Ancient Mesopotamia UNIT for 5th and 6th grade Teachers Illustration


Unit Plan



Donald G. Donn, Corkran Middle School, Maryland, USA
This unit was created during my first year as a teacher many years ago!
I left it online because it has some ideas I still use.
For new teachers, TSWBAT means "the student will be able to".
Have a great year!

Introductory Information

A. Subject: Ancient Civilizations

B. Grade & Ability level: 6th Grade; all levels of Students

C. Unit Title: Mesopotamia

D. Time Frame: 10 - 12 days

E. I used several textbooks to create this unit. For assignments with page numbers, substitute with appropriate material. TSWBAT (The student will be able to ...)

Overview and Rationale

A. Scope and major concepts

1. This unit covers the history of Ancient Mesopotamia.

2. This unit will include lessons on:

  • (a) The key role of geography in the development of Civilization

  • (b) Mesopotamia peoples, work, food, shelter

  • (c) The rule of law, and development of government

  • (d) The development of written language

  • (e) The concepts of Religion, myths, legends, epics

  • (f) Important inventions of the Mesopotamian people

3. This unit will concentrate on geographic and language arts skills.

4. The Unit will focus on student personal discovery and challenge to student to express their own ideas and beliefs concerning world events.

B. Rationale: This unit is designed for all students. The unit will broaden their horizons by showing how ancient peoples are similar to peoples today. It will also help prepare students for Maryland State exams by introducing concepts used in Maryland State, and U.S. government. It is designed to increase students map skills by giving them the opportunity to see how geography affects people and history.

Objectives (C = Cognitive, A = Affective, P = Psychomotor)

  1. The Student will be able to (TSWBAT) use map skills to locate Mesopotamia, Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Zagros mountains, Syrian desert, and the Persian gulf. (C)

  2. TSWBAT discuss and support either side of an argument in a debate given an appropriate subject. (C, A)

  3. TSWBAT demonstrate writing skills. (C, P)

  4. TSWBAT demonstrate research skills. (C, P)

  5. TSWBAT demonstrate presentation skills. (C, P)

  6. TSWBAT describe items using proper terminology.

  7. TSWBAT compare and contrast differing views about a subject.

  8. TSWBAT demonstrate, understand, and use maps, charts and graphs. (C, P)

  9. TSWBAT discuss the interdependence of peoples. (C)

  10. TSWBAT give personal judgments and express values concerning world events. (C, A)

  11. TSWBAT broaden their personal horizons through role playing and panel work. (A, P)

Evaluation Process

A. Ways to evaluate:

  1. The student's participation in classroom discussions, debates, completion of assigned homework, activities, and an end of unit test, will demonstrate the students understanding of the lessons.

  2. The students are given a daily drill question to answer. The students will be graded mostly on effort and attempt to answer.

  3. A directed writing activity will be assigned. The students will be graded on writing skills, and the appropriateness, and content of their work.

  4. A quiz on the chapter will be given. Quiz will be T/F, multiple choice, essay.

B. Samples:

  1. Sample unit test questions.

Subject Matter/Skills Outline

A. Following is a list of essential thinking skills and related concepts that will be related to each days activities. Each skill will be numbered and this number will be listed at the end of each days subject matter outline. This listing of skills is taken from the Dimensions of Learning handout given by the Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Office of Staff Development, Instructional Leadership


1. Positive Attitudes and Perceptions:

A. Classroom Climate

I. Acceptance

II. Comfort

III. Order

B. Classroom Tasks

I. Value

II. Ability/Resources to perform tasks

III. Clarity

2. Acquiring and Integrating

A. Declarative Knowledge

I. Construct Meaning

II. Organize

III. Store

B. Procedural Knowledge

I. Construct Models

II. Shape

III. Internalize

3. Extending and Refining

I. Directed Teaching of Thinking Skills

II. Comparing

III. Classifying

IV. Inducing

V. Deducing

VI. Analyzing Errors

VII. Constructing Support

VIII. Abstracting

IX. Analyzing Perspectives

IV. Meaningful Use of Knowledge

I. Directed Teaching of Dimension 4 Mental Processes

II. Decision Making

III. Investigation

IV. Experimental Inquiry

V. Problem Solving

VI. Invention

5. Productive Habits of the Mind:

I. Self-regulation

II. Critical thinking

III. Creative Thinking

Daily Activities/Lessons: For each lesson and activity,

  • the objectives from Section TSWBAT major list of objectives will be in quotes

  • the Dimension of Learning outcome will be in parens.


First day/ Introduction, knowledge assessment, geography.

Student Outcome:  The Student will be able to:

  • Clean out notebook

  • Use and understand an atlas

Drill Question: What is an illustrated dictionary?

(a) Students will be introduced to the term Mesopotamia (Greek for “land between the rivers”) and asked if they know of anyplace that is between rivers (short class discussion) "9" (1A.I, II, III)

(b) A pretest on geography skills, and vocabulary will be given.(at this point if students show a deficiency in map skills, a short unit on map skills may be introduced). "9" (1B.II)

(c) Students will be given a blank map of the middle east and asked to locate various places on it using either a textbook map or Atlas (if available) place names will include Mesopotamia, Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Zagros mountains, Syrian desert, Persian gulf, Iraq. (students may work either singly of in pairs). "1, 9" (1B.II, III; 2A. I, II)

(d) Selected students (those who you have seen are working correctly) are then asked to come up to the large map and show where these areas are located. "1, 5, 9" (1A.I, II; 2B.II)

(e) If time permits, discuss why being surrounded by mountains and desert was an asset in developing civilization. "20" (3.V)

(f) Closure, review the daily objective, ensure all students have a basic understanding of the location of Mesopotamia. "9" (1A.III; 2A.III)


Second day/ drill, motivation, development of agriculture

Student Outcome: Mesopotamia #2   The Student will be able to:

  • Use and understand an atlas.

  • Evaluate the discovery of agriculture, and its effect on civilization.

(a) Review location of Mesopotamia, continue (or start) discussion of how the geography allowed civilization to develop. "1,9, 14" (1A.III; 2A.III)

(b) Ask students what they had for breakfast (list on an overhead). This may be done in small groups. Then ask students to figure out where each item came from (i.e. toast from bread, bread from grain, eggs, butter, yeast) Then have students list where each of these items are found (i.e. wheat farms, dairy farms). "4" (2A.II; 3.III)

(c) Classroom discussion what would they have for breakfast if there were no farms. Explain vocabulary terms “hunter-gatherer”, “nomadic/nomad”, “agriculture”. Tie in to Native Americans, before the advent of Europeans, and other societies in Africa and South America that still lead a hunter-gatherer existence. "16" (3.VIII; 2A.I, II, III)

(d) Have students list advantages, and disadvantages of the hunter gatherer lifestyle. Have students list the advantages and disadvantages of agriculture. "8" (3.VIII; 5.II)

(e) From textbook/readings, have students describe the climate of Mesopotamia, list on blackboard/transparency (terms should include: dry, dusty, hot, spring rains, flooding). Have students read how the people of Mesopotamia overcame these hardships (the development of irrigation) "1, 4, 9" (2A.I, II, III)

(f) Closure/review: review daily objective. Discuss with students agriculture and irrigation. "10" (3.II)


Third day/Cause and Effect

Student Outcome: Mesopotamia #3   The Student will be able to:

  • Evaluate the discovery of agriculture, and its effect on civilization.

(a) Drill, students will complete daily drill. (1A.III)

(b) Motivation, discuss quickly cause and effect in students daily life. "20" (1A.I; 1B.I, II, III)

(c) Use cause and effect worksheets, have students develop a three step cause and effect chain starting from: people developed agriculture. "10" (3.II; 4.II, V). Example:

People developed agriculture A steady supply of food was available
A steady supply of food was available Development of permanent housing
Development of permanent housing Beginnings of government

This should be taken directly from their readings and could include, domestication of animals, construction of irrigation ditches, development of religion, and many others.

Have students pair up and compare their chains. (this work may be collected and checked).

(d) Directed reading with questions from text. "3" (2A.I, II, III; 3. I, II, III, IX)

(e) Review/closure: discuss with students the start of cities and the development of agriculture. "10"


Fourth day/ Cities of Mesopotamia, Religion and Epics.

Student Outcome: Mesopotamia #4   The Student will be able to:

  • Evaluate the discovery of agriculture, and its effect on civilization.

Question: Nomadic people, who live by eating whatever they can find, are called what?

(a) Daily Drill

(b) Motivation - Show students pictures/overheads of Pyramids, Ziggurats, Mayan Temples. Ask why they think ancient peoples built these huge structures. "20" (3.II, VIII)

(c) Have students read aloud text section on Sumerian religion. Discuss with students similarities in Sumerian religion with activities in students daily life. "4, 16" (3.II; 4.III)

(d) Define “Epic, Myth, Legend”. Introduce the epic of Gilgamesh. Have students read sections aloud. Compare to Comic book heroes. Show how Sumerians used these tales to entertain. "6, 16" (2A.I, II, III; 3.II, III)

(e) Closure/review - Review, Religion, Epics, Makeup and construction of cities. "10"


Fifth day/ review. Complete any unfinished tasks from the previous days lessons. The four lessons above should take five days to complete. If there is extra time, use it for vocabulary games, or map skills. I use a lesson on paraphrasing here. For a worksheet on paraphrasing, see this site:

Student Outcome: Mesopotamia #5   The Student will be able to:

  • Use organization skills to clean out, and set up their notebooks.

  • Use sequencing skills to set up a cause effect graphic organizer on the discovery of agriculture, and its effect on civilization.


Sixth day/ Tools and tool making.

Student Outcome: Mesopotamia #6   The Student will be able to:

  • Use the writing skill of paraphrasing to help understand the textbook.

  • Use reading strategy (reading for a purpose) skills to answer questions about a film strip.

Drill Question: (today, do not write the question, just the answer in complete sentence form.). Where, in relative terms (i.e. north, southwest, etc.) is the Persian Gulf located in relation to Mesopotamia? (use the maps in your textbook or assignment book)

(a) Daily drill

(b) Motivation: Ask how many of the students if they have ever used a tool. Ask what type and what they did. Then ask how they could have done the job without that tool. "16" (3.II, Vii; 5.III)

(c) From their reading have students make a list of tools developed/invented by the Sumerians. Explain the Bronze age to the students and describe Bronze to them. "4, 10" (2A.II)

(d) Have students select from the list of tools mentioned and draw one. Then have them describe how that tool was used underneath their drawing. collect this work. "3,4,6" (3.I, III, VIII)

(e) Discuss with students important inventions and tools that they use (or are used by their parents/guardians) daily that were invented by the Sumerians. "10" (3.II)

(f) Review/Closure: Discuss with students some of the tools invented by the people of Mesopotamia."10" (2A.II, III)


7. Seventh day/ Cuneiform, pictographs, and writing
Cuneiform Lesson Plan

Student Outcome: Mesopotamia #7   The Student will be able to:

  • Use team skills to prepare a sentence written in cuneiform

Question: Name at least one of the empires that controlled Mesopotamia

(a) Daily Drill (1A.I, II, III)

(b) Motivation - Ask students why they think writing is important. "20" (5.III)

(c) Make (or buy) Clay tablets with Pictograph or Cuneiform writing on them. Have students move into small groups. Give each group a clay tablet to work from. Provide resources that will allow students to translate a portion of the tablet. As works proceeds, provide students with additional translation material until they have enough to translate about 1/2 the tablet. "4, 16" (2A.II; 3.III, IV)

(d) Have each group orally provide their translation of their tablet. Inform students that they have been doing an archeologists job. That is to translate an unknown language with only partial meanings known. They need to guess at actual meanings for some items. "4,5,16" (3.VII; 5.II, III)

(e) Provide each group with a written handout with full cuneiform to English translations ( See reading the past cuneiform by C.B.F. Walker for translations) with an exercise that allows them to write and draw Cuneiform and English translations. "3,4" (2A.I, II, III)

(f) Collect written work. Discuss with students what a written language is. "4" (3.III, IX)

(g) If time permits, give each group a small piece of clay, and have them make their own tablets. "4,5,16" (2B.I, II, III)

(h) Review/Closure: Review with students that Cuneiform is the first written language and the importance of a written language in their daily lives. "10" (2A.I, II, III)


(a) Daily drill. (1A. I, II, III)

(b) Motivation - Ask students to describe a typical/regular day of theirs. "5" (3.III, IV)

(c) Activity - Show slides/overheads about Sumerian housing, Food, education, shopping, religious rites, and other Sumerian daily activities. Discuss each daily activity with students. "10" (2A.I, II, III; 3.II, III)

(d) Have students write a couple of sentences describing what they think the life of a Sumerian child of 11 or 12 would be like. "3, 14, 16" (3.VII; 5.III)

(e) Have students share their thoughts with the rest of the class. Have class discuss these activities and compare to their own typical day. "5" (3.III, IV)

(f) Closure - Compare a typical students day to the typical day of a Sumerian child. "10" (2A.I, II, III)


Student Outcome: The Student will be able to:

  • Compare the governments of Mesopotamia to our own.

(a) Daily drill. (1A.I, II, III)

(b) Motivation - Ask students if they think they will (or have) voted in School elections, or if any of them have or will run for student government. "20" (1A.I, II)

(c) Ask students how they would punish people who broke the law (be specific i.e. stole, hit their parents, hurt someone else) Write down answers on overhead. "20" (3.IX; 4.II; 5.II)

(d) Bring out copies of Hammurabi’s code. Have students read aloud. "4" (2A.I, II, III)

(e) Compare students answers about punishment under the law with Hammurabi’s code "7" (3.II).

(f) Have students write “Which of these codes do you find more fair. Why?” "2,3,7" (5.II)

(g) Closure Discuss with students the idea of a written code of law. "7, 14" (2A.I, II, III)


Student Outcome: Mesopotamia #11   The Student will be able to:

  • Use the technique of paraphrasing as a study and writing tool.

(a) Daily Drill. (1A.I, II, III)

(b) Motivation - Ask students if they have seen the Star Wars trilogy. discuss the idea of Empire with them. "16" (3.II, V)

(c) Use maps to show the spread of empires. Arcadian, Babylonian, Hittite, Assyrian, Persian. "4, 5" (2B.I, II, III; 3.III)

(d) Have Students construct a time line to show the various empires. "4, 5" (2B.I, II, III; 3.III)

(f) Closure/review Review the growth of empires and how they supplanted each other. Advise students of upcoming unit test. (2A.I, II, III)


(a) Daily Drill

(b) Motivation - Ask students what they would do without, a car, written language, a government based on laws. (5.III)

(c) Review with student in Jeopardy style game, the important achievements of the Civilizations of Mesopotamia. (2.A.I,II,III)

(d) Closure - Remind students of upcoming test


(a) Review for test. (2A.I, II, III)

(b) Test

(c) Have activities available for students who finish early, word search, crossword puzzles, etc. (1A.I, II, III)


Multiple Choice (2 points each) Circle the answer that best completes the sentence.

1. The Sumerians wrote on a. paper b. clay tablets c. stone d. wood e. papyrus

2. The most important people in Sumer were a. slaves b. scribes c. farmers d. priests

3. To sign their names, the Sumerians used a a. cylinder seal b. pen c. signet rings d. stamps and ink pads e. thumbprint

4. One of the surviving Sumerian legends concerns a. Hercules b. Enlil c. Hammurabi d. Gilgamesh e. Darius

5. Prior to the city states of Mesopotamia, people were a. urban dwellers b. non-existent c. hunter-gatherers d. pastoral

True or False. (2 points each) Circle either true or false.

6. Sumerian writing is called hieroglyphics. True False

7. Sumerians signed their names with a cylinder seal. True False

8. The Sumerians worshipped many gods. True False

9. Sumerian temples were called Ziggurats. True False

10. In Sumer, a priest was a very important person. True False

Essay questions: (10 points each) Answer on the blank paper attached.

1. Describe the Sumerian invention that you think is most important and then give your reasons why using at least two examples of how that invention changed peoples lives.

2. Compare the Code of Hammurabi with the laws of the United States today. Answer the following questions in paragraph/sentence form.

1. Who is Hammurabi?

2. What were some of his laws.

3. How were his laws similar and different from the laws we have today?

4. How might you have felt living back in the time of Hammurabi?


Homework Assignments: Paraphrase the following statements. Supply the paraphrased statement on your own paper. Use complete sentences. Example: (Statement) Agriculture was of great importance to the Sumerians. Through the use of irrigation they were able to grow a surplus of crops. (paraphrase) The Sumerians used irrigation to grow enough food for everyone. They felt this was very important.

1. The surplus of food allowed the Sumerians to settle in one place and build permanent structures. These permanent buildings grouped together, and slowly developed into towns and cities.

2. Having a surplus of food allowed some people to specialize. Everyone did not have to farm. Some people became metal workers, some became builders, some became brick makers, and a priest caste developed. The priests were in charge of the irrigation projects and ensured that all farmers were provided with the water they needed to grow crops.

3. As the cities grew, and the importance of the priests grew, temples, called Ziggurats, were built to honor the Gods. Everyone brought gifts to the temples for the Gods, but only the High Priest was allowed to speak to the Gods.

4. To keep track of the gifts that had been given to the gods by each individual, the priests slowly developed a system of writing called pictographs. Pictographs evolved over the years into stylized symbols, where each symbol represented a sound instead of representing a word. These markings are called Cuneiform. Cuneiform is the first written language that we have discovered so far.

5. In addition to inventing the first written language the Mesopotamians invented many other things we use today. These items included the wheel, and Wheeled platform (carts and chariots), the sailboat, the plow and plowseeder, irrigation, the hoe, many other tools, and finally a written set of laws.

6. Hammurabi’s code was written down so that everyone would know the laws. Each law had a set punishment which was applied equally to everyone throughout the empire. While harsh by our standards, these laws and punishments were the cornerstone of the idea of rule by law verses rule by decree and the idea of rule by law is a cornerstone of our own government.

Lesson Plan: CUNEIFORM

Part of Unit: Mesopotamia
6th-grade Social Studies
Don Donn/Corkran Middle School; Maryland USA


  • Make or purchase clay tablets with pictograph writing on them.

  • Divide your identifications of pictographs into 4 or 5 different sources (ensuring that there are enough sources for each group to have one of each.)

  • Define/give translations through your sources for about 1/2 the pictographs.

  • Run copies of a Cuneiform activity worksheet. One per student.

Worksheet Preparation:

A) Back of Worksheet:

  • Draw 5-6 pictographs and assign each a one word definition. Example: * = star

  • Do the same with the letters of the alphabet A-Z. Assign each a "cuneiform" value. Example: A = a triangle. B = two sideways triangles. C = 2 sideways, 2 upright triangles. D = //

  • These do not need to be historically correct, but should use consistent shapes; ie: triangles in various arrangements. If you have a source, great. If not, simply make them up.

B) Front of Worksheet:

I. Name these pictographs (pick 4 from your list)

II. What does this cuneiform say? (using the "letters" you made up, create 3-4 words in cuneiform, such as HELLO, SUMER, MESOPOTAMIA.)

III.Write your name in Cuneiform.

The Lesson:

Introduction/Motivation: Daily Drill: 5 minutes: Start the day with your daily drill. Introduce the students to the word Cuneiform. Inform them that this was the first written language.

Activity: 10 minutes. Reading from text about Cuneiform. If pictures are provided in the text, great. If not, find a source and use the overhead. The students should see examples of actual Cuneiform writing.

Activity: 15 minutes.

  1. Divide your students into small groups of 4-6 students per group. Assign or have them select Moderator, Recorder (and any other jobs your groups routinely select. Ours select a Reporter, also.) Have the Recorder list the members of the group on a separate sheet of paper and title this paper "translations".

  2. Give each group a clay tablet and their first source. (This activity works best if each group is given a different source at first.) Inform groups that their job for the day is to translate the clay tablet. After about 5 minutes, give the groups the second course. After about 3 minutes, give the groups their third source. Wait about 2-3 minutes, and give them their final source. End this part of the activity after about 2 more minutes.

Activity: 10 minutes.

  1. Ask each group to report on their translations. Now ask them to read the tablet. If you get lucky (I usually do), you will find at least one group in each class has tried to make up enough words and/or letters to fill in the blanks on their own. Praise that group more vocally than the others. Now inform students that they were doing the same job as an archeologist. From bits and pieces, archeologists piece together languages.

  2. Class discussion about activity.

Activity: 10 minutes. Hand out activity worksheet on translating Cuneiform. Inform students that they are now writing in an entirely new (to them) language. Using the "translation" from the back of the worksheet, have students translate the cuneiform writing on the front of their worksheet. Be sure to mention that this is "your" cuneiform writing, and not actual cuneiform, which is much more complicated. Discuss this activity.

Homework: Students will write a paragraph describing the advantages of having a written language. Students will use at least two sources.

This assignment worked so well that, after they left class, my kids wrote notes to each other and to some of their teachers, in Cuneiform. Some have decided to do an extra credit project - making clay cuneiform tablets. It's an easy lesson to do, it gets the point across, and the kids really like it. We hope it works as well for you!

Back to Day Seven: Cuneiform

Mesopotamia, Babylon, Sumer

For links to detailed information on Cylinder Seals, Legend of Gilgamesh, The God Marduk, Text of Hammurabi's Code, Map of Sumer, and, for complete units, lesson plans and activities on other ancient civilizations, see Mr Donn's Ancient Mesopotamia Section for Kids and Teachers.