Machu Picchu and the Incan Empire

Featured image from PICRYL.

Target Audience

The target audience for this lesson is students in sixth grade social studies. This is particularly useful for teaching lessons that cover indigenous Native American societies and could fit into any unit that covers these societies and the examination of Latin American nations.


Students will need to be aware of how societies come to form, especially when it comes to how ancient civilizations came to be organized. They will need to be familiar with terms such as agriculture, government and settlements. A core component to studying the context of Machu Picchu is an understanding of South American geography. To help students become familiar, a short article detailing the makeup and history of the Andes is attached to help provide some additional knowledge. This exercise allows students to become familiar with a depiction of an ancient civilization, the Incans, and this activity will allow students to study aspects of Incan culture and analyze how the geography and landscape as integral to how this society came to form.

The purpose of this activity is to carry out a tour of Machu Picchu through Google Earth as a way of allowing students to engage with a famous archeological location virtually. Students will be tasked with taking the tour and recording some observations as they navigate through Google Earth. The instructor will provide prompts for the students to follow as they complete a virtual tour of Machu Picchu. Students will answer these questions in breakout groups with other students before returning to the main room to discuss with the class. Additionally, time will be spent analyzing aspects of Incan society through Google Arts and Culture. Students will be put into four groups that analyze a different aspect of Incan Culture. The goal of students during this portion of the lesson will be to help students reflect on the role this aspect of culture had on society, any overlap that might exist with the modern day and help perform the historical analysis carried out by modern historians.


1.) Students will skim the website attached to help become familiar with the Andes. Should take about 5 minutes. See here.

2.) Students will be put into groups where they can take a tour of Machu Picchu using Google Earth. Each group will be tasked with exploring a different historical site and answering questions provided on Zoom.

3.) Students will spend about 10 minutes exploring the site and answering questions as they discuss their findings with their peers. Students will click this link to Google Earth Tour. Group 1 explores sites 2-4, Group 2 explores 5-7, Group 3 explores 8-10, and Group 4 will explore sites 11-12. For those that need help navigating Google Earth, this tutorial exists to provide guidance.

4.) Students will then return to the main group to share some of the observations they made on the tour. This is also a chance to share some responses to the questions provided by the instructor.

5.) Students will then spend 5-10 minutes exploring some of the Wonders of Machu Picchu provided by the instructor. Group 1. Group 2. Group 3. Group 4. One student will take a screenshot of an image that captured their interest, explain something they learned about it and then examine how this could reveal something about Incan culture.

6.) Students will return to the main room after conversing with peers in breakout rooms. They will reveal some of their screenshots and discuss their findings.

7.) Students will then be debriefed by the instructor on how Machu Picchu was tied to the Incan Empire and the continued importance of some of these artifacts. Anything that was missed by the students will be brought up here as the lesson is wrapped up.

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