Teaching History in the Primary School

Appendix B: Teaching Plan - Ancient Greece

Why should we learn about Ancient Greece?

  • because the Greeks invented science, maths, drama, sport, history, politics and many other things.
  • because many of their ideas are still in use today, for example democracy.
  • because we need to know why their society was so successful.

Stage 1

Once again it's the environment which governed the development of Greek society and culture. Look at some maps of Greece and locate the main cities like Athens, Thebes and Sparta and see how difficult it would be for one city to control all the others. See how important the sea would be for a country with far more coastline than Ancient Egypt. The Greeks naturally became travellers and merchants. People who cross boundaries often become curious, ask questions, compare answers. This, plus competition between cities, helped to create a 'thinking' society. The Greeks knew that there were many things in the universe they did not understand and they went looking for rules which would enable them to understand the world in which they lived. This was why they were interested in maths and science.

Teach through:

  • a video introducing Ancient Greece through its environment (the first Zig Zag series on Ancient Greece is good, as is the History Through Art programme on the making of a Greek pot).
  • studying and drawing a map of Ancient Greece.
  • drawing a plan of a typical Greek city showing the market place, acropolis, theatre and so on.
  • drawing pictures of Greek buildings to show how they were based on circles and squares.
  • an account of how Eratosthenes worked out the circumference of the earth.

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Stage 2

Although the Greeks believed the universe was governed by rules, they had to accept that in real life things aren't perfect. This was where the gods came in. Explain to the children that the Greek gods were were human and that they often let their feelings get the better of them. They frequently fell in love and they could be very jealous and angry. Choose a legend to illustrate this. If it's the Trojan War you can tell them that the story was based on real events that had taken place a thousand years before the time they are studying. Archaeologists have excavated some of the places mentioned in the story.

Teach through:

  • a video re-telling one of the legends (again the Zig Zag series is good).
  • asking them to do individual strip cartoon or creating a class collage to illustrate the legend.
  • performing the legend as a short play with masks and music.
  • getting them to represent different emotions in the way the Greeks did in their theatre masks.

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Stage 3

The Greek search for rules led them to invent sport and politics. The Olympic Games were held every four years to find out which athletes came closest to the ideal. Competition was very fierce and winners became both rich and famous. Although the ancient games included most of the modern events (such as javelin and discus as well as running, wrestling and boxing) there were also important differences (all male, nudity, standing long jump, no boxing gloves, chariot racing etc). In relation to politics you may have to start at the very beginning. Ask the children to think about the decisions that have to be made in any community, whether it is a school, club, town council or whole country. What is the best way to resolve disagreements, deal with misbehaviour and so on? Is the answer to give everyone a say, or let one person do all the thinking?

Teach through:

  • a discussion about why the Greeks were interested in sport.
  • any recent coverage of the modern Olympics in the newspapers or on TV.
  • comparison with Greek representations (on vases, statues etc).
  • miming the events and ceremonies that accompanied them.
  • pretending the class has been marooned on a desert island: how will they organise themselves?
  • developing a discussion that allows you to introduce the word democracy.

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Stage 4

The Greeks at home. Explain to the children how men and women have had different roles in the past. In Ancient Greece women normally ran the home whilst men ran the country. Aspects of Greek homelife can include food, clothing and education as well as the differences between rich and poor people.

Teach through:

  • a table comparing between men and women's lives today and in Ancient Greece.
  • a plan of an Ancient Greek house
  • a Greek menu
  • the Greek alphabet
  • making a tourist brochure for Ancient Greece

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Stage 5

The Greeks in war. Tell the children how all the Greek cities had to combine to defeat the huge armies sent against them by the king of Persia, how Athens was sacked and its temples destroyed. How, despite this the Greeks won and the Parthenon was built to celebrate their victory. How 100 years later Alexander the Great destroyed the Persian empire and took his Greek army as far as India.

Teach through:

  • pictures of Greek soldiers and ships
  • a map showing Persia and Greece
  • the stories of Leonidas and Pheidippides (see above)
  • the story of Alexander the Great

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