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Activity Overview

Starting a unit or lesson with the key vocabulary that students will see in their readings or presentations aids in overall comprehension and retention. In this activity, students will create a storyboard that defines and illustrates key vocabulary related to the study of ancient Mesopotamia.

Students will preview the terms and definitions and use whole class or small group discussion to demonstrate their understanding of each meaning. Then, they will create a spider map of 3-5 terms at the teachers discretion. Each cell will contain a term, its definition and an illustration that depicts the meaning. When students define and illustrate each term, they master the application of it and retain it as part of their lexicon.

Vocabulary for Ancient Mesopotamia

Akkadian: language spoken by most of Mesopotamia after Akkadians defeated major Sumerian city-states and conquered them under the world’s first empire, the Akkadian Empire, under Sargon the Great

Arch: an upside-down U-or V-shaped structure that supports weight above it, as in a doorway. Historians say that the invention of the arch is one of the Sumerian’s greatest architectural achievements

Aqueduct: a man-made channel built to carry water from one location to another

Ashur / Assur: capital city of the Assyrian Empire and the Assyrian’s highest god

Assyrian Empire: empire that rose and fell several times throughout history to rule over much of Mesopotamia, known for brutality and fierce warriors

Babylonian Empire: ruled much of Mesopotamia with its capital being Babylon

Chariot: a two-wheeled vehicle pulled by horses and often used by the Assyrians in warfare

City-State: an independently governed region that centered around a single, powerful city. By 3000 BCE , Sumerians had control of Mesopotamia with city-states called Eridu, Nippur, Lagash, Kish Ur and Uruk, considered the world’s first city-state

Civilization: an advanced state of human society marked by advances in government, agriculture, science, language, and culture

Code of Hammurabi / Hammurabi’s Code: put into place by Babylonian King Hammurabi in 1772 BCE, it is the oldest written code of law in history. Written in cuneiform on a large 7-foot stele with a carved image of Hammurabi receiving the laws from Shamash, the sun god. (This is a similar story to the story of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God which scholars believe was around 1600-1300 BCE). Hammurabi’s Code was made up of 282 laws written in "if, then" format. It is where the saying, “eye for an eye” comes from

Cuneiform: one of the world’s first forms of writing, invented by the Sumerians, it used a wedge-shaped tool to make marks in soft, impressionable clay

Cylinder seal: an engraved stone cylinder that was rolled on soft clay to serve as a signature

Dynasty: rulers of a kingdom or empire that gain power through inheritance.

Empire: a large region of city-states that are conquered and ruled by a single leader, an emperor / empress.

Fertile Crescent: region in the Middle East along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that begins along the Mediterranean Sea and the Nile River Valley in Egypt stretching east to the Persian Gulf. This area had fertile solid for farming which created a surplus in food. This allowed for the development of civilization which is why the area is also referred to as the “Cradle of Civilization”

Gilgamesh: Sumerian King of the city-state Uruk from around c. 2900 – 2350 BCE. He was the hero in the Epic of Gilgamesh, a series of 12 tablets chronically his mythical adventures

Irrigation system: means of supplying land with water by techniques such as digging ditches, canals and setting up systems to carry water to crops

Levee: wall of earth built to prevent a river from flooding its banks

Lyre: stringed instrument similar to a harp

Marduk: patron god of Babylon, lord of the gods and goddesses and god of thunder. His planet was Jupiter and his sacred animals were horses, dogs, and the dragon

Scribe: important record keepers, poets, writers and teachers. They were trained to write in cuneiform and were highly respected

Shekel: standard unit of weight invented in Mesopotamia

Stylus: wedge-shaped tool used by scribes to write in cuneiform on wet clay

Ziggurats: temples to the gods located in the center of a Mesopotamian city. Ziggurats were massive step pyramids that towered over the rest of the buildings in the city-state. The gods were believed to reside in the top of the Ziggurat and only the priests were allowed to go there.

Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Activity", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)

Due Date:

Objective: To learn the meanings of words relating to our lesson you will preview the vocabulary and create a storyboard that demonstrates your understanding of different words.

Student Instructions:

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. In the title boxes, identify the key terms you have chosen.
  3. In the description boxes, write the definition of the term.
  4. Create an illustration for each term using appropriate scenes, characters, and items. To find images that relate to ancient Mesopotamia, type “Mesopotamia” into the search bar.
  5. Save and exit when you're done.

Lesson Plan Reference

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/L/7/4] Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 7 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies
  • [ELA-Literacy/L/7/6] Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression


(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

Define and illustrate each of the key terms.
7 Points
4 Points
1 Points
The vocabulary words are correctly defined.
The meaning of the vocabulary words can be understood but it is somewhat unclear.
The vocabulary word is not clearly defined
The storyboard illustrations clearly depict the meaning of the vocabulary words.
The illustrations relate to the meaning of the vocabulary words but it they are difficult to understand.
The illustrations do not clearly relate to the meaning of the vocabulary words.
Evidence of Effort
Work is well written and carefully thought out.
Work shows some evidence of effort.
Work shows little evidence of any effort.

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