Lesson Plan

Pyramids and Ziggurats: Oh, Why?

Students analyze ancient civilizations using monuments to power.
Todd B.
Classroom teacher
Lancaster Mennonite School
Lancaster, United States
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My Grades 7, 8
My Subjects Math, Science

Students will be able to...

Research construction methods of pyramids and ziggurats.

Articulate the connection between monuments and power in ancient civilizations.

English Language Arts
Social Studies
Grades 7 – 8
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 What is a monument today?

Activity: Exploring

Note: Engage students in the topic by posing a thought-provoking question. This frame of questioning will challenge students to present their opinion persuasively, encouraging them to consider themselves experts. At this point they are speaking from experience and opinion, later they will conduct research to give a more supported response.

Post the question on the board or project it. Give students 5 minutes from reading the instructions to complete the task. After the 5 minutes, pair students to share their results. Each pair should generate a written list of reasons that monuments are built.

Student Instructions

You have five minutes to complete the following task:

Make a list of all the monuments you can think of. (One example is the Statue of Liberty...)

For each monument you list, write a sentence description of its purpose.

2 Ancient Monuments

Instruction: We are going to focus on two types of monuments constructed in ancient civilizations. The two civilizations we will focus on are ancient Egypt and ancient Sumer. (Give students time to note the names of the civilizations and the monuments.)

Exploration: Students find Sumer and Egypt on the map.

Instruction: Khan Academy has excellent resources on the Ziggurat of Ur, in modern-day Iraq, and the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Have students read each article on their devices.



Students will generate notes on each type of monument as a journalist or investigative researcher.

Student Instructions

Key terms:

  • Pyramid
  • Ziggurat
  • Egypt
  • Sumer

Read the article on Ziggurat and the article on Pyramids. Act as a journalist reporting on the monuments. Record your findings.

  • When were they constructed?
  • How were they constructed?
  • Where were they constructed?
  • Why were they constructed?
  • Who constructed them?

3 Create your own monuments!

Google Drive
Free, Paid

Print out the templates for the ziggurats and pyramids from these sites:

Group students in teams of 4, 2 for the ziggurat and 2 for the pyramid. They should construct the models together. The ziggurat is far more complicated than the pyramid, but the pyramid involves mathematical scaling, so be aware of that when assigning students.

Student Instructions

In your teams of 4, build the ziggurat model and the pyramid model. When you finish building, work together to create a description of the building methods and purpose for each monument. They should be typed and displayed next to your model.

4 Connect: Monuments and power

Note: This is synthesis time! The big question is not what the monuments were made of, or when, but why. The activity to this point should have prepped students for this type of higher-order thinking, but you will likely want to re-frame the exercise by stating that challenge overtly.

Students use a whiteboard presentation software to create a verbal / video presentation tying everything together. They will be answering the questions below:

  • How did monuments in ancient civilizations support the power structures?
  • How are the purposes of ziggurats and pyramids similar? How are they different?

If you have Android or iPad tablets available, you can use the ShowMe or Educreations apps for this task. If not, ExplainEverything is also a great option.

Student Instructions

Create a video / audio presentation explaining the answers to the following questions:

  • How did monuments in ancient civilizations support the power structures?
  • How are the purposes of ziggurats and pyramids similar? How are they different?

Your presentation needs to be less than 3 minutes in length and must include clear illustrations, use the vocabulary from this activity, and show that you understand the purposes of each of these monuments in ancient civilizations.

5 Wrapping up

Activity: Debating

To close the activity, engage the class in an open discussion:

Are ancient monuments different in their purpose from modern monuments?

Rules of engagement:

  1. Students have 5 minutes to create their case.
  2. To present their opinion, students must stand and clearly state their fact-based opinion.
  3. No interrupting!