Museum of Ancient Civilizations

Grade level: I taught this with 5th/6th grade split classes, which is pretty much perfect.

Duration: We spent more than a month on this, but our classes meet weekly.

Background: In 6th grade, we study Ancient History — so in our school with split grades, we teach it every other year. I always prefer to teach research skills in a way that aligns with what they’re learning in the classroom, so in Ancient History years, this is our research unit! They get to practice research skills and design a museum exhibit, and other kids get to learn from the museum too.

Students had already done this credible source activity, so this was a chance for them to practice their skills.

At the beginning of the unit, they receive the following handout:


Day 1: Project groundwork. I introduce the project and we talk about museum exhibits (can take them through an online museum exhibit if that’s useful for your students) and artifacts, referencing field trips to the Field Museum (or wherever your students go).

Ask students to brainstorm: if someone were going to make an exhibit of our culture — the United States in the 2010s — what artifacts could they include? Have students write artifact labels with a partner for their chosen artifacts — how would you explain an iPhone or an Instagram profile to an alien visiting the Human Museum?

Day 2: Civilization research! I pull out relevant books from our collection and suggest websites and other online resources (we subscribe to World Book) as starting places. Students work together to complete the civilization research graphic organizer for their chosen topic. I always suggest that each group member pick an area to focus on, but they’re free to organize their work differently. (They probably will not finish today, that’s fine!)

Day 3: Students start working on their introductory text (here’s my example, which we read aloud and talk about at the beginning of class). Remind students to start with the end in mind: if someone shows up at their exhibit with no prior knowledge, what should they know when they leave? What do you want them to walk away with? Students can start thinking about which artifacts will help them illustrate important aspects of their culture.

Day 4: If your students haven’t used Flipgrid and you want to offer it as an option, demo it here. (I loved giving kids the option of Flipgrid for their artifact labels, in particular. With my population — I have lots of English learners and lots of kids with different abilities that impact their motor skills — it’s always better to offer a variety of ways for them to show their knowledge.) Students should decide which artifacts they’ll include in their exhibit, and assign an artifact to each group member. Individual research can start, using the Artifact research graphic organizer.

Days 5-6: Work time. Students will almost certainly go back and forth between working on their introductory text, process statement, and artifacts; depending on the class, I either left this time pretty open or gave them cues when it was time to start working on something else. (I love the Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Co. system where each group can flip to a red, yellow, or green card if they need my help — super useful for group projects.)

Some students are going to get really into making an artifact. That’s awesome, but I did always check in with those students to make sure they’d done all the other stuff too! (Other students are just going to print a picture of an artifact, and for me at least, that’s A-OK. The art is not the point, though it can be a great entry point/encouragement for some students.)

Days 7-8: Assemble the museum (in the library, if you have enough space, or in the hallway otherwise) and tour the other exhibits! We had kids do an exit slip where they wrote something they learned about each civilization on a post-it note and stuck it up in the hallway — basic, but it kept them accountable.

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