Sixth-Grade Projects on Mesopotamia

River running through Mesopotamia region of Turkey
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Mesopotamian history is a critical component to understanding how the ancient world developed for sixth-graders. The Mesopotamians built advanced architecture, designed one of the first written languages and made significant advances in math and science. Getting a sixth-grader involved in an engaging project involving any of these disciplines will enhance her knowledge of Mesopotamian and Sumerian civilization.

1 Building a Ziggurat

Mesopotamians built ziggurats, pyramid-style structures with a square base and square floors. A ziggurat's design is different from an Egyptian pyramid in that the ziggurat looks like a series of giant steps. To build a ziggurat, provide each group of students with a box of sugar cubes. Students will first build a large square base of 36 or 49 sugar cubes (a six-by-six or seven-by-seven square). They can also remove two to four sugar cubes on one side of the base to create an entrance. After building the base, students can build smaller floors and stack them up. Each group will present their ziggurat in front of the class after writing a short presentation.

2 Writing in Cuneiform

The Mesopotamians developed cuneiform, one of the world's oldest written languages. Before assigning the project, the classroom teacher must teach each letter and number, which has a unique symbol. The classroom teacher should design placards or large sheets with each symbol. After the lesson, assign students to write their name in cuneiform before deciphering the name back into English. The students will then compare their experience of writing in cuneiform to writing in English, by writing a reflection paragraph, or a short summary of their experiences in English. For extra credit, they can also write one sentence of their English paragraph in cuneiform.

3 Designing a Calendar

The Mesopotamians also designed a calendar that became a model for future lunar calendars. The Sumerian calendar was comprised of 12 months, each with approximately 28 to 30 days based on lunar phases. Each new moon represented the beginning of a new month. To bring the lunar year in line with the seasons, an extra month was added every 12 or 13 years. The calendar was designed on a circular plate. Students will learn the specific names of the months on the Sumerian lunar calendar and create a clock-like calendar on a paper plate.

4 Designing Class Rules and Laws

Mesopotamians were among the first civilizations to develop a legal code. The Hammurabi Code, including its famous 'eye for an eye' edict, was adapted from earlier Sumerian law. Divide the students into groups of three or four, and assign each group four laws or class rules to create. Since the project covers Mesopotamian history, the class rules are to be written in both the common language spoken in the classroom and cuneiform. After the students successfully write their class rules in both languages, assign each group a Mesopotamian law to place on the bottom of the chart.

Daniel Pinzow served as an urban science teacher for several years. He has expertise in a variety of subjects, ranging from biology to chemistry to history to sports. In addition, he has worked extensively in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) after-school programs.