Today, students will develop and apply literacy skills with a topic related to a unit of study in their history class: Ancient Mesopotamia. The region of the Middle East known as the Fertile Crescent is where the development of agricultural techniques first permitted the production of economic surplus and allowed for the emergence of cities as centers of culture and power.
To begin, they view a short (2 minutes) video clip to activate prior knowledge. It serves as a reminder of what they have been learning about and sets them up for the day's activities. Students jot down notes about what they see during the video.
I chose this unnarrated film clip so that students must rely on the visual images for information. I expect them to notice the rivers that make farming possible, the impressive city walls, the variety of buildings that were part of this ancient city. This sets them up for later parts of the lesson where they must interpret the wordless maps they create. At this point, we have the opportunity to troubleshoot issues that arise and address questions that come up.
Students work in small groups of 4 or 5 to create maps of a Mesopotamian city by using information from short descriptive paragraphs. I use a guided practice strategy to get them off to a strong start. We read the first section together and mark up the text in a way that allows easy access to descriptive information for the map. Then students draw it on the Cities in Mesopotamia Map. No writing is allowed on the map, just simple sketches. Two examples of completed maps appear here and here.
In the past, this lesson was taught in social class class and students competed to complete the activity quickly. In that setting, I modified the descriptive paragraphs to only include the most important information. This year I chose to teach this lesson in ELA class using in order to spend time developing the skills needed to analyze informational text and visuals.
Now the written descriptions are removed and students use only the maps they created to list details related to cities in Mesopotamia.They work as a team with one student at each table as a scribe writing down everyone's ideas. A student sample appears here. I encourage them to work quietly and not give away details to a neighboring group, so we can see which group comes up with the longest list.
After a set time, students compare the responses on their list to the Cities in Mesopotamia Answer Key and the final scores are tallied.
The class wraps up with a short discussion of the lesson and with the completion of an exit ticket by each student. In this way, possible misconceptions and misunderstandings come to light and areas in need of review the next day are revealed. I find out how individuals and the class as a whole did with the content and concepts focused on today. In addition, students comment their work effort and group participation- the triumphs and challenges. Taking time to self-reflect in this way is important as they progress toward college and career readiness. Examples of student responses appear here and here.