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  • Subject: Ancient Civilizations
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Some religions, or belief systems, develop because of the influence of an individual human being; some develop in other ways.
2. Religious leaders and religions have features in common as well as significant differences.


For this lesson, you will need:
Encyclopedias (including encyclopedias of religion) and biographical reference works


1. Use the life story of Akhenaten and the short-lived monotheistic religion that he established as the basis of a research project into other religions or belief systems that have been founded or profoundly influenced by an individual (as opposed to the many ancient religions that evolved over time and have not been attributed to one man or woman). Begin by asking volunteers to name world religions. At this point, do not include sects within Christianity or Judaism, for example, or philosophical systems such as Confucianism and the Society for Ethical Culture.
2. Building on the discussion about world religions, create and distribute a chart of ancient and modern founders or significant movers in world religions. Consider including the following individuals in the first column, headed "Individual" list the names either in alphabetical order, as here, or in another order you prefer:
  • Akhenaten
  • Buddha
  • Jesus
  • Laozi (Daoism)
  • Mabuchi (Shintoism)
  • Mohammed
  • Moses
  • Zoroaster
Head the next six columns "Dates," "Birthplace," "Family Facts," "Significant Life Events," "Major Teachings," "Influence on the 21st Century (did the religion survive the death of the individual?)".
3. Work with your class to fill in the six columns for Akhenaten, sending students off to do additional research as needed.
4. After you and the class have discussed what students have written in the Akhenaten row, assign students the task of filling in the other rows on their own. Tell them that attached to their finished chart, you expect a bibliography of research sources and a paragraph in response to the following prompt: What personality traits or other characteristics did all or most of these men share? Give examples.
5. After you've collected and read the students' charts, bibliographies, and paragraphs, open up to class discussion the issue of leadership traits among people who founded or influenced world religions.

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Adaptations for Older Students:
With older students, expand the scope of this research project to include an introduction to (a) ancient or current religions not traceable to one individual (for example, Mayan and Aztec religions, African tribal religions, Hinduism); (b) sects or branches within world religions (for example, within Christianity: Catholicism, Shaker; within Judaism: the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and Humanistic movements); (c) the distinction between a religious system and a philosophical system such as Confucianism and Ethical Culture.

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Discussion Questions

1. The narrator in this documentary suggests that Akhenaten may have foreshadowed the monotheistic teachings of Moses and the hope inspired by the message of Jesus. Debate whether or not this contention is supported by the evidence. In what ways was the message of Akhenaten like or unlike that of these later religious figures?
2. Akhenaten has been called the most original religious thinker the ancient world had ever seen. Is this true? Analyze and compare the teachings of other significant religious figures and make a determination. What makes Akhenaten's message original?
3. Discuss the validity of the assertion that Akhenaten was excluded from important ceremonies. What evidence is there to support this claim? Are there alternative hypotheses you can devise?
4. Explain why Akhenaten focused on the sun as the symbol of his one god. Did he believe that the sun itself was a god? Discuss what other physical phenomena he might have selected to represent god. What would the criteria for selection be?
5. Explain why Akhenaten allowed so many radical changes in Egyptian art. How was this received in Egypt following thousands of years during which art hardly ever changed? Discuss why changes in Egyptian art happened so slowly.
6. What did the priests of the other Egyptian gods think about Akhenaten's new religious message? What sorts of threats do you think they felt this new religion posed for them?
7. Discuss how our country would react if the president of the United States, as suggested in the program, retreated from political issues as Akhenaten did? What action might Congress take? How would the executive branch function?

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You can evaluate your students' written work using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: complete facts; extremely clear and complete paragraph with many examples
  • Two points: most facts; moderately clear and complete paragraph with a few examples
  • One point: many missing facts; unclear and incomplete paragraph without sufficient examples
You c4an ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by having them determine the minimum number of examples needed to support the main idea of the paragraph.

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Polytheism in Ancient Egypt
Before and after Akhenaten, ancient Egyptians worshiped many gods. Ask students to identify the major Egyptian gods and their attributes and to tell stories about them. Ask students also to explain the role of the Egyptian pharaoh, priests, and temples.

Treatment of the Physically Challenged
Have students research the background and history of Marfan's syndrome, the disorder that, it is now assumed, Akhenaten had inherited. Then, going beyond this one disorder, ask students also to find out how people with disorders or deformities have been treated throughout history in various cultures. Finally, as a class, compare and contrast those findings with the treatment of disabled people in our society.

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Suggested Readings

Great Leaders, Great Tyrants? Contemporary Views of World Rulers Who Made History
Arnold Blumberg. Greenwood Press, 1995.
Akenhaten is the first ruler covered in this biography of sometimes-questionable heads of state, after which follow other such notorious figures through Robespierre and Stalin.

Akhenaten: King of Egypt
Cyril Aldred. Thames & Hudson, 1991.
Follow the lives of Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti from day one until the end of the king's reign. Explore the radical changes brought about by his new religion.

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Mark Nillmore's Ancient Egypt
If you're in search of a map of the pyramids of Egypt, or a chronology and history of the kings and queens, then you'll find this site to be very useful. You can also head to this site to learn about the ancient hieroglyphs and numerals.

The Akhet-Aten Home Page
Here you can learn all about the Anarma period in Egyptian history—the time when Akhenaten ruled with his queen Nefertiti. Find out about the roots of monotheism and the god Aten.

The Ancient Egypt Site
Looking for a book on ancient Egypt? How about definitions of words and phrases related to Egypt? This site makes ancient Egypt accessible to you. And it's just a click away!

Egypt Search
From religion to science, this site makes it possible for you to find anything that you need related to Egypt—past and present. If you can't find what you're looking for here, then it probably doesn't exist!

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

speaker    fanatic
Definition: Marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense, uncritical devotion.
Context: Was Akhenaten a religiousfanaticor was he the forerunner of Christ?

speaker    homage
Definition: Expression of high regard.
Context: Up and down the Nile, workers built vast temples to payhomageto the hundreds of gods.

speaker    entourage
Definition: One's attendants or associates.
Context: When the royalentouragewent to the temples to make offerings to the God Amen and to celebrate the festivals, we can imagine little Akhenaten left behind in the palace.

speaker    mystical
Definition: Having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence.
Context: Akhenaten had boundary markers carved surrounding the site of his new city telling of hismysticalvision.

speaker    Marfan's syndrome
Definition: A hereditary disorder of connective tissue that is characterized by abnormal elongation of the bones and often by ocular (eye) and circulatory defects.
Context: The final word on the source of Akhenaten's apparent deformities may be written right now by a group of scientists working on a disease known asMarfan's syndrome—a genetic defect that damages the body's connective tissue.

speaker    monotheism
Definition: The doctrine or belief that there is but one God.
Context: He had foreshadowed themonotheismof Moses and the tranquility and hope of Christ well before the people of ancient Egypt were able to accept it.

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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: 6-8
Subject area: world history
Understands the major characteristics of civilization and the development of civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus valley.
Understands environmental and cultural factors that shaped the development of Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus valley (e.g., development of religious and ethical belief systems and how they legitimized political and social order; demands of the natural environment; how written records such as the Epic of Gilgamesh reflected and shaped the political, religious, and cultural life of Mesopotamia).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: world history
Understands the political, social, and cultural consequences of population movements and militarization in Eurasia in the second millennium B.C.E.
(6-8)Understands significant individuals and events in Egyptian civilization (e.g., the extent of Egyptian expansion during the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms, and some of the factors that made this expansion possible; major political and cultural achievements of Tuthmosis III, Ramses II, and Queen Hatshepsut in Egypt).

(9-12)Understands the beliefs and accomplishments of Mesopotamian and Egyptian rulers (e.g., the religious ideas of Akhenaten [Amenhotep IV] and the viewpoint that Atenism was an early form of monotheism, the accomplishments of Sargon and Akhenaten).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: world history
Understands the major characteristics of civilization and the development of civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus valley.
Understands influences on the social and economic framework of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus valley (e.g., the characteristics of government and military in Egypt and Mesopotamia and the ways in which central authorities commanded labor and taxes from peasant farmers; how architectural, artistic, technological, and scientific achievements of these civilizations affected the economics of daily life).

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Jay Lamb, world history and religion teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia. Sandy Lamb, social studies teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School.

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