Teaching History in the Primary School

Appendix A: Teaching Plan - Ancient Egypt

Begin by telling the children why they are learning about Ancient Egypt:

  • because it was one of the world's first civilisations, in the sense that it was a single country governed by laws, with a king and a capital city.
  • because the Ancient Egyptians had beliefs which led them to record details of their daily life on the walls of their tombs so that we know a lot about them.
  • because the Egyptians invented a system of writing and used it to run their country successfully for a very long time.

Stage 1

The first thing the children need to understand is the way that the Nile valley created Egyptian society. Fertile mud was spread out over the land when the river flooded each year: this meant that much more food could be grown than the farmers needed, so other people could be artists, craftsmen, administrators, soldiers and priests. Children also need to understand how farming communities naturally produce 'have's' and 'have nots', and also how they tend to combine for protection under strong leaders (like gangs in the playground).

Teach through:

  • a film of Egypt today showing the way the land is farmed (the first BBC Landmarks series, programme 1, is good).
  • a monopoly style game to show competition always leads to winners and losers.
  • the Narmer palette which shows the final stage in the unification of Egypt when south defeated north (NB watch the gruesome aspects).

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Stage 2

Next the children need to understand the Egyptian way of thinking. Ask them the three big questions religion is designed to answer and then tell them how the Egyptians answered these questions. Show how the Egyptian answers reflected both their environment and the state of their scientific knowledge. Ask the children what would worry the Egyptians most (high or low Files, disruption of the harvest, the death of the king...) Show how the need to avoid conflict led to the idea of ma‘at (order, stability, justice) and the worship of the king whose life embodied the unity of the state. How you couldn't get into the afterlife unless you'd lived according to ma'at (i.e. avoided conflict producing activities like murder, theft, adultery, swearing...). Tell them how pyramids developed from mounds in the desert and how the dead kings needed offerings of food to sustain them in the afterlife (you could compare this Egyptian form of ancestor worship with that practised by many cultures, past and present, for example the Chinese).

Teach through:

  • a film about Egyptian kings and the way Egyptian history is divided into Old, Middle and New Kingdoms with thirty dynasties (families) of monarchs (the second Landmarks series, programme 1, is good for this and introduces the subject of writing as well).
  • writing hieroglyphs. Do simple picture writing first to show how writing developed,then the real Egyptian alphabet. Get the children to write their names in hieroglyphs and show how different languages need different alphabets. Our own uses the wrong one...

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Stage 3

Art and architecture. Show how the magic purposes served by Egyptian art dictated its style and symbolism. Emphasise that most of the objects and paintings that have survived were made for the tombs of the elite. Add details of mummification process if you want!

Teach through:

  • a film about Egyptian art (Channel 4 History Through Art, programme 1, is good).
  • grids to help children draw like Ancient Egyptians
  • group collages based on scenes in Egyptian tombs
  • lists of things the children would take with them to their own afterlife
  • make models of houses or boats or mummies, like those actually placed in tombs.

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Stage 4

Summary stage: what it was like to be an Ancient Egyptian.

Teach through:

  • a role play based on building the pyramids; receiving tribute; performing the 'Opening of the Mouth' ceremony (enacted at funerals to revivify the dead).
  • writing an individual or group story based on a tomb robber's account of his narrow escape, a description of a party, or a visit to a temple.

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