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Tracing The Roots Of Modern CitiesTracing-The-Roots-Of-Modern-Cities

  • Subject: World History
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: One or two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will:
1. identify several key inventions and other forms of technology that were part of city life during the classical Roman and Greek periods
2. understand the relationship between aspects of ancient city life and life in modern cities.


For this lesson, you will need:
overhead projector or blackboard
library resources on ancient Roman and Greek city-states, including books, magazines, encyclopedias, and videos
pencils and paper
sketch paper and art materials such as colored pencils
computer with Internet access (optional)


1. Post the following discussion question on the board or overhead projector: "What are the characteristics of a city? List as many things as you can that are found in a modern city." Instead of holding a class discussion, have students brainstorm in small cooperative groups.
2. Give the students three to five minutes to respond to the question and generate group lists.
3. Have each group contribute responses and create a class list on the board or overhead projector. Do not evaluate student responses other than to reinforce participation.
4. Instruct students to place a check next to any item on their group's list that was given by another group. Students should place a star next to any response that was unique to their group. You may wish to recognize the groups who contributed the highest number of checked items (for convergent thinking) and the highest number of starred items (for divergent thinking).
5. Once the class list has been developed, ask the class, "Which of these characteristics might have been found in a city 2,000-3,000 years ago?" Have students circle the items on the class list that existed in ancient as well as modern cities. Student responses may include roads, buildings, lights, vehicles, sanitation devices, water, places to eat, businesses, markets, and people.
6. Have each group report on one characteristic or invention that is shared by modern and ancient cities. Students should briefly describe how this characteristic (or need) is addressed in a modern city. Next, have students research either ancient Rome or ancient Greece to learn about life within the city-states of those civilizations. How was that characteristic (or need) addressed in ancient times? How has this element of city life changed over history?

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Adaptation for older students
After students have reported on individual characteristics shared by modern and ancient cities, have the class compare two cities as a whole. Students should choose one modern city, such as Washington, D.C., and one ancient city, such as ancient Rome. Have them compare and contrast specific elements within those cities—from important monuments to government buildings. How are the two cities different? How are they alike? How have new technologies altered the design of the modern city?

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Discussion Questions

1. How do the various systems found in the modern city demonstrate the interrelationships of human beings? Which of these systems could be found in both ancient and modern cities? What would life be like in today's cities without such systems?
2. Explain the importance of cooperation in ancient and modern cities. Do you think cooperation was more important in ancient times, or is it more essential in a modern setting? Support your responses with examples of cooperation needed for city life.
3. Explain how the invention of farming brought about the development of the city in ancient times. How has the role of agriculture shaped the modern city? How have new technologies related to farming and food distribution affected cities?
4. Discuss which ancient invention had the greatest impact on city life. How did the invention enhance the lives of the citizens of ancient cities? Does this invention have an impact on modern cities? Why or why not?
5. If you were the ruler of an ancient city, outline what you would do to make living in that city more tolerable. What activities were considered to be "fun" in the culture of imperial Rome and in other ancient settings? Do you think people in modern cities would consider these activities fun? What activities are found in modern cities that interest people in the same way?
6. How do politics, economics, and social structures work together to make an invention successful or unsuccessful? Develop a hypothesis that explains whether or not a device will "take off" depending on a society's governmental, economic, and social development. Locate examples to illustrate your hypothesis.
7. Using the modern city and a specific technology found within it, support the idea that "some solutions to problems just create new problems."

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The students' mastery of the information contained in this lesson can be evaluated by the accuracy of their written responses in essay format or through creative projects. These essays and projects should reflect
  • an understanding of the impact of inventions and technology during ancient times;
  • a connection between ancient inventions and technology and similar structures found in modern cities; and
  • an assessment of city life in both antiquity and the modern era that takes into account the technological advances of the day.

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Investigating Inventions of Yesterday and Today
Share the following directions with the students: Choose an ancient or modern invention and research its origins and how it works. Use the Internet and/or traditional library resources to develop a short presentation on the invention you chose. You might also want to develop a model from various materials (sticks, paper rolls, other household items, etc.) to demonstrate what the invention looked like and how it worked. If such materials are not available, create a diagram with paper and pencil or use a computer to create a graphic, animation, or PowerPoint presentation. Choose from among the following inventions or locate your own and submit your proposal to the teacher for approval:
Ancient Inventions Modern Inventions
concrete suspension bridge
Archimedes' screw traffic light
chariot elevator
Roman road system internal combustion engine
aqueduct cash register
stadium or coliseum automobile
grid plan railroad
taxi meter (odometer) steam engine
steam power bank
fireplace/chimney electric light
money flush toilet
gas lamp skyscraper
toilet paper  


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Suggested Readings

The Ancient City: Life in Classical Athens and Rome
Peter Connolly and Hazel Dodge, Oxford University Press, 1998.
This book is full of detailed illustrations and information about the buildings of two ancient cities, Athens and Rome. It's all here - from huge coliseums to small bars, shops, restaurants, and homes - as well as examples of how these buildings were used every day by the people living there.

Toilets, Bathtubs, Sinks, and Sewers: A History of the Bathroom
Penny Colman, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1994.
Here's more than you ever wanted to know about the bathroom from the first indoor one-seater ten thousand years ago, through the elaborate baths of the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks, to today's electrically-heated toilet seats. The bathroom may be something many of us don't want to talk much about, but it's had a rich and fascinating history.

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Science Museum of Minnesota: Mysteries of ?atalh?y?k
Explore a excavation of an early city in Turkey from 9000 years ago through virtual reality technology, meet the scientists studying it and discover through activities all about this fascinating city.

Pompeii: A lost city revealed.
Discover inventions discovered at Pompeii and what the final moments of the city where like.

Odyssey Online
Describes the changes in ancient societies as they progress from hunters and gatherers to towns and cities.

Ancient Roman Technology
An impressive description of different technological advances from plumbing to transportation and city planning. There are a number of links to other related sites. Some topics in the medicine area deal with mature topics.

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

speaker    aqueduct
Definition: A canal built for moving large quantities of flowing water from a water source to a city.
Context: The Minoans built the first aqueducts 4,000 years ago.

speaker    city
Definition: A fundamental problem for many cities is providing housing for a large population.
Context: A fundamental problem for many cities is providing housing for a large population.

speaker    city grid plan
Definition: A plan for cities that employs straight streets with intersections at right angles.
Context: The first known example of a city grid plan dates back 5,500 years.

speaker    concrete
Definition: A strong building material made of sand, powdered limestone, and stone rubble.
Context: The Romans used concrete to construct domes and vaults.

speaker    high-rise
Definition: A tall building with several stories.
Context: There is evidence of an apartment on the eighth floor of an ancient Roman high-rise.

speaker    invention
Definition: A new device or concept developed to meet a particular need.
Context: Ironically, one of the inventions that survived the great fire in ancient Rome was a fire engine.

speaker    sprawl
Definition: The expansion of a community without concern for consequences or environmental impact.
Context: In 1811, the city fathers of New York decided it was time to impose some order on the urban sprawl that had taken place.

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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 long-term changes and recurring patterns in world history.
Understands why humans have built cities and how the character, function, and number of cities have changed over time.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: Thinking and Reasoning
Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and differences (compares, contrasts, classifies).
Compares different sources of information for the same topic in terms of basic similarities and differences

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: Technology
Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual.
Knows the ways in which technology has influenced the course of history (e.g.,revolutions in agriculture, manufacturing, sanitation, medicine, warfare, transportation, information processing, communication).

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George Cassutto, social studies and computer applications teacher, North Hagerstown High School, Hagerstown, Maryland.

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