Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Help Wanted in Mesopotamia

As I wrote in a previous post, connecting students to ancient history can be challenging. When first teaching about how city states and empires functioned comparatively to hunter gatherer communities in ancient civilizations, the notion of job specialization can be a tricky concept to teach, perhaps because it is too obvious in some ways.

However, job specialization is critical to understanding ancient history as the emphasis of pedagogy in the field has evolved to a more popular approach to studying ancient cultures, not emphasizing every battle but rather the evaluating the lives of the ordinary people who lived during the time period.

To accomplish this, I used a lesson plan from "The History of Our History" website produced by the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute.  Titled Jobs in Ancient Mesopotamia, I created a job application from a Microsoft Word template. Students applied for the positions in writing and presented to the class why they would be the best candidate.

One of the best parts of this lesson was increasing the students' vocabulary. Many of the job specializations featured words they had never heard before. For example, they had never heard the word "confectioner," although clearly they had all eaten candy at some point! As you can imagine, there was a lot of competition for this job.

This lesson was for my ELL class, and it worked really well. To increase the level for a standard or honors level course, I would introduce students to primary sources about the job specializations and ask them to compare them to current sources about those same jobs today.  

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