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Egyptian AntiquitiesEgyptian-Antiquities

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

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Ancient builders overcame great obstacles in erecting monuments.
2. With the passage of time, some ancient monuments are deteriorating.


For this lesson, you will need:
Art history and archaeology books
Access to the Internet


1. Although some speak of the pyramids and other colossal antiquities as Egypt's most lasting legacy, the truth is that these structures are not all faring well. Set your students the assignment of investigating the condition of a 4,500-year-old monument near Cairo—the Sphinx—built by Sneferu's descendant Chephren.
2. Introduce students to the Great Sphinx, as it stands today near Cairo. You can use an image from an art history textbook or the clear photograph attouregypt. Make sure students see that the Sphinx appears to have the head of a king wearing his headdress and the body of a lion. Some say that it may be Chephren himself; others, that the head belongs to Chephren's guardian deity.
3. According to the Web site just mentioned, the word sphinx means "strangler," but ask students to find out both the denotation and the connotation of the word as it is used in common English conversation today.
4. Elicit from students that the monument, made of the relatively soft material known as sandstone, is in disrepair. In fact, had the monument not been buried under sand for about a thousand years (until it was dug out by King Thutmose IV [1425-1417 B.C.]), it would be in even worse shape. Ask students to speculate about the causes of the disfigurement of the monument. (Atmospheric conditions around Cairo—wind, humidity, and smog—cause deterioration; a piece of the Sphinx, its beard, is in a museum in England.)
5. Tell students they must research the history and the status of conservation efforts over the course of the last 20 to 30 years, coming up with answers in writing to the following questions:
  1. What kind of restoration of the Sphinx was undertaken in the 1980s?
  2. What happened to the Sphinx during the project?
  3. What, if anything, are archaeologists doing now to repair and preserve the Sphinx?
  4. Why do people care about preserving it?
6. Once students have handed in their assignments, lead a class discussion on what they learned from their research.

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Adaptations for Older Students:
Ask students to go beyond the deterioration of the Great Sphinx to locate other cases of antiquity in danger of collapse. If students need specific direction, suggest they look into the status of the Colosseum in Rome, the Parthenon in Athens, the Mayan temples at Cop?n in Honduras, the Mayan frescoes of Bonampak in southern Mexico, the Aztec Templo Major in Mexico City, and the adobe pyramids at Chan Chan in Peru.

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Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the narrator's explanation of how the pyramids were built. Compare it to other explanations you have heard. Explain how you would verify a claim.
2. Explain how the geography of Egypt, specifically the Nile River, affected Sneferu's ability to build a pyramid.
3. Analyze the significance of the pyramids as tombs.
4. Discuss how Sneferu dealt with the failure of his first two pyramids.
5. Explain the importance of the corbeled ceiling.
6. Debate whether or not Sneferu was indeed the greatest Egyptian who ever lived.

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You can evaluate students' written responses using the following three-point rubric:
Three points: complete and factually accurate answers to the questions; syntactically mature and error-free sentences
Two points: complete and mostly accurate answers to the questions; adequate syntax and mostly error-free sentences
One point: incomplete and inaccurate answers; immature and error-ridden sentences

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Ancient Egyptian Civilization
King Sneferu ruled during the Fourth Dynasty (2575-2467 B.C.). That dynasty occurred in the period known as the Old Kingdom (2700-2200 B.C.). In order to put Sneferu's rule in context, send students off to learn more about ancient Egypt. What was going on during Sneferu's reign in the fields of art, written communication, science, and religion?
You may wish to assemble students into groups and assign one of the topics just noted to each group. Consider having each group present its findings orally along with visuals. Alternatively, you may turn your classroom into a museum of ancient Egypt: Each group can prepare an exhibit on its assigned topic, complete with visuals and reproduced artifacts.

Build a Pyramid
Challenge students to build their own pyramids, overcoming the difficulties Sneferu and his sons faced. Students' building material can be sugar cubes and toothpicks. Each pyramid should house an internal burial chamber. You might want to have students examine David Macaulay's illustrated volume Pyramid (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975). This activity can lead to a discussion on the theories of pyramid building.

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Suggested Readings

"Age of Pyramids: Egypt's Old Kingdom"
David Roberts. National Geographic , January 1995.
This feature article examines the role of pyramid construction in the creation of Egypt as a great nation-state. It also traces the relationship of the development of the pharaohs' status and the subsequent passing of the Old Kingdom and rise of anarchy.

Michael O'Neal. Greenhaven Press, 1995.
This amply-illustrated volume of the "Great Mysteries: Opposing Viewpoints" series covers for younger readers (up to grade 9) the fantastical and scientific theories of the pyramids' construction and meaning.

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Guardian's Egypt
This is one of the most comprehensive sites on Egypt. From art tours to kids sections to chats and discussions this site is loaded with useful information.

History of Ancient Egypt
You don't have to be a student at Northwestern University to make use of this Egyptian course information. Check out this site to find resources used in the classroom as well as a chronology of Egyptian history.

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!

Egypt and Ancient Near East—Web Resources for Young People and Teachers
Whatever your age, you can find some useful information on this site. This list of museums has resources and cyber tours of Egypt as well as some interesting ideas for teachers.

Pyramids: The Inside Story
Take a tour through some of the most famous tombs in the world—the Egyptian pyramids. Go down the descending passage, up the ascending passage, and straight into the king's and queen's chambers. And keep an eye on where you are heading with the useful maps provided.

Egypt Antiquities
This "Official Site of the Egypt Ministry of Tourism" offers sections, among others, entitled "Rulers of Ancient Egypt" and "Who's Who of Egypt," with mini-biographies as well as a glossary that covers important architectural and iconography terminology.

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

speaker    cartouche
Definition: An oval or oblong figure on ancient Egyptian monuments enclosing a sovereign's name.
Context: This magical oval that encircles the pharaoh's name is the first cartouche in the world.

speaker    mastaba
Definition: An Egyptian tomb of the time of the Memphite dynasties that is oblong in shape with sloping sides and a flat roof.
Context: The first tombs of ancient Egypt were called mastabas.

speaker    sarcophagus
Definition: A stone coffin.
Context: In the burial chamber at Meidum, the 4,000-year-old cedar beams lie in place, ready to lift the sarcophagus, but there is no trace of it nor is there any evidence the burial chamber was ever used.

speaker    corbeled
Definition: Constructed so that an architectural member projects from within a wall and supports a weight.
Context: Sneferu solved the problem of collapsing ceilings by placing the stone blocks of the inner walls of a pyramid closer and closer to the center of the room as they went higher. Thus, the first corbeled ceiling in history was created.

speaker    vizier
Definition: High executive officer of various Muslim countries.
Context: Sneferu made some of his sons viziers of Egypt, keeping the power close to him.

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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
Subject area: geography
Understands the physical and human characteristics of places.
Knows the human characteristics of places (e.g., cultural characteristics such as religion, language, politics, technology, family structure, gender; population characteristics; land uses; levels of development).

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).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: world history
Understands how agrarian societies spread and new states emerged in the third and second millennia B.C.E.
Understands how environmental conditions such as the prevailing wind, current, and flooding patterns influenced civilizations in the Tigris, Nile, and Huang He valleys.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: world history
Understands major trends in Eurasia and Africa from 4000 to 1000 B.C.E.
Understands the emergence of civilizations in Southwest Asia, the Nile valley, India, China, and the Eastern Mediterranean, and how they represented a decisive transformation in human history.

Understands connections between the cultural achievements of early civilizations and the development of political and economic institutions (e.g., state authority; aristocratic power; taxation systems; and institutions of coerced labor, including slavery).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: geography
Understands the physical and human characteristics of places.
Knows how social, cultural, and economic processes shape the features of places (e.g., resource use, belief systems, modes of transportation and communication; major technological changes such as the agricultural and industrial revolutions; population growth and urbanization).

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Lisa Maupin, history teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia.

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