How to Teach Ancient Civilizations

by Misty Weatherford

Hey Teacher peeps, 

Are you teaching Ancient Civilizations? Have you taught it before? Below I will breakdown how I teach Ancient Civilizations to my 7th graders. This is my first year teaching Ancient Civilizations, and I have learned a lot about what to do, and what not to do with my middle schoolers.

First, I try to focus on my top three objectives:

Students will be able to: 

  • Identify and explain content vocabulary
  • Compare and contrast the five civilizations that we discuss and Identify the difference
  • Identify the geographic and agricultural factors of these civilizations

Do I have other objectives?

Absolutely, but If I am able to focus my efforts and activities on these top three objectives, I can begin to collect the relevant data to understand if my methods are working or, if I need to change things up. I wish that I had been comparing data from the very beginning of my teaching career, but data matters to the higher ups, and honestly my heart is in teaching and not the data. Whose with me? However, collecting data is a part of our job and it is actually not complicated.

Do you Need an idea on collecting data easily?

Regardless of where your heart is, data is not complicated. Can you or your higher ups complicate it? Absolutely, but it does not have to be complicated. Use a google form, and create five questions regarding Ancient Civilizations, maybe its as simple as five vocabulary words. Have the form collect the data for you. Give this form to them before the unit, and then again after. There is your data for the content vocabulary objective.

I created a resource on the Zapotec and Olmec civilizations in my TPT store (Click the link for a preview). In this activity students are doing a gallery walk around the room. Something I am working on in my classroom now is reading comprehension. Do you have students just skimming reading and missing content as a result? Does it drive you nuts? Here’s how I make them read during a gallery walk. I provide reading comprehension questions, where they have to read to identify the answer.

Then an extension, which makes them practice the content vocabulary, is making them choose two words from each of the four sources that they did not know, or found most important. Then they have to define them, and explain why they found it most important.

When all the students are done. we grade it together. I always make them put their pencils on the floor, and choose a color to grade with. (This allows less room for cheating, because when they can, some will). When we are grading these, I do have students volunteer to read, and if I haven’t heard from a student, I  cold call on students to read what they got.

At the end of grading I input their scores into the gradebook. If you need an additional extension, I have students write their words and definitions on the board. Then I ask for a volunteer spokesperson, or two. (It is always less intimidating with two up there). Then when they get done, we applaud and encourage them, as a class. This takes just about the whole class, but if you have technology, you could assign the google form vocabulary quiz, for data purposes. You could also open up your next lesson with that, to see what they remember from one day to the next.

This is just one of my lessons on Ancient Civilizations, I will be adding more, as I create more. This is my first year with middle schoolers. I have learned that they need the information broken down more then high schoolers would. Which actually has made me a better high school teacher. (I teach both!) I have also learned that while direct instruction has a place in all classrooms (including  middle school), I have learned they need hands on breaks more often, then my upperclassman.

What are some lessons that you have learned while teaching Ancient Civilizations?

Thank you for reading!

Love ya,


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