Teaching Ancient Mesopotamia - Project Ideas

As I stated in a previous post about Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory, I recently finished my unit at school on ancient Mesopotamia. As part of my “post mortem” on the unit, I made a list of project ideas for possible implementation in the future. I classified the ideas based on MI and subject matter, and perhaps next year I’ll do a differentiated, more immersive unit allowing students to choose different projects on different aspects of Mesopotamia and utilizing different intelligences. Naturally, many of the projects crossover from one intelligence to the other.

Some of these project ideas are what I would really call “mini-projects.” That is, they might take a day or two rather than a week or more. Most of them aren’t tested either, but I really think there are a few good ideas.

Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence Project Ideas

Geography of Mesopotamia
  • Write poem about the Tigris and Euphrates and their importance to the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia.
  • Write a report comparing and contrasting the geography of ancient Mesopotamia with the geography of the area today.
  • Make travel brochure for a trip back to a city in ancient Mesopotamia.
  • Research and write reports about different aspects of the geography of Mesopotamia - the Tigris and/or Euphrates, the Zagros Mountains, the Taurus Mountains, the Persian Gulf, etc…
  • Write diary entries about an expedition from the headwaters to the delta of the Tigris or Euphrates.

Roles in Mesopotamian Society
  • Write and deliver a speech convincing the citizens of ancient Mesopotamia that they should pay taxes to support government projects such as city walls, irrigation canals, roads, etc…
  • Day in the life of a scribe journal entries – journal/diary entries that describe the daily tasks of a scribe or a scribe student.
  • Hall of Fame Mesopotamia – biographical descriptions of important Mesopotamians (Sargon, Hammurabi, Moses, Nebuchadnezzar, etc…). Maybe have the class or groups rank them based on importance and have a debate on who should be in and who should be out.

Mesopotamian Achievements
  • Write an extension story for one of the stories in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Write and perform a play retelling the Epic of Gilgamesh, or part of it, in a modern way.
  • Write a radio, TV, or print ad selling one of the many Mesopotamian inventions.
  • Write a proposal to King Hammurabi explaining why you like/dislike certain laws in his code.
  • Have a debate on whether or not Hammurabi’s Code was a fair way to govern ancient Babylon.
  • Writing in cuneiform. Provide a cuneiform style alphabet (worksheets with these are available from various sites. You can also get a computer font that allows you to type in cuneiform.) Have students decode phrases you make up and have them write/translate back and forth.
  • Phoenician alphabet – Have students code phrases in the Phoenician alphabet (many textbooks have the alphabet printed in them). This is a bit easier that with the cuneiform assignment because they actually had an alphabet!
  • Phoenician trade log – students make a log of imports/exports to Phoenicia including where they came from or went.

Culminating Mesopotamia Projects
  • Mesopotamia Times Newspaper – write articles, want ads, classifieds, editorials, etc and create a newspaper. Maybe require that the articles each cover a news story dealing with a different aspect of Mesopotamian life – government, music, art, religion, etc…
Visual/Spatial Intelligence Project Ideas
  • Compile a list of ancient Mesopotamian cities and the dates they were founded and make a timeline.
  • Maps, maps, maps. Being a visual person myself, maps are always good. I have my students label a map of Mesopotamia and the surrounding area. Coloring maps is also quite satisfying. Also fun is making maps using color to show the different empires that ruled over Mesopotamia.
  • Mesopotamian City Map – have students make an overhead map of what a Mesopotamian city probably looked like. Maybe they can make inset pictures on the map showing close-ups of the ziggurat, market, houses, etc…

Roles in Mesopotamian Society
  • Social classes of Mesopotamia Art/Diagram – have students make a graphic organizer showing the various social classes of ancient Mesopotamia. Allow them to get “out there” if they choose and get really creative, metaphorical, and expressive in how they make their diagrams/organizers.

Mesopotamian Achievements
  • Analysis of the Standard of Ur – have students look at a photo, diagram, drawing, or other representation of the Standard of Ur and have them try to figure out what is says/means. Then discuss what archaeologists/historians/etc think it means.
  • Have students draw a Standard of Y (Y being whatever you want – your school, state, country, the students’ lives, etc..) The standard shows different important events, people, etc., just like the Standard of Ur.
  • Epic of Gilgamesh Comic Book – students tell the story in comic book form including comic-style drawings, dialogue, and/or captions.
  • Hammurabi’s Code Art – Students pick various laws from Hammurabi’s Code and depict them in visual form. As an extension/alternative to the Social Classes Diagram, they could make pictures to show how different social classes would be treated under the law according to Hammurabi.
  • Visual Almanac of Mesopotamian Achievements – students draw pictures and write brief informational captions about some of the many achievements/inventions of the Mesopotamians.
  • Draw a picture/diagram of a Phoenician marketplace.
Culminating Projects
  • Mesopotamia Collage - Have students use the computer to find photos (or magazines, if available) to make a collage showing different aspects of Mesopotamian civilization.
  • Make a picture book of Mesopotamian life to include everything from its geography to the rule of Babylon, etc…Making a PowerPoint of this might be fun too.
Bodily/Kinesthetic Project Ideas
  • Make a raised relief map model of Mesopotamia.
  • Create a mime or other silent drama presentation dealing with the geography of Mesopotamia. Example: A silent play depicting travel from the headwaters of the Tigris or Euphrates to the delta at the Persian Gulf, perhaps with a side trip to the desert of course.
  • Build a model/diorama of a Mesopotamian city.
Roles in Mesopotamian Society
  • Write and perform a skit showing interaction between the Mesopotamian social classes.
  • A scribe school skit
  • Dance of the Mesopotamian Farmers – showing what must have been the daily routine of Mesopotamian farmer
  • Create and perform a mime showing….Mesopotamian farming, scribing/writing, a priest-king ruling his people, the role of priests/priestesses
Mesopotamian Achievements
  • Build a model or make a diorama of a ziggurat.
  • Build a replica of the Standard of Ur.
  • Make a Mesopotamian-style sculpture.
  • Create a mode/diorama of Mesopotamian farm. A real growing farm with flowing water and a irrigation system would be..HOLY COW, so cool!
  • Build models/dioramas of Mesopotamian inventions (the wheel, chariot, etc…)
  • Make a usable clay tablet and stylus.
  • Reenact a Mesopotamian battle using figurines or make a fixed, frozen battle scene.
  • Make a model/diorama of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
  • Make a sculpture of Gilgamesh.
  • Mesopotamian religion skit
  • Hammurabi’s Code mock trial
  • skit depicting Phoenician trade domination
  • Create and perform an interpretative dance (with/without music) showing a Mesopotamian myth.
  • dance depicting the events shown on either panel of the Standard of Ur
  • Mime a Mesopotamian myth or parts of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Try to make a trade without saying anything (somewhat simulates trading with someone that speaks a different language).
Logical/Mathematical Project Ideas
  • Use Excel to make graphs like climographs, population density graphs, harvest record graphs, or whatever other statistical data you can find on Mesopotamia.
  • Use a mapping program to create maps using similar data
  • Create a game in which players have to travel through Mesopotamia, facing various geographical hazards, challenges, etc…
Culminating Projects
  • Play Empires! – This game from Interact has a lot of math (keeping records) and logic/strategy in it. This game is better if you have a blocked style class with more than just a 50 minute period. 50 minutes is pretty short to do the lessons without rushing and stressing yourself and the students out. Having said that, it does cover most of the content of my Mesopotamia unit in a fun and engaging way.
  • Design and play a Mesopotamia game – I had some students do this a few years ago in another class and on another subject. It was great! They came up with really fun (ingenious, in some cases) games to play with classmates.
  • Design Mesopotamian puzzles – make word searches, crossword puzzles, vocabulary scrambles, etc…Or get pictures from the web, magazines, or other source and actually make a jigsaw puzzle!
  • Make a timeline of Mesopotamian history – you can make these fairly easily on the computer with the right software, such as Inspiration 8.0
Musical Project Ideas
Culminating Projects
  • National anthems can be a fun way to integrate music into the curriculum. Just have the students write national anthems for each civilization (or even city-states) of ancient Mesopotamia. This reinforces the important characteristics while providing an avenue to explore musical interests. Of course, this could also go with verbal/linguistic.
  • Students these days (boy that makes me sound old) really like making raps. Raps can be about everything from how the rivers made life in Mesopotamia possible to how the Babylonians conquered Mesopotamia, etc, etc…It’s really fun if you let them dress up for their performances.
  • A musical play – your students may or may not be familiar with musical theatre (i.e. The Music Man, The Sound of Music, etc.). This could be a fun way to include music in the history curriculum. Have the class write a play complete with dialogue and songs. Of course this project would require a substantial time investment to be worthwhile. I bet it would be fun though!
Naturalist Project Ideas
  • Research the deserts of Mesopotamia and write a report, make a diorama, etc…
  • Research the marshlands of Mesopotamia and write a report, make a diorama, etc…
  • Find out what plant and/or insect species your area and Mesopotamia have in common and collect specimens.
  • Examine how the Persian Gulf has receded and land reclaimed by the desert since the time of ancient Mesopotamia. Make a model, write a paper, make a poster, etc…
  • Research how nature fit into the religion of the ancient Mesopotamians. Make a booklet, brochure, report, etc…
  • Make a monster index of animals/monsters encountered in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Draw pictures and make a little booklet out of it. (or PowerPoint, poster, etc…)
  • Make a boy/girl scout handbook of ancient Mesopotamia showing how to survive in that environment.
Interpersonal Project Ideas
  • Basically any project done in a group
  • Different groups with different projects, i.e. a Verbal/Linguistic group, a Visual/Spatial group, etc…
  • Skits, skits, skits
Intrapersonal Project Ideas
  • Any project done individually
  • If I were a geographical feature of Mesopotamia, I would be…and why, of course.
  • If I could travel to the region of Mesopotamia, where I would go and why.