Ancient Mesopotamia for Teachers
Activities and Projects
These are activity and project ideas for kids and teachers to use in your unit study of ancient Mesopotamia - Sumer, Babylon and Assyria. These activities can be adjusted for any grade. We hope you'll find some ideas you can use.
Mesopotamia: Ancient Sumer Activity and Project Ideas
Cuneiform, The First Written Language - Translators Needed: Apply Within
- Make prior to class (or buy) clay tablets with Pictograph or Cuneiform writing on them. Have students move into small groups. Give each group a clay tablet to work from. Provide resources that will allow students to translate a portion of the tablet. As works proceeds, provide students with additional translation material until they have enough to translate about 1/2 the tablet.
- Have each group orally provide their translation of their tablet. Inform students that they have been doing an archeologists job. That is to translate an unknown language with only partial meanings known. They need to guess at actual meanings for some items.
- Tell each group the actual full translation and tell them they were pretty close!
- Ask students why they think writing is important.
Making Cuneiform Tablets: Pick up some Sculpy from an arts and crafts store, and a wooden stylus. Separate the clay into roughly 6" X 6" tablets. Flatten the clay out. Use cuneiform (real symbols, but make up what means) and use a stylus to write messages in cuneiform.. Three tablets had the message "Gilgamesh was a great king whose mother was a god. He climbed many mountains". The second said "Sargon was a great and powerful king. He created the first empire in the land between 2 rivers". I placed them in my oven at 275 for 30-45 minutes. I then wrote three sources for each translation. In the lesson, I split the class into 6 groups. I used the previous chapter on Egypt to lead them into this lesson. I reminded them about the story of the Rosetta Stone. I also reminded them that England and France raced to translate the stone first. They were in a similar position because 2 other groups had the same tablets, it would be a great honor to beat them! This motivated the students even more. The rest of the lesson was generally the same as it was written.
Two days later I was able to make small 3" X 3" tablets for each of my students. Each received a Popsicle stick for their stylus. They were allowed to use any cuneiform characters they could find; in their textbook, on the worksheets from the earlier lesson, or the characters I placed on the overhead that was shown on a screen in the room. I told them it really did not matter what was said on their tablets, it didn't even have to make sense. What was really important was that they tried to write the way the ancient Sumerians did. After everyone was finished, we discussed what they thought about writing in clay. After school I brought the tablets in the cooking room and placed them in ovens for about 45 minutes. They are now on display in my classroom. When we finish the chapter next Wednesday, I am going to store them. In May, our school has a curriculum fair. I plan to display their work. It's definitely something that the school has not seen before! I love these lessons! The kids really get into it and it makes history "real" to them. It's something they can see and touch and experience. Submitted by Rocco Celentano; New Jersey; USA
Making Sumerian Cylinder Seals: To make Sumerian cylinder seals-- first, squeeze clay through a 1 1/4" piece of PVC, one foot long -- use a 1" wood dowel to force it out. Use the type of clay that hardens (natural clay is FREE!) so it won't crush when you roll it out. (Sort of like a Play-Doh Fun Factory!) Slice it into 2" segments with nylon fishing line. After it hardens, have the kids use bamboo shiskabob sticks, cut with scissors to make them pointy (as a stylus!) to carve whatever they think would make a good seal for themselves. Make some flour/salt/cream of tartar Play-Doh like stuff, and have the kids roll them out. Submitted by: The Chihuahua Pharaohs
Activity for Cylinder Seals: Small group activity. Their job in each group is to divide into two sides and then negotiate a contract with give and take to accomplish a positive outcome. Once achieved, that contract is signed by each participant with their individual cylinder seal, which places that contract into law. From there, you flow naturally into the importance of written laws, etc. It's a fun lesson. First the kids make their individual seals out of half of a potato (potato halves provided by the teacher.) Research the goal given or create a simple goal of their own once they hear examples (you want a dagger, you want food, you want an ox, etc.) Then they negotiate, and sign using their cylinder seals dipped in ink. It usually takes 2-3 days. Their contracts make an interesting wall display and each contract reflects life in ancient Mesopotamia.
Sumerian Inventions: Divide your class into groups. Give each a list of ancient Sumerian inventions including the wheel, the sailboat, the first written laws, Hammurabi's Code, the plow, bricks for ovens and homes. Each group will secretly choose an invention, draw a picture of it and label the picture (for use as a bulletin board display) and prepare to argue why their selected invention was the most important invention for modern man. They not only have to prepare to argue for their invention; they need to prepare arguments against other inventions being as important.
Create travel voucher "Sumer Sites" - Welcome to our City! Create a welcome pamphlet - what to see, where to go, what to do, customs, manners, exciting events. This can set the stage for all other cultures, by comparison.
We have an online interactive quiz with answers for ancient Sumer
Mesopotamia: Ancient Babylonian Activities and Project Ideas
Hammurabi's Code: The First Written Laws - Before there was a Supreme Court.. there was Hammurabi! (Babylon)
Open the Lesson: Open the lesson with something like this: "Let's say you are a carpenter and the house you build accidentally falls down and crushes its owner. What happens to you? According to the code of Hammurabi, DEATH of course!
Make copies of this list of laws as a handout for classroom use. On the other side of this handout, create a couple of crimes, for classroom discussion. Direct the kids to: "Read the crimes and see if you are fit to be a judge under Hammurabi's code." Give them a minute to read the crimes and to try and find the punishment from the list of laws on the other side of handout. Brief classroom discussion. Then..
Divide the kids into groups. Have them each create 1 or 2 "crimes." Have each group ask the rest of the class to fit a punishment to the crime in Hammurabi's time. Discussion after each group presents, and the class determines what Hammurabi might give as punishment could include: "Does this seem a fitting punishment? What might be the punishment today? Are we too easy on criminals, today? Was crime reduced during Hammurabi's rule?"
Here are some others ideas online, to teach Hammurabi's Code:
Group Activity (5 groups): You are scribes, hired to write a script for a scenic tour guide in old BC Babylon. This script will be read by Babylonian tour guides.
Group 1, Paragraph One: Write an opening welcome. Thank your group for coming.
Group 2, Paragraph Two: Write a brief description of one scenic site, stop, or adventure. (Here are some ideas: The Cafe Ur, Atop the Ziggurat, Marduk's Processional Way Parade.)
Group 3, Paragraph Three: Write a brief description of a second scenic site, stop or adventure. (Here are some ideas: The Dangerous Sport of Euphrates River Rafting or the Green and Glowing Hanging Gardens (a living love story.)
Group 4, Paragraph Four: Write one touring tip, such as: Mention this tour for special discounted prices on scented oils at The Babel Basin; the Ishtar Lost & Found Office is located at The Gate. You may not use these touring tips. You must create your own.
Group 5, Paragraph Five: Write a closing good-bye. Thank your tour group for coming. Be sure and mention what a pleasure it was to meet them. Be polite!
We have an online interactive quiz with answers for ancient Babylon
Mesopotamia: Ancient Assyria Activity and Project Idea
Group Activity: Materials: A large roll of brown paper. Magic markers or crayons. Or paint if this activity is done in your art class. Create large "tablets" using brown paper, one "tablet" for each group. Each tablet should be about 3 to 6 feet long. Tablet width depends on your time and space. Student Instructions: Tell the students that this is true - archaeologists found a library in ancient Assyria, the warrior empire, with over 30,000 clay tablets written in cuneiform with different stories, histories, magical texts, letters, medical texts, government documents and fragments of documents. The tablets are representative of ancient Sumer, Babylon and Assyria. It was obviously an attempt to collect and keep the history of Mesopotamia, all in one place. These tablets are our single most important source of knowledge about ancient Mesopotamia. They are still being researched today. What a find! Today, we're going to use brown paper instead of clay to create our tablets. In English, with a few cuneiform letters thrown in if you wish, working in groups, you are to create a "tablet" that might have been found in the library at Nineveh. Your tablet can represent anything from ancient Sumer, ancient Babylon or ancient Assyria. Use both text and illustrations. When you're done, these will be posted on the walls of our classroom. Be prepared to present to the class why you selected what we see and read on your tablet. Note to teachers: I leave these up on the walls through the final quiz. It helps them answer the questions and keeps them on track.
We have an online interactive quiz with answers for ancient Assyria
Ancient Mesopotamia: All periods
Online Game Day: Ancient Mesopotamia (Sumer, Babylon, Assyria) - Games and Interactive Learning Sites for Kids - I set this activity to work by creating a scavenger hunt sheet of things for kids to find in the sites listed on their exploration sheet. The kids have to site the source for each scavenger find for verification.
Choose Your Own Adventure from over 70 different classroom activities and possible assignments
This book has two complete units, one for Ancient Mesopotamia (4-5 weeks) and one for ancient India (2-3 weeks)
Each unit includes complete lesson plans, learning modules, and a daily mix of meaningful creative activities NOT found on our website.