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Lesson 2

Essential Questions

What makes ancient civilizations culturally unique?
To what extent did ancient civilizations influence the culture of other places?


Modern humans appeared about 40,000 years ago. They lived successfully in small nomadic hunting and gathering bands until around 10,000 years ago when agriculture began to gradually replace hunting and gathering as the dominant way of life.

The rise of agriculture allowed for the development of more complex societies

The transition to agriculture was a critical trigger for the development of more complex societies since it allowed people to establish permanent settlements and live together in far greater numbers than ever before. The shift toward agriculture happened gradually over a long period of time, independently on all continents, except Australia. For the vast majority of history, humans lived as hunters and gatherers. The emergence of farming resulted in a whole new way of living. By producing food more systematically, humans were able to live together in greater numbers and greater density than ever before. But such growth in population also required new ways of social organization.

As cities grew and influenced human settlements near and far, what developed has come to be known as civilization.

Instructional Strategies

Strategy 1

Gathering Information: Graphic Organizers

Use a KWL Chart like the one below to record what you already know about how civilizations form.

Printable Student View

KWL Chart
What I know What I want to know What I learned

Start a Word Wall of concepts important to this unit. Tell the students that they will be adding to the word wall as they learn more. Some examples as instruction progresses through the Lessons are:

These terms and others that come out of the discussion should be used by students as they continue their learning. 1. Have students participate in this interactive feature from Guns, Germs, and Steel to develop an understanding of why location is important in the development of a civilization.

2. Have students read this description of Episode One from Guns, Germs, and Steel that discusses the importance of the Agricultural Revolution.

3. Have students complete a graphic organizer like the one below to organize their thinking about civilizations.

Printable Student View

Why cities grow Evidence of culture in the cities

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment
  • Complete the 3rd column in the KWL chart.
  • What is civilization?
  • Create a diagram (a web, for example) that models what makes a civilization.

Strategy 2

Gathering Information: Graphic Organizers

Hand out to each group this map and ask them to make predictions about areas of the world favorable to the emergence of early civilizations. Put these predictions on the board or overhead.

Geographer Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel tells the story of apparently commonplace things, such as wheat, cattle, and writing. Diamond believes the uneven global distribution of these simple elements helped to shape the course of human history.

Diamond also focuses on physical geography. For instance, geographic barriers such as mountain ranges or bodies of water created isolated civilizations. Continents which were easily traveled, such as Europe, encouraged trade among different people and stimulated development.

Have students explore the variables which Diamond believes account for why human development proceeded at different rates on different continents.

Have students compile information from the website and create a world map showing the relative locations of the appearance of agricultural communities and “civilization.”

Students should note the relative location of the emergence of civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, China, South America, and Africa.

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment
  • Why did human civilizations appear on different continents at different times?
  • Go back to the diagram you constructed in Lesson 2, Strategy 1. How is the diagram different from or similar to what you now think about what makes a "civilization?" Explain your answer with specific examples.

Strategy 3

Extending and Refining: Historical Research and Graphic Organizers

Have students work in small groups to research and examine pictures, artifacts, and related text that illustrate the cultures of an early complex society.

Some of the ancient civilizations which students might research include: North China Plain (Chinese); Indus and Ganges (Indian/Hindu); Mesopotamia (Egyptian, Indo-European); Greece, Rome, Saudi Arabia (Islam), Inland West Africa; Highland/Lowland Guatemala (Mayan); Valley of Mexico (Aztec); and Peru (Inca). Each student should individually complete a graphic organizer (sample below) based on his/her own research. Although students should accept responsibility for their own research, the following websites might be a good starting point. Teachers may choose to supply other curricular resources, e.g. textbooks, for students to use.

Students should use a graphic organizer to help take notes on their research. Tell students that the research will be used for a presentation and to compare the civilizations. Teachers should select an appropriate organizer for their students or use the organizer below.

Printable Student View

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment

  • Have students complete the graphic organizer in the printable view to compare two civilizations.

Strategy 4

Extending and Refining: Discussion Web

Students will participate in a discussion web in which they will relate the unique features of the culture they studied.

How to conduct a discussion web:

The questions for the discussion web are: After the student groups initially participate in the discussion web, the teacher should ask students to find similarities within the unique cultures. Ask Which characteristics of a complex society might have allowed the culture to influence other places? Answers might include: trade, writing, government conquest in war. Students will refer back to their chart during teacher led discussions.

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment
  • How could an ancient civilization influence the culture of other places? Support your answer with a historical example.

Strategy 5

Application: Cooperative Learning

Have students work cooperatively in groups of 2-3 in order to respond to this question: Direct students to the text below, linked to a Smithsonian Institution webpage at the National Museum of Natural History.

The art of Arabic writing has long been associated with Islamic art and calligraphy. There were special schools that taught Arabic calligraphy. Arabic calligraphy is unique in the world due to its complexity and beauty, allowing for a great range of artistic creativity.

Archeologists and historians depend heavily on the study of writings found on rocks, inscribed building stones or markers, and on the rock faces of hillsides. Such inscriptions provide valuable insight into the history, culture and social values of the early Islamic period.

Check for Understanding = Formative Assessment