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The great pyramid builders: an integrated theme on ancient Egypt.

Ancient Egypt was full of wonders both amazing and capable of expanding the horizons of our social perspectives. Through a study of ancient Egypt, students will learn about that culture and civilization, and gain some understanding of the culture's immense wisdom in the areas of mathematics and science. By sharing this rich history with our children, we can maintain the memory and lessons of a foundational civilization for future generations.


In preparing to present ancient Egypt as a theme in the classroom, we must carefully consider that children learn in a variety of ways (through meaningful activities, for example), and that they must construct knowledge for themselves. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate to accommodate different learning styles, prepare meaningful experiences through the exploration of the students' interests and prior knowledge, and allow for choice through a broad assortment of significant learning encounters. It is equally essential to provide avenues for interconnection and integration among separate topics within the theme. The main goal of such a theme is not memorization and regurgitation of isolated facts, but rather engaging the children, promoting their higher order thinking skills, and involving them intimately with the concepts through various activities and experiences so that they might begin to build their own accurate perspectives and knowledge within the learning environment.

Introduce the theme of ancient Egypt with the following experience: Create an as authentic as possible Egyptian costume and a replica of an Egyptian artifact, using the book Spend the Day in Ancient Egypt (Honan, 1999) as a resource. Dress in the costume and introduce yourself to the class as an ancient pharaoh of Egypt. Explain the object that was chosen to show the students, and introduce the theme by explaining that the children will have opportunities to explore ancient Egypt for a given amount of time (2-4 weeks). (Teachers may consider inviting/engaging families and parents in this project to work with their children at home. The teacher may send home notes, invitations, or suggestions to engage families/parents with their children as they might jointly explore the theme by reading books, watching movies/ documentaries, and/or visiting museums, etc.)



Using a variety of centers will allow for choice and varied experiences. These centers must be open-ended, meaning they must not have a singular prompt with one outcome response. They must incorporate a wide assortment of possible learning outcomes that are driven by student interest and choice. Do not ask a question with a specific answer. Rather, present a category (such as pharaohs), and ask the children to discover a path within that topic and represent what they have learned with a drawing, craft work, or story. Center activities may offer a large amount of possibilities for this theme. The following are potential center choices as well as descriptions of some activities.


* Reading/Writing Center: Have students try to read and write with Egyptian hieroglyphs. Students also may make cartouches, which are hieroglyphic figures represented vertically and enclosed in an oval. This signifies the name of royalty, such as a king. Students also may read or write stories about ancient Egypt. They might write a story in the first person about a day in the life of an ancient Egyptian.

* Art/Craft Center: Students may research Egyptian art and draw themselves in profile, as the Egyptians did. This may, in turn, lead to questions about why the Egyptians always drew in profile. Many animals were sacred to the Egyptians and so the students may want to organize and categorize the different animals, draw them, and make a chart as to what specific trait was revered in each animal. They also may want to do the same for the Egyptian gods. Present craft project options for the children to make, such as sugar cube pyramids, clay animals (like a scarab beetle), jewelry, and even false beards (which were used by the pharaohs). Allow the children to make "papyrus" paper, on which they can later write hieroglyphs or draw. This may require paper-making kits, but household items will work as well.

* Science Center: At this center, students could choose to research mummification, and actually practice by mummifying an apple. You may want to provide an Egyptian medicine sub-center, where the students can play with different "medications." Make sure to use harmless ingredients, or have the students just pretend. One example of Egyptian medicine is dried and powdered mummy, which was used as a prescribed medicine in Europe centuries ago. Students also can look into the geology and metallurgy of ancient Egypt. Provide examples, if possible, of sandstone, granite, limestone, copper, and bronze for the students to touch as they conjecture about building techniques in Egypt, having them make observations and predictions about each one. Another sub-center could be an astronomy center, where students can research Egyptian constellations, or decans. Students may make star clocks, which provide a calendar system based on the position of the stars. The students may also make merkhets, ancient Egyptian sighting tools used to align objects based on the relative position of the stars.


* History Center: This center has a time-mapping station where children can map important people and events from the ancient world of Egypt. It makes a nice piece to put on the fabricated "papyrus" paper, too. The history center also contains a pharaoh sub-center where children can dress up and play-act as a pharaoh. Students at the pharaoh center can keep a journal of their proceedings and the events that take place under their "reign."

* Math Center: Children can learn about the Egyptian base-10 system and its symbols at this center. They can even try basic operations, using the ancient symbols. Pyramid building is a way to incorporate geometry concepts, such as area and perimeter, measuring, and shapes. Students may make cubit sticks, and measure different objects in the classroom in cubits. (Cubits were the standard unit of measure in ancient Egypt.) They also may compare the cubit measurement to our standard and metric measurements, if they are familiar with them.

Other possibilities include a game center, where students can play the ancient Egyptian game of Senet, and a modern Egypt center, where students can learn about the present-day country.


Have the students participate in projects based on the Egyptian theme. Brainstorm ideas with the entire class, and have the children pick a topic that interests them. They may work in groups or individually, and research the specific project idea. Open up the options for research by offering specific books and websites as a starting place for each group. The students will be in charge of presenting their findings. This freedom will manifest itself in more varied representations of data, and foster higher order thinking skills. You may guide and offer help as needed, but allow the children to lead this aspect of their learning process. Examples of projects may include mummification of apples; studies of the pyramids, including models; reports on important leaders, such as Ramses; Egyptian gods; culture projects, including examples of ancient Egyptian food; and many others.

Culminating Activity

Although an integrated theme such as ancient Egypt can be wrapped up in many ways, one activity in particular is a fun way to bring it to a close. Create a time capsule with each of your students. Each time capsule will be filled with their Egyptian artifacts, projects, crafts, and papers. After a certain amount of time, perhaps a couple of months, or even at the end of the year, hide each time capsule in a different location in your school. Give each student a treasure map to his or her respective treasure. Give your students plenty of clues in hieroglyphs that they must translate in order to find the treasure. Create an atmosphere of an archaeological expedition, and feel free to invite parents to come and help with the activity.

The culminating activity also can take the form of a project for display or a drama in the school auditorium, so that all the students in the school can see the work/performance. Such experiences will engage students in meaningful learning. In addition, themes conducted with parent engagement will not only involve the parents, but also empower them.


The assessment of learning for this integrated theme is authentic and formative in nature. Teachers will use their observations, student journals, center creations, and checklists for the projects. Standards are addressed through the theme, but are not the main focus. The ultimate goal for this theme is to give children meaningful, accurate learning experiences in which they build upon their own interests in and knowledge of ancient Egypt. These experiences, as opposed to memorized facts, will be more successfully integrated, and will provide a foundation for further study throughout their education.

Relevant Websites /

Teacher Resources

Clayton, P. (1994). Chronicle of the pharaohs: The reign-by-reign record of the rulers and dynasties of ancient Egypt. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Sands, E. (2005). The Egyptology handbook: A course in the wonders of Egypt. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.

Shaw, I. (1994). The Oxford history of ancient Egypt. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.

Children's Books

Green, R. L. (1996). Tales of ancient Egypt. New York: Puffin.

Honan, L. (1999). Spend the day in ancient Egypt: Projects and activities that bring the past to life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Woods, G. (1998). Science in ancient Egypt. New York: Franklin Watts.


Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Susan Fauer Company, Inc.

This Idea-Sparker was submitted by Brian Stone, a 4-5-6 grade multiage teacher from Flagstaff, Arizona.
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Title Annotation:Classroom Idea-Sparkers
Author:Stone, Brian
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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