So you’re teaching ancient civilizations this year.
And maybe, like me 15 years ago, you have little ancient civilization content knowledge.
So where do you learn the what and how of teaching Ancient Civilizations?
If you have a textbook and generous predecessor, you’re off and running. But chances are good that you have no text and a disorganized file cabinet!
And how do you structure all that information?
Enter GRAPES – a favorite structure for teaching Ancient Civilizations!
What are GRAPES?
Teaching ancient history and ancient civilizations in Middle School focuses on the cultural characteristics of ancient civilizations rather than chronology. Dates help make sense of the progression of the history, but only in broad terms.
For example, knowing that the pyramids were built around 2600 BCE and the Hebrews moved to Egypt around 1800 BCE fleeing famine in the not so Fertile Crescent helps debunk the myth of Hebrew slaves building pyramids.
So, then, how do you teach about any civilization, ancient or modern?
Social Structure/Everyday Life.
These 6 characteristics define any civilization, ancient or modern. This wonderful classroom chart is available from Teacher’s Discovery.
It’s easy to research and structure your materials around each of the 6 GRAPES characteristics and teach them one at a time for each civilization.
When you’re researching lesson materials, it’s a lot easier to work through a Google search for “Mesopotamia Religion” than for “Mesopotamia.”
While you’ll still jump down some rabbit holes, what you ultimately plan and present has a deep cohesive focus.
My students liked the GRAPES structure as well.
They knew what to expect from each ancient civilization we studied.
They knew how to define each GRAPES characteristic.
They knew how GRAPES worked together to create an entire civilization.
How to Teach using GRAPES
Geography always gets taught first as it determines all other characteristics of a civilization. The geography and climate of a place determine what residents grow and eat, what they wear, what they build their houses from, what they trade, and what they pray for.
In our supermarket world, students are sometimes amazed that Florida oranges don’t grow well in my NE Ohio locale, but that apples do.
This basic lesson of history leads to the whole notion of why foods of different cultures, say Mexican, Italian, and Chinese, focus on different ingredients.
MAPS, MAPS, MAPS – students can never interact too frequently with different maps – political, topographical, temperature, precipitation, crop etc.
Read more about teaching Geography HERE.
I teach Religion next as ancient cultures developed religious mythology to make sense of the weather, topography, and natural forces which impact their environment.
Ancient mythology is supremely interesting to middle schoolers and infuses lots of popular literature and computer games.
Beware, however, of the adult themes that permeate ancient mythologies. Read more about teaching ancient mythology HERE.
When it comes to Achievements, I integrate major achievements into the other characteristics.
Learning how to build irrigation canals and shadufs is best taught during Geography and Agriculture rather than two weeks later when it’s time to teach Achievements.
The essential questions of Politics and Government revolve around how and why empires arise, how they are managed, and why they fall. These are common themes across all civilizations. Studying famous figures puts faces in front of events.
Economics is about what is produced (and why), how it is produced, and for whom it is produced. Trade and empire building are the results. Lots of looking at maps and understanding the effect of supply and demand on price.
I work Social Structure and Everyday Life in as centers or bell work. My go to topics are social pyramid, housing, clothing and jewelry, role of women, childhood, and education.
I love the flexibility of teaching using GRAPES. You don’t have to teach each characteristic in order. If you’ve got two days before Spring Break, it’s probably easier to fit in lessons on a civilization’s Social Structure rather than starting – but not finishing – more involved lessons on Politics and Government.
Where to Find GRAPES Content
If you’re starting from scratch, I’d start with a middle school textbook. If you don’t have a textbook, do a Google search for “Ancient History Textbook PDF.” You’ll be amazed at the free textbooks you can download in their entirety. These tend to be older textbooks which I prefer to less rigorous newer texts.
Once you familiarize with the basics, you’re ready to dive deeper down the content knowledge rabbit hole.
And when you jump down that hole, you’ll discover all sort of fun activities to strengthen that core knowledge – Vocabulary Activities, Primary Source DBQs, Simulations – the ideas are endless!
So enjoy this journey. I have come to love ancient history. It has helped me make sense of our own world. And isn’t that truly the lesson of history?
Sign up for my Timesaving Teacher Tools Newsletter. You’ll instantly receive my Ancient Egypt HEX Game Activity to print out and play tomorrow! Twice each month I’ll make your teacher life easier with even more Timesaving ideas. Take back your Nights and Weekends!
Check out my Looking to the Past Ancient History Resources designed using the GRAPES structure.
Thanks for being here. See you soon!