with the sources beforehand,  I think this makes the final section more understandable and applicable in their eyes.

Triumph of the Will

Nuremberg Rally
Nuremberg Rally

Author: Sarah Wieking

Target Students: 10th/11th Grade History Students

Historical Skills: Sourcing and Contextualizing

The Road to Nazi Power: 

This lesson will be imbedded into a unit on World War II. Therefore, students should already know about the devastation that Germany faced in the post-WWI era. They will know that they endured a dramatic economic recession resulting from the Versailles Treaty and the Great Depression. They will understand the helpless aura of the nation at that time. As a review, we will highlight elements that led to Hitler’s rise to power.

Students will be asked to consider why Hitler was able to gain so much power and support so quickly.

Examples for students to consider: Hitler promised the downtrodden citizens a new and better life, as well as a new Germany. The Nazis attracted the unemployed, the young, and the lower middle classes.

Students will be asked to write down their own definition of Nationalism and then share it with their neighbors. Then a few will share them with the class. Specific elements of nationalism will be emphasized as a class: a feeling of superiority over other countries and the feeling that nations should act independently of each other.

Students will be asked to consider nationalism in Germany and the background knowledge that they know of that time when watching the propaganda video.

The Power of Propaganda:

Then the class will briefly go over the definition of propaganda and how students think it could have been employed in WWII Germany.

Students will then watch the propaganda film: Triumph des Willens (1935). By Leni Riefenstahl

Before they begin watching, each student will be divided into “element groups” and  asked to consider one of the following key aspects of the film: the soundtrack, the tone and noise of crowds and speakers, and the visual elements.

The class will watch the opening scene of Hitler flying into Nuremberg and then Hitler’s speech at minute 55:00.

Starter thought provoking question: What do you think Hitler’s entrance from the sky symbolizes? ——- Students will write down their own answers and then share with each other, hopefully noticing that his descent from the sky alludes to his representation as a “savior”.


As a class, students will look at a timeline of events in pre-war Germany. The teacher will guide them into noticing the events in the year 1924, the year before the propaganda was filmed. Students will therefore notice that on August 2nd, Hitler became president in addition to chancellor. Furthermore, on August 19th, a plebiscite was held to determine Hitler’s support. 90% said that they approved of his powers. For a timeline:

Students will then meet with the other members of their “element groups” and share their findings about the significance of the elements they noticed. Then they will split into groups of three with those of different “element groups” and share their new ideas. They will be asked to consider their answers in answering the future questions.

Students will be asked to answer these following questions in small groups:

  1. Sourcing Question: Who was the intended audience of this propaganda film?

Contextualizing Questions:

  1. What is significant about the date that the film was released? (March 28, 1935)
  2. How does the video reflect the overall mood of the country during that time?
  3. How does our background information support what is seen in the video?
  4. How can we see nationalism at play in this video?

Their answers will be shared to the whole class and we will write down answers on the board to show connections. Then students in the different element groups will contribute significant features they noticed that help support these answers.

Then students will be asked the essential question in a quick write:

Why did so many ordinary German citizens rally behind Hitler and join the Nazi Party?

We will go over this as a class after they have completed writing their individual answers.


I think that this mini lesson may need some work in its structuring. When I teach this, I want to ask these same questions and ask students to perform these tasks, but I hope to find better methods in doing so. It definitely needs to fit within an overall unit of WWII, hopefully in a world history class so that students also understand the significant after-effects that WWI caused for Germany. The main purpose of this lesson is to approach learning about Germany in WWII from a unique angle. I want students to see what led up to not simply a war, but how a desperate country rallied behind a man who promised change and a brighter future. Therefore, ordinary citizens joined a political party that we could hardly fathom ever joining. I want students to put themselves in the shoes of German citizens of the time and realize just why Hitler was able to gain so many supporters. This lesson will build upon previous lessons towards lessons on the beginning of WWII. Students will also learn about the power of nationalism and propaganda through this lesson.

Creator: Georg Pahl

Date of Publication: September 1934

Archive: Bild 102-04062A


The Dog That Started The Space Race


The Dog That Started The Space Race

By John Buckley
5th Grade

Develop Historical Skills:
Sourcing and  Contextualization

Essential Question:
What were the reasons Laika was sent into space and what impact did it have on U.S. and Soviet relations?


Laika’s Journey to Space and the Cold War
American News Reel from 1957


Laika’s Journey to Space and the Cold War
Historical Documents: Discus the images as a class and their author’s perspective, place in history, and motive.
John Buckley

LaikaPicture2 LaikaNewspaperRussian LaikaUSSRStamp LaikaNewspaperArticle

Laika on a Soviet Postage Stamp

Laika as a Cartoon Character Hero

New York Times Newspaper Headline

Key Vocabulary Words
(To accompany article in worksheet form.) Discuss key vocabulary words as a class before having students break up into small groups to discuss the article and discussion questions.

Cold War: intense rivalry after World War II between the Soviet Union and its satellites and the democratic countries of the Western world, under the leadership of the United States.

Space Race: The competitive nature of the nations involved in space exploration.

Arms Race: Competition between countries to achieve superiority in quantity and quality of military arms.

Euthanised: To put an animal to death to end suffering or for convenience.

Depletion: The reduction in the number or quantity of something.

R–7 Sustainer: A key part of the Soviet Rocket.

ICBM: Intercontinental-Ballistic Missile, a rocket or missile type of missile that can fly from one continent to another
Laika’s Journey to Space
*Give Students worksheet below to read and discuss in small groups.

“Laika 1954 – November 3, 1957) was a Soviet space dog who became one of the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth. Laika, a stray dog from the streets of Moscow, was selected to be the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 that was launched into outer space on November 3, 1957.
Little was known about the impact of spaceflight on living creatures at the time of Laika’s mission, and the technology to de-orbit had not yet been developed, therefore Laika’s survival was not expected. Some scientists believed humans would be unable to survive the launch or the conditions of outer space, so engineers viewed flights by animals as a necessary precursor to human missions. The experiment aimed to prove that a living passenger could survive being launched into orbit and endure weightlessness, paving the way for human spaceflight and providing scientists with some of the first data on how living organisms react to spaceflight environments.
Laika died within hours from overheating, possibly caused by a failure of the central R-7 sustainer to separate from the payload. The true cause and time of her death were not made public until 2002; instead, it was widely reported that she died when her oxygen ran out on day six or, as the Soviet government initially claimed, she was euthanized prior to oxygen depletion.”
First Animals in Space

Discussion Questions
Scaffolding questions for students to use with documents:
1. Who made the video? When? And why?
2. Why did the Soviet Union want to send animals into space?
3. Was the United States alarmed about this event? And if so, why?
4. Did the event cause any fear or anxiety in United States? If yes, why?
5. If you were the Country’s leader, would you have sent Laika into space?
6. Did this event increase or decrease tensions in the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union?
Brief description of how the documents and scaffolding questions should reinforce the targeted historic skill(s)

This will allow students to discuss and grasp the background, context, and motivation of all parties involved. It will help students further understand the scope of historical events in proper framework.

Reflection:  As it relates to the SHEG lesson model, with this lesson I tried to focus on sourcing and  contextualization in the lesson design process. The challenges  I faced in preparing this lesson plan were making sure that the education piece is placed properly in the educational process. Meaning: The children would need some preparation work before hand concerning Space Exploration, Cold War, etc. etc. I do think it provides the opportunity to help intorduce 5th graders to not just a dog, but an opportunity to look “behind the curtain” of politics and world events and realize they are never exactly what they seem to be. Teaching historical thinking skills and critical analysis is essential in proper educational formation as they move towards adulthood.

Michoacán and the Purépecha: Native Memory Beyond the Aztec

11th or 12th Grade Social Studies

This lesson would be well situated inside of a larger Imperialism unit. It may be used as either an illustrative case study or an in-depth exploration of the Americas at the time of the conquest.

Requisite Knowledge:

  • Introductory knowledge of Spanish conquest of Central America under Cortéz
  • Introductory knowledge of Aztec history and culture
  • Introductory knowledge of Purépecha history and culture

Learning Targets:

  • Sourcing
  • Contextualization

Learning Segment Goal:

Students will apply their knowledge of the current cultural diffusion of Aztec values in modern societies to the historical record. In doing so, they will ask the question, how did the Aztec’s come to be remembered whereas another great society – the Purépecha of Michoacán – did not? Furthermore, are there any clues in primary sources created at the time of the conquest that suggest a possible reason?

Suggested Instructional strategies and learning tasks:

  • We might begin with an image similar to this and a similar subsequent slide:


Slide 1

Slide 2

  • After students have discussed this opener, perhaps in small groups, they will move on to reading and analyzing two sources:
    • Bernal Diaz: The True History of the Account of New Spain (Excerpt)
      • While reading this source – or some shortened excerpt – students should be actively highlighting details and commentary. This can be done in a group setting or as a homework assignment. After reading this, they will answer the following questions:
        • What were the main details of the Aztecs recorded by Bernal Díaz?
        • Why do you think he chose to emphasize these things?
        • Who do you think he was writing for? Do you believe he meant for someone else to read this account?
    •  Relación de Michoacán – Franciscan friar Jerónimo de Alcalá
      • While reading this article, students should be actively highlighting details and commentary. This can be done in a group setting or as a homework assignment. After reading this, they will answer the following questions:
        • Who is thought to have written the Relación de Michoacán? Compared to the previous source, how is it important that a friar (priest) wrote it instead of a soldier?
        • There is a short excerpt from the larger work in the article. Although the book is far too long to read, you can assume that the rest is similar, with an emphasis on the details of history. How is this different from the account of Bernal Diaz?
        • How might the author’s intention signal a difference in the perceived importance of the Purepecha culture and people?
      • After reading both sources, we will end the lesson with a group project. Students will break into groups of 3-4. In these groups, they will create a graphic representation of the two sources and how they fit into the context of the conquest and colonialism. They should answer the following questions:
        • How did the context of the conquest influence different people to write and record different things? The students should give specific examples for each source.
        • What are some possible motivations from each historical actor – the friar and the soldier? How are they both similar and different?
        • Finally, students should add in a summary that addresses the Essential Question and ties it into specifics of the given examples.


Although students may come to a variety of conclusions, here is one particularly relevant example. Because the Purépecha were less developed in terms of material culture, the main emphasis of the Spanish conquest on their lands was slave labor in their lucrative mines. There were caches of treasure hidden away for the Cazonci’s son. These were found and looted in due course. However, they did not have the cultural factors of the Aztecs. They did not have the cultural factors that affirmed the Conquistador’s fantasies about the new world. Therefore, there was less of an emphasis recording the culture of Purépecha and more on exploiting their natural resources.


I have a personal connection to this project. An undergraduate professor for whom I was completing an internship was heavily involved in researching the Purépecha. When she passed away from cancer, I was unable to complete the project, for which I had done a lot of research and preparation. That is why I chose to focus on these two cultures. Even so, this is a format that might work for a variety of colonial situations. I would strongly suggest that you bastardize this plan for whatever time period and cultural context you are teaching. The question itself is also applicable to a wider variety of lesson formats.