Teaching Ancient Civilizations in Upper Elementary
  • Michelle McDonald

Teaching Ancient Civilizations in Upper Elementary

If you are getting ready to cover Ancient Civilizations in the upper elementary and middle school level, a look at Hunter-Gatherers (Paleolithic Era), Early Civilizations (Mesolithic to Neolithic Era), and Mesopotamia are a must. You might be in a situation like mine, where little to no curriculum was provided to carry out the state social studies standards. This resulted in hours of time spent reading books and researching, and the consumption of countless cups of coffee as I planned and organizing various engaging activities for my students.

Adding Interactive Notebooks

I decided to look into adding interactive notebook foldables to my lessons, because I wanted to provide my students with a note taking method that would be great for not only visual learners, but kinesthetic and tactile learners too. I assigned each student a spiral bound notebook (composition works too), that they used throughout the year for each unit. Students cut out and glued the foldables into their notebooks, and added notes to each one that corresponded with the PowerPoint lessons. The INB's are organized in a way that allows students to go back and use their notes for studying. I also gave my students the opportunity to add key words to their booklets too.

I realize that sometimes the cutting and gluing can take a lot of time, and sometimes its easier to just forgo that step. Or maybe distance learning means that everything needs to move to a digital format. I decided to add a digital interactive notebook so that students can complete the notes online using Google Slides. Students add their text right onto the digital images and can personalize with their own text colors or additional shapes and boxes.

Sharing Content:

If you don't have a textbook, or maybe you have a textbook but want to get away from just reading a chapter of content, I have found that when I include a combination of PowerPoint slides, video, reading passages, and primary source analysis, my students get so much more out of the lesson and are engaged in our learning.

Making Connections:

In my Hunter-Gatherers unit, my students learn about modern-day hunter-gatherer societies, because making connections with the past and the present is important. We watch a video about the Hadza in Tanzania, and also analyze several images from modern day hunter-gatherer societies using this step by step photo analysis activity. We also read a passage about uncontacted people. This is a great lead-in to cover the ethical dilemma of making contact with uncontacted people in the Amazon.

Diorama Projects:

A diorama is a 3D re-creation project can also serve as a way for your students show what they have learned. I give my students time to complete the project in class because equity in education is important and I want all of my students to have access to materials. I provide colored paper, newspaper, popsicle sticks, and other mediums that I have collected over the years for my students to use in completing their diorama.


I also like to use One-Pager projects too. Instead of a 3D project, students are given one sheet of unlined paper. For this project, students are tasked with filling the entire page with hand-drawn symbols and images along with text to show what they know. You can grab a copy of my one-pager template for use with any unit here.

If you are interested in learning more about this unit, you can find the complete bundle in my TpT shop or view individual resources here:

Hunters & Gatherers

Early Civilizations: Mesolithic to Neolithic

Mesopotamia: The Cradle of Civilization

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