Guide to ancient Sumer

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Lesson Plan for

A TRAVEL GUIDE TO Ancient Sumer:

7000 - 2500 BCE

Teaching American History 2 (6th Grade Lesson)

by Cynthia Ott

Summer 2007


I. Lesson objective:

Students will create their own travel guides and travelogues, demonstrating that they understand the economic, social, cultural, environmental and political factors that influenced the people living at Ancient Sumer, and the ways the community changed and evolved over several centuries.

II. Standards addressed

a. History/Social Studies:

6.2 Students analyze the geographic political, economic, religious and social structures of the early civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Kush.

6.2.1 Locate and describe the major river systems and discuss the physical settings that supported permanent settlement and early civilizations.

6.2.2 Trace the development of agricultural techniques that permitted the production of economic surplus and the emergence of cities as centers of culture and power.

  1. English/Language Arts: Reading 1.0, 1.2, 2.0, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4 Writing 1.1, 1.4, 2.3 Listening and Speaking 1.0, 1.6

III. Instructional Activities

a. Into
1. Introduce geography: Using a map of Ancient Sumer, in 2500 B.C., point out areas that were inhabited by various groups. Show the location of what is today Iraq, specifically Bagdad.

2. Connect to Google Earth. Follow the path of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and show the modern junction. Have students make suggestions about what they think the terrain is like between the rivers. Have students define marsh and tributary Offer the definitions from an encyclopedia, or a dictionar. Does that definition of "marsh and tributary match theirs? Revise the student definition on the chart paper for accuracy.

3. Show picture/vocabulary cards from Social Studies program showing the type of environment in the region. Have the students say what environmental features and resources they see in the cards; write their responses on chart paper.

4. Ask students to talk to a partner about these questions: "What would be good about living in this place? What would be bad?" Discuss their responses.

5. Explain that they're going to be learning about an ancient area that went from a small sedentary hunting and gathering society, to one where people developed, over time, a relationship with the river that was crucial for agriculture, and with agriculture came surplus, and with surplus came social structures, and with social structures, came technological advances, and disasters.

6. Explain the final project: show them a completed Travel Guide as a model, give a short narration as an example of their oral presentations, and explain the diorama project. It would be good to show them a completed diorama as an example, or a slide of one.

7. Introduce vocabulary: some or all of the underlined words in all the Information Sheets (see Resources.) Post them on your focus wall along with pictures, synonyms, antonyms and/or realia. Continue to refer to these words throughout the lesson. Below is one technique you can use to teach the academic vocabulary.

  1. Vocabulary Strategy :Pass out the Information Sheet, "Ancient Sumer: Environment."

  2. Show a Promethean flipchart of the map of Sumer with as many of the vocabulary words from the information sheet on environment as possible.

  3. Have students label a handout of the same map as you present it.

b. Through

1. Students will work in 5 groups to research one of these themes: economy, environment, culture, society or politics in the context of Sumer. Form groups and pass out rubric, the note-taking guides and e-sheets to each one. You might give them each a two-pocket folder to keep everything in.

2. Differentiation: below is one strategy you can use to adapt your lesson for EL, Special Populations, or Challenge students, or those with different learning modalities (kinesthetic, musical, visual, mechanical, etc.)

  1. Reintroduce vocabulary: the underlined words in the Information Sheets (see Resources.)

  2. Preteach unfamiliar vocabulary in reading assignments: Studies suggest that students must encounter a new word in print several times in order to remember its meaning. However, the number of encounters needed to learn the word is significantly reduced when students are taught the meaning of the word before encountering it in a reading assignment.

  3. Groups will be predetermined to allow for heterogeneous grouping. The “environment” group will be composed of a high, low, and two middle students, and this will be the same for the other themes.

3. Allow students time to research their particular theme. They can use websites, books, primary documents and pictures supplied by the teacher. They should record information they find on their e-sheets using the websites specified, and/or on their note-taking guides. Teacher should help students skim and scan books for information, using District/School approved methods and techniques for accessing expository text.

4. After they have had time to do their own research, teacher may choose to give each group, or certain groups, a copy of the teacher-made Information Sheet on the group's theme. They can use it to add to, correct, and/or edit their information for accuracy (NOT to copy the information!).

5. Student groups use the information in their note guides and e-sheets to write their “chapters” of the Travel Guide on the theme they researched. These will be similar in format and content to the teacher-made Information Sheets. Here you can refer to the lesson in the Houghton Mifflin 5th grade Language Arts text for a "Research Report,"

6. Students prepare short oral reports/narratives based on their research. Here you can refer to the lesson for an "Oral Report" found in the 6th grade H.M. Language Arts text.

7. Student groups create multi-part dioramas illustrating the ways in which the environment, economy, society, culture or politics changed and evolved during the time period. They may draw, or create replicas of, images and artifacts.

8. Each group's final product will have three parts: (1) and (2), the diorama and oral presentation (“Travelogue”), and (3) the written "Travel Guide" itself.
c. Beyond

1. ASSESSMENT: All of the student groups present their Travelogues to the rest of the class at the same time in a gallery-walk format. One or two students from each group remain at the diorama and give the oral report on their theme; members of the other groups are assigned to listen to them. At a signal from the teacher, students switch so all have a chance to give the report and see all the dioramas. Students who are listening use the Student Evaluation Rubric to assess their peers' presentations.

2. Teachers can use rubrics in the adopted Language Arts text to score the written Travel Guide.

3. After the groups have presented, and everything is scored, all of the "chapters" can be stapled together to make a class book, "Travel Guide to......"

4. Students can find out what is happening in their geographic region today by searching newspapers, the web, magazines, etc. for information about current people, or environmental/economic/societal/political issues. Create an interactive bulletin board with information that students bring in.

5. Is there an important environmental issue faced by the region today that your students can investigate? Can you link that to the 6th grade science standards?

IV. Resources

A list of all the texts, research books, websites, magazine articles, pictures, videos, posters, artifacts, etc. that are needed for this lesson.


Mesopotamia Eva Chaves Bargallo – Chelsea House Publishers 2006

The Sumerians Leila Merrell Foster – Franklin Watts Library, New York 1990

The Sumerians Naida Kirkpatrick – Heinemann Library, Chicago 2003

The Tigris and Euphrates RiversMelissa Whitcraft, Franklin Watts Library,

New York 1999


V. Attachments

1. Student rubric: use the one attached below.

2. Student e-sheets : attach your e-sheets below

3. Teacher-made information sheets on these themes: attach your information sheets below.
a. economy

b. society

c. culture

d. environment

e. politics

4. Other

a. Link to Promethean Flipchart

Student Name: ________________


Which group are you evaluating?

___ politics ___ environment

___ economy ___ society ___ culture
As you look at this group's diorama and listen to them talk, answer these questions:
1. What did you learn from the group's oral presentation?
2. What questions do you have after hearing the oral presentation?
3. Does the diorama show how the community changed because of the influence of the group's theme?
Yes_____ No______
5. What things in the diorama show the changes?

6. What is missing from the diorama, or what questions do you have about it?

Sumer: Environment Information Sheet A

The tributaries joined in the north east, making the Tigris River. Nearly parallel to the Tigris, was The Euphrates River. These rivers, as part of the Fertile Crescent, have given life to people, culture, and nature for tens of thousands of years. Both of these mighty rivers join forces to spill into what was known as the Third River or the Shaat al Arab.

As indigenous people from the uplands began to learn how to contain sheep, goats, and pigs, they also began to farm small plots of wild barley and wheat. In order to grow these first crops successfully, the people moved to the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and construct primitive housing. These housing groups were the beginning of villages.

The environment of a river system can be unpredictable. While some years may be dry, some years provide too much water and the rivers can flood the banks. It was during these wet times that the early people of Sumer developed a plan for irrigation.

As the “villages” flourished because of the agricultural practices, the people began to have a surplus of food. This surplus gave way to trade and the rivers were the ultimate location to practice trading.

The lush marshes that lay at the mouth of the gulf are rich and fertile, ready for the huge variety of wildlife that live there. The marshes have become a vital place for people to live for many thousands of years. In these marshes, the ground is saturated with water, so it is very spongy and difficult to build on. Many thousands of years ago, people built the first shelters out of reeds, and this continues today, with people making the best of their environment. Later excavations of the Sumerian city of Ur uncovered bodies wrapped in reed mats.

Surrounding the riverbed areas, the land is hot and dry. If the wind is blowing, it can stir a choking cloud of dust. There is so much dust because there is very little stone, just dried silt. It is this silt that we later see being used to make bricks, which were then used to build housing and temples of worship, called ziggurats. The silt was also used to create the first “tokens” used in trading.

The water of the rivers gave life to the people, plants, animals, and set the foundation to support the earliest known civilization.

The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers – Melissa Whitcraft, Franklin Watts Library,

New York 1999

Mesopotamia Eva Chaves Bargallo – Chelsea House Publishers 2006
Harcourt School Publishers Reflections Sixth Grade Teacher’s Edition. Florida 2006 <>

Group Members: ________________________




Period: ________________________

Date: ________________________

Title: The Environment of Ancient Sumer

State Standard: H.S.S. 6.2 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the early civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Kush. H.S.S. 6.2.1Locate and describe the major river systems and discuss the physical settings that supported permanent settlements and early civilizations.

Task One: Travel to the website and identify the two major fresh water pathways, and write them, using capitals when necessary. **Bonus** Can you identify the nearest body of water that is salt water?
Task Two: Take a virtual tour of the images at . Describe two of the artifacts that show the artist had a connection to the environment.

Task Three: Go to the link from our social studies book . In the left sidebar on the website, click on the beginning of the “story” about Sumer. Read the story and learn 2 facts about the Ziggurats that show how the Sumerians used the environment in their temples.

Promethean Flipchart
A Promethean flipchart is a “PowerPoint” type of lesson that is displayed on an interactive white board called a Promethean. This type of flipchart/document is interactive in that you can move words around and match them to definitions on a class size white board. You can also have students “drag/drop” vocabulary words to pictures.

For example, in this lesson I would have a visual representation of the landscape of Sumer and have students place vocabulary words like tributary and fertile soil where they belong on the picture.

Follow the attached link to see what a Promethean board is. My district used ELL monies to put these boards into classrooms.

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