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A Classical Maya News ReportA-Classical-Maya-News-Report

  • Subject: Ancient Civilizations
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: Three class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. The relationships between Maya city-states during the classical period
2. What archaeologists can teach us about an ancient civilization


For this lesson, you will need:
pens, pencils, and markers
paints, glue, and tape
books and magazine articles about the Maya classical period
computer with Internet access
video equipment (optional)
publishing software (optional)


1. Explain to students that they will explore the ancient civilization of the Maya during the classical period, from A.D. 300 to A.D. 900. This time in Maya civilization was marked by the growth of city-states and by imperial wars between them. Students will then prepare news reports about major events of this period. Events might include a great war planned for a special astronomical date or the capture of a rival king and his city-state.
2. Explain to students that their news reports may be in the form of a magazine article, with sidebars providing background information; a major newspaper story; or an editorial. Students may also wish to videotape a presentation in the style of a prime-time television news show. Although students are reporting on historical events, they should strive to give their news stories a present-day immediacy.
3. Have students work in small groups. Provide each group with a list of the classical period city-states, including Tikal, Clakmul, Piedras Niegras, and Uaxactun. If students are interested in other classical period city-states, allow them to explore these as well. Ensure that each group has chosen a different city-state so that no two groups report on the same event.
4. Encourage students to analyze the media format in which they choose to present their reports. Challenge them to include as many features of the media as they can, such as headlines, illustrations, news anchors, graphic titles, sidebars, and editorials. Students may even wish to stage interviews with kings of the city-states.
5. Collect encyclopedias and a variety of books and magazine articles about the Maya classical period. If possible, purchase a copy of "The Clash of the Maya Kings" for student viewing. If you have Internet access for your students, you might also want to bookmark the Maya-related Internet sites listed below.
6. Allow class time for each group to present its news report. Include a class discussion period so that students can ask any questions they still have.
7. Display the news reports for other classes to view.

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Have students prepare maps of the Yucat?n that show how the balance of power fluctuated between the city-states of the Maya classical period. Remind students to include a key that explains any symbols they use to show power shifts between the city-states. Have students prepare written reports to accompany their maps and allow time for group presentations.

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Discussion Questions

1. What can artifacts tell us about a civilization like that of the ancient Maya?
2. Discuss why deciphering Maya hieroglyphs was important to the understanding of their history and culture.
3. What do you think archaeologists will find from our society 2,000 years from now, and what will their findings say about us?
4. What objects might lead to the misinterpretation of our culture by future archaeologists?
5. How has our understanding of the ancient Maya culture changed over the last 60 years?
6. What role did astronomy play in ancient Maya civilization?

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You can evaluate your students on their Maya news report using the following three-point criteria:
  • Three points: Students present a complete news report about an event from the Maya classical period. The news report utilizes many features of its medium (e.g., sidebars, interviews, and op-ed pieces), and there is full group participation.
  • Two points: Students present the basic facts of the event. The news report only contains a few of the features of its medium, but the whole group participates.
  • One point: Students present a brief report of the event with little background material and few special features. There is not full group participation.

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A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
Encourage students to invent their own systems of hieroglyphs. Suggest that they use the hieroglyphs to report the news event from the activity above, write a fictitious story about the reign of a Maya king, or retell a Maya folktale. Remind students to include a glossary so that others can decipher their hieroglyphs.

A Model City
Challenge students to create a three-dimensional model of a Maya city-state from the classical period. Suggest to students that they build their models from clay, cardboard, or Styrofoam. Remind them to either label the different parts of their models or create a map that explains the various structures.

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Suggested Readings

Breaking the Maya Code
Michael D. Coe, Thames and Hudson, 1999.
This book describes the deciphering of the incredibly complex, ancient Mayan written language. The book itself is complex, but is also an exciting detective story that reveals fascinating information about the very idea of language, as well as details of everyday Mayan life.

Popol Vuh: A Sacred Book of the Maya
Victor Montejo, Groundwood Books, 1999.
This retelling for young adults of some of the stories from the sacred book of the Maya is illustrated by a contemporary Central American artist. It contains ancient Mayan stories about the creation of the universe, gods and goddesses, and humankind that provide a look at the mythological foundation of their society.

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Made Up of Time: The Mayan Ruins of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize & Honduras
Nice overview of Mayan Civilization both of yesterday and today.

Collapse: Why do civilizations fall.
You can visit the Maya city of Cop?n and search for clues to its collapse. You can also try your hand at "garbage-ology" and study what trash can tell us about a society from this Annenberg/CPB Exhibit site.

Lords of Cop?n
Explore a Mayan tomb.

Mystery of the Maya
The Canadian Museum of Civilization offers background information on Maya civilization, including a timeline and glossary as well as a wealth of related Mayan links.

The Maya Epigraphic Database Project
An online project to transcribe Maya texts and archive information about Maya glyphs along with an extensive list of Internet links.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    allies
Definition: States associated with each other by treaty, which usually help each other.
Context: Maya city-states would become allies with each other to go to war against a third city-state.

speaker    archaeologist
Definition: A scientist who studies the material remains, such as fossils and artifacts, of past human life and activities.
Context: An archaeologist who wants to study ancient Maya civilization needs to explore the ruins of its temples and cities.

speaker    artifact
Definition: An object remaining from a particular period.
Context: Maya artifacts that offer clues to the ancient civilization were found buried in the deep jungles of the Yucat?n.

speaker    city-state
Definition: A self-governing state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory.
Context: Tikal was one of the most powerful and wealthy city-states of the Maya civilization.

speaker    decipher
Definition: To make out the meaning of, despite indistinctness or obscurity.
Context: Once archaeologists could decipher Maya hieroglyphs, they gained an understanding of the ancient civilization's culture and history.

speaker    hieroglyphic
Definition: Written in, or belonging to, a system of writing mainly in pictorial characters.
Context: It took many years of study before people could understand the ancient hieroglyphic writing of the Maya.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: Historical understanding
Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns.
Understands alternative systems of recording time, the astronomical systems on which they are based, their fixed points for measuring time, and their strengths and weaknesses.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: Historical understanding
Understands the historical perspective.
Analyzes how specific historical events would be interpreted differently based on newly uncovered records and/or information.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: World history
Understands how early agrarian civilizations arose in Mesoamerica.
Understands the framework of Olmec society and the influence of Olmec civilization on other civilizations (e.g., the cultural influence of the Olmec on the development of Maya civilization and the role of trade in the diffusion of this culture).

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Audrey Carangelo, freelance curriculum developer.

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