Adult Ed
Ancient Civilizations


Activity 1: Defining Civilization
Activity 2: Reading About and Comparing Ancient Civilizations
Activity 3: Summarizing
Activity 4: Writing About History in Different Styles

Activity 1: Defining Civilization.


Step 1Write the word "civilization" on the board and tell students that they will be comparing two ancient civilizations. (Choose two of the texts listed in the materials section, or other texts, which provide in-depth analyses of ancient civilizations, appropriate for your students' reading level.)

Step 2Ask the following questions and write students' responses on the board. What kinds of institutions and activities make up a civilization? What does a society need in order for it to be considered a civilization?

Step 3When students have finished offering responses, have the class review the list. While reviewing, ask the following questions: Which aspects of civilization that the class has mentioned seem to be related? Assist the class in grouping together sets of similar responses. For example, if "laws," "courts," and "rulers" have been listed, assist students in putting the items together, and then figuring out a term which subsumes each of the items, e.g., "government."

Step 4Divide the class into groups, and have the groups organize and name categories for the rest of the items.

Step 5Ask groups to report back, and ask if all members agreed with the categories and the way items were classified. Encourage students to examine their logic in placing an item in one category or another. If an item could be put into another category, ask students to consider why they made the decision they did.

Step 6Divide the class into groups again. Distribute newsprint. Ask students to list the categories (e.g., government, art, religion) in order of importance for a civilization to be considered "great." They should record their list on newsprint. The following questions might be useful in composing the list: Which of the categories is most essential? Which would come next? And after that? Have groups write a brief justification for their choice of the three most important items. (Note: If members of the group disagree with the decision of the majority, have these individuals list their order separately and write a separate rationale for their top three choices.)

Step 7Have groups report back to the whole class. When they've finished reporting, have them hang their newsprint around the room. Refer back to the lists as appropriate; add to them and revise them as needed throughout the unit study.


Ask groups to review their lists of items again, and this time prioritize using the criterion of "power": Which aspects of civilization are most important for a society to be powerful? When they return to class, have students compare the order in which they place their categories for the two different criteria -- great and powerful. Discuss these questions. Which categories became most important for the criterion of power? Which remained in the same order of priority? Did their lists suggest that greatness and power were the same thing?

Activity 2: Reading About and Comparing Ancient Civilizations.


Step 1Have students choose one of two books to read about an ancient civilization. Use books about two civilizations which may share some similarities, but also offer strong contrasts. (See "Materials" section above for a list of suggested texts.) The Celts and the Romans are two such societies, and the rest of the activities in this lesson plan have been written based upon material from THE ROMAN EMPIRE by Don Nardo (Lucent Books, 1994) and THE CELTS: CONQUERORS OF ANCIENT EUROPE by Christiane Elvere (Harry N. Abrams, 1992).

Note: You may wish to assign only a portion of these texts, depending upon time constraints and student reading levels. If the reading levels in your class vary greatly, you will need to use more than two books for each civilization, so that all students are reading materials which are level-appropriate.

Step 2When students have chosen their books, divide the class into groups according to their choices (students who choose the same book should work together). Before reading, have them copy the lists of categories for greatness and power which they developed in Activity One. Have them also write:
  • two or three questions they have about whether and how the civilization achieved these criteria

  • any facts they may know related to the civilization they are about to explore.

Step 3As students read, have them keep double-entry journals, where each page is divided into two columns. One column is for passages from the text about which they have questions or comments, or which demonstrate any of the categories on their lists. Students should copy two or three passages in the first column. In the second column, they should write their questions, ideas, and feelings related to the passage in the other column. Periodically engage in class journal-sharing. Encourage students to use text as evidence, which may shape or support their points of view. Ask them to reflect on how the information in the text is adding to and/or changing their ideas about the civilization.

Step 4When students have finished reading their books, have them refer to their double-entry journals. Ask them to once again consider which elements contribute to great civilizations, and to powerful ones, and have them then create new lists for both criteria. Then ask them to choose three to five aspects of the society, based on the categories they have prioritized, which they think most characterize the civilization under study.

Activity 3: Summarizing.


Step 1Divide students into groups. Model the summarizing process as described below. Tell the groups that they will write summaries that describe how the characteristics of the civilization they read about demonstrate those aspects of great and/or powerful societies decided upon in Activity Two.

Step 2Provide students with a short passage taken from a reference text, such as THE COLUMBIA HISTORY OF THE WORLD, which tells about an ancient civilization. Have students read the passage in their groups, and underline only what they consider to be the most important ideas in the passage. Encourage them not to underline information if it is repetitive or focuses on elaborated details.

Step 3Reconvene as a class and have groups compare their results. As each group reports back, write crucial information (phrases and individual words that capture primary ideas) on the board.

Step 4Using the crucial information on the board, write a class paragraph.

Step 5Re-divide into groups and have students repeat the process. Using the example on the blackboard as a model this time, each group should write a summary paragraph.

Step 6When students have had sufficient practice working with shorter passages, have them summarize material from their books, concentrating upon those aspects of society they had chosen earlier. Then ask groups to prepare an oral presentation on one of the aspects they have summarized. Encourage them to include in their presentation whether the aspect of society that they explored demonstrated greatness, power, both, or neither.

Step 7When students have finished making their presentations, lead a class discussion that compares/contrasts the two civilizations (e.g., Celtic and Roman or Egyptian and Chinese) using one of the categories (e.g., law, education, or religion) brainstormed in Activity One. Make two columns on the board, one headed "Roman," and one "Celtic." As students compare and contrast civilizations, list their observations in the appropriate column.


Have students use the list to write a couple of paragraphs comparing and contrasting the two civilizations.

Activity 4: Writing About History in Different Styles.


Step 1Distribute two paragraphs, one demonstrating the discriptive approach to writing and the other demonstrating a cause and effect.

Step 2Have students work in the same groups as they did in Activity Three. Assign each group a passage from their book. Have the groups identify the passages as either cause/effect or descriptive. They should answer these questions: Does the passage mostly tell a story or describe artifacts? Does it mostly discuss things or people? Have them note the pages where they found the information.

Step 3Reconvene as a class and have the students read excerpts from the text that support/demonstrate their group's position on whether the paragraph is descriptive or causal. Encourage the class to make observations about stylistic differences, asking questions such as the following: Does the text provide a lot of details about the way things looked? Does the text illustrate action? Does it focus on events or on customs? Encourage students to support their observations using examples.


First, have students write a description of a recent event in their lives using a descriptive approach, focusing on the setting as part of the event. Then, they should do the same using a narrative approach and focusing on actions. When students read their pieces to each other in groups, ask them to observe the different information conveyed through each of the styles.


Ask students to compare/contrast two or three aspects of the ancient civilization they studied with modern-day civilization. Have them use the library and the Internet to research and prepare a comparison/contrast essay.