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 A Glimpse into the Past of Ancient Egyptian Culture
by Erin Horton, Kirsten Evensen, Becki Ketterling
Idaho State University

Grade: 6-8
Time Allotment: Ten 45 Minute sessions
Subject Matter: Social Studies and History

The ancient Egyptian culture thrived for 3,000 years. The society that they created was advanced beyond its time. They had a developed cast system, a form of written communication, and a society that is comparable to the one today, advanced architecture, and a fascinating burial system. Through archeology we have learned about this culture and continue to be intrigued by the ways and customs of its people.
Through the activities presented in this lesson the students will gain a brief overview of the ancient Egyptian culture. In addition students will relate the lives of ancient Egyptians to their own.

Learning Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  • describe one way archaeologists get information.
  • describe the Egyptian social pyramid.
  • state why it was believed that slaves built the Egyptian pyramids and list evidence to disprove this theory.
  • define vocabulary terms dealing with ancient Egyptians.
  • compute figures to help them comprehend the size of the Great Pyramid.
  • explain the important role mummies play in answering archeologist and scientist's questions.
  • list the different stages to embalming and creating a mummy.
  • identify a substance that is similar to the one the ancient Egyptians were using in their mummification process

All standards were taken from the Idaho State Board of Education Achievement Standards Web Site,

  • 462.01a
    The students will understand the processes that gave rise to the earliest human communities.
    The students will be able to describe types of evidence used by anthropologists, archeologists, and other scholars to reconstruct early human and cultural development
  • 462.06c
    The students will understand how empire building and trade contributed to increasingly complex relations among people
    The students will be able to explain the importance and levels of social classes
  • 463.02c
    The students will understand physical characteristics of different places and regions. The will be able to identify characteristics of significant civilizations in world history.
  • 473.01a
    The students will acquire critical thinking and analytical skills.
    The students will be able to use visual and mathematical data presented in charts, tables, graphs, maps, and other graphic organizers to assist in interpreting a historical event

Media Components :
Lost City of the Pyramids (Secrets of the Pharaohs) Episode 2, Produced by Richard Riesz. Videocassette Dist by PBS Home Video. 2001

Unwrapping The Mummy (Secrets of the Pharaohs) Episode 3, Produced by Richard Riesz. Videocassette Dist by PBS Home Video. 2001

Web Sites:


Flower Pots
2 jars (filled with class and job assignments)
Poster of the Egyptian social pyramid
Paper and pencil for each student
Worksheet titled Vocabulary Worksheet
Mummy Internet Worksheet
2 fresh apples

Large box of table salt
Large box of Epsom salts
Large box of baking soda
Eight 12-oz disposable plastic cups
Measuring cup
Permanent marking pen
Roll of masking tape
Food scale

Prep For Teachers

  • Paint simple patterns on the pots so that the students will have an easier time putting them back together. Place each pot in a bag and gently hit it with a hammer to break them into pieces.
  • Make a photocopy of the list of class and job assignments. Cut apart the assignments and put the female assignments in one jar and the male assignments in the other.
  • Create a poster (or overhead) of the Egyptian social pyramid. Make sure to leave enough room for students to write their names in the pyramid when they get their assignments.
  • Bookmark the websites on all the computers. Make sure there is enough room around each computer for the students to do group work. Be familiar with the web site in order to help the students.
  • Review the videos. Have them cued to the appropriate starting point.
  • Apples, Knife

Introductory Activities
Ask the students how much they already know about Ancient Egypt. Make a list of their responses on the board.
Explain to the students that there are different ways we get information about the past. One way is by their looking at writings and records of the time period. Another is through archaeology. Archaeology is "the systematic study of past human life and culture by the recovery and examination of remaining material evidence, such as graves, buildings, tools, and pottery" (according to ).

Tell the students that they are going to experience what archaeologists do by trying to put together some "ancient Egyptian" pots. Divide the students into groups. Give each group a bag of broken pottery and some white glue. Have the students try to put the pots back together as if they were archaeologists and had found the pieces in the ground.

Discuss the activity. Was it hard to put the pieces together? What if pieces from different pots were mixed in? What if you were missing pieces? Archaeologists do things like this all the time; do you think you could learn about the people who made the pots by putting them back together?

Learning Activities
Explain to the students that you will now be discussing pyramids. Theories on how they were built will be discussed as a class.

Insert Secrets of the Pharaohs: Lost City of the Pyramids into the VCR. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to raise their hand when they can name the site where three major pyramids are built. START the tape right after the opening credits, when a voice is saying "Egypt at the time of the pyramids…". PLAY the tape until the narrator says "Archaeologists had the first signs that this site was the base for a large undertaking." STOP the tape and discuss the information with the students. (The tape will need to be advanced to a location several minutes away.)

To check for comprehension after the video segment, ask questions that address the theory that slaves built the pyramids. Rewind and review the segments as necessary. (For example, one question could ask the students who first introduced the theory that the slaves built the pyramids (Herodotus).)

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION and ask them to raise their hand when they hear a reason that the builders of the pyramids were not slaves. PLAY the tape when the narrator is saying "The details from the tombs taken from the evidence of food production from the town down below suggested an extremely organized and efficient…". STOP the tape after the narrator says, "From the tombs of the town, a picture was emerging of a construction project manned by a large number of workers who were well fed and highly organized."

Check for comprehension by asking students for specific examples in the Egyptians' diet that led archaeologists to believe that the pyramid builders were not slaves. Make sure that the students understood all vocabulary introduced in the video. Also answer any questions the students might have after viewing the video clips. Discuss with your students various possibilities of where the pyramid builders came from and help them to gather their own opinion on where these people originated.

Learning Activity II:
After the students understand the role and duties of a pyramid builder, have them write a short paper from the point of view of such a person. (Suggestion: This paper should be one page in length, minimum. It should address the lifestyle of the person, incorporate some of the Egyptians' beliefs, and discuss the task of building the pyramids.)

After a designated period of time, allowing the students in the classroom adequate time to gather ideas and write some of them down, ask if the students would like to share some of their ideas with the rest of the class. This may allow them to expand on their ideas more than if working alone and will allow other students to gather ideas that branch off of those from others.

Explain to your students that the pyramids were complex buildings that had a purpose. Ask your students what the pyramids were chiefly used for (tombs for the pharaohs). Ask the students if the queens were buried in the pyramid as well (they often were). Check to see if students know that there were often several buildings constructed around the pyramids for burial of other people.

Culminating Activity:
Have the students gather in small groups (3-4 students) and go to a computer lab or gather around computers in the classroom for the following activity.

Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking students to fill out a worksheet from the information on the following website: Before allowing the students to work on the assignment, give a brief demonstration of how to work through the website. Be sure that all of the students are at the correct website and monitor closely throughout the class period to be sure that they remain on this website.

When entering the website, a drawing of the Nile River will appear and then a lotus flower, often found in Egyptian hieroglyphs, will bloom at the end. The students can advance to the next screen which shows the website menu either by waiting three seconds or by left clicking on the words 'Ancient Egypt' which will appear to the right of the lotus flower. Once the next screen is on the computer, the students will see a word column on the left hand side and a stone tablet with hieroglyphics on the right hand side of the page. Have the students click on the pyramid icon on the stone tablet or click on the word 'pyramid' to their left in the word column.

After clicking on the pyramid, the screen will advance to a page which shows a pyramid in the center and the words "Pyramids: Houses of Eternity" in the upper left hand corner. Students may click on these words to advance to the next screen or may wait for three seconds to allow the computer to advance. The students will then be on a page with a picture of a pyramid in the center and the title "Pyramids". To the left is a column of menu items for this particular page. Also on the page are some paragraphs explaining briefly what the pyramids were, when they were built, and where they are located. Several words throughout the text are hyperlinked (underlined and blue). If one of these words is clicked on, a definition for the word comes up on the screen. Have the students fill in the definitions of various words on their worksheet from the website in this manner.

Toward the bottom of the screen are the words "Story", "Explore", and "Challenge". These will advance the student to another screen and will give them more information about the pyramids. Allow the students to go through the "Story" and "Explore" options in their small groups. The groups can then work at their own pace and the students will be able to explore what they are interested in.

Be sure that the students understand that they must complete their worksheet and that the answers to the questions can all be completed by visiting the various places on the website. Tell the students not to go into the "Challenge" option yet, as this would be a good activity for the entire class to do together.

After allowing time for the students to go through the other sites and gather the needed information, bring them back together and go through the "Challenge" portion together. Gather the class together around a Smart Board or of a projection screen with the computer screen projected onto it. On the website that the students have been working on (, click on the "Challenge" option that the students have been asked to remain off of.

Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking the students to raise their hand when they have a response for the height, weight, or area of the Great Pyramid.

Introductory Activities:
Establishing a personal connection to history
Ask the students what a mummy is and why it would be useful at this day in age. Write down the students' ideas in the corner of the board. Ask the students how they think a mummy would assist archeologists in their knowledge about ancient Egypt. Insert Secrets of the Pharaohs: Unwrapping the Mummy. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking the students to determine some ways mummies can assist archeologists and scientists in answering questions about ancient Egyptian lifestyle. PLAY the video starting where the scientist feet are shown walking. STOP the tape when the scientist gets done talking about understanding Egyptians far better than in the past. Ask the students what questions the mummies were assisting the archeologists to answer.

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking the students to raise their hand when they think they know why mummies are helping us understand Egyptian life so much now, after all they have been around for many years. START the movie and play until it says, "The tombs create a variety of tools, but raise even more questions."

Talk with the students about what is going on now that is helping us to use mummies to understand Egyptian life so much. Discuss with the students what some of the questions may be that are raised by the pictures in the tombs.

Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking the students to raise their hands when they hear three questions that are raised by the tombs. PLAY the video. STOP at the picture of Azru with the narrator saying, "X-rays transform Azru from a museum mummy into a woman with a history and a story to tell." Once again ask the students what a mummy is and what importance it has this day in age. Write their new ideas next to the ideas they had at the beginning of the class.

Have the computers booted up to Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by having the students fill out the worksheet as they go through the different sights connected to the website. The students can work in groups of two or more if there are not enough computers. Go through the process of mummification according to the worksheet. When talking about the fourth step to mummification, the body cavity is stuffed with natron, define what natron is for your students. Tell them that it has a Latin origin and stands for soda. Ask your students how they think Natron would help in the mummification process? After listening to the responses tell your students that tomorrow they will have an opportunity to mummify an apple.

Culminating Activity
This activity can be done in small groups or as a large group activity.
Have the students make a prediction about what substance or mixture of substances will mummify the apple the best:

  1. ˝ cup baking soda
  2. ˝ cup table salt
  3. ˝ cup Epsom salt
  4. 50:50 mix of Epsom and table salt
  5. 50:50 mix of table salt and baking soda
  6. 50:50 mix of baking soda and Epsom salts
  7. 1/3 baking soda, 1/3 Epsom salts, and 1/3 table salt
  8. Leave this cup alone as a control

Slice Apples Each student should get a slice and fill a cup with the "mixture" of his/her choice for mummification. Students will need to weigh their apple slice and write the starting weight on a piece masking tape taped on the cup. Student should also note on cup which "mummification" recipe they have used. Remind students they want to make sure that the apple slices are completely covered. Place the cups on a shelf out of direct sunlight and let them sit for seven days.

One week later:
Ask the kids if they remember their predictions. Talk about why they chose the substance or mix of substances that they chose. Have students take each apple out of the cup and brush off as much salt as possible (do not rinse the apple off in water, that will re-hydrate the apple and defeat the purpose of the experiment). Have the students reweigh the apple slices and write down the finishing weight.

Calculate the moisture lost for each apple slice by dividing the difference in weight by the starting weight. Discuss with your students the following questions:

  • What was the point of leaving one of the apple slices in a cup without any salt at all?
  • Which compound or substance seemed to work best at making an apple mummy?
  • Which compound or substance do you thing is the most like natron?
  • Was the prediction you made at the beginning correct?


Conduct a spelling test using the vocabulary words from the worksheet on day six. As an option have the students define the words as well.
Have the students keep a daily journal of what they have learned.

Have the students use the scientific method to make predictions and observation during the apple mummification activity on day 9.

Have the students make hieroglyphs representing what would appear around their tomb according to the assigned class.

Explore Egyptian art using the web site

Community Connections

  • Have an archeologist or history teacher from the community come in and do a presentation.
  • Visit a local library and find books on ancient Egypt.
  • Go to a museum in the community, where available.
  • Do a research project on archeological finds in your area.

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