Sumer, the First Civilization of the Fertile Crescent

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SWBAT integrate newly acquired content area vocabulary into speaking and writing.

Big Idea

Active learning strategies and a complex text: a winning combination!


10 minutes

Our goal for today is to learn about the advances made in the first civilization of the Fertile Crescent: Sumer. This ELA lesson requires the use of literacy skills to uncover the meaning in an unfamiliar text packed with information and terminology linked to a topic currently under study in the students’ history class.  To engage students in the text they are given a list of clues that will help them uncover 20 important facts about Sumer. Many of the content specific vocabulary terms and phrases have only recently been introduced to the students, so getting them to comfortably and meaningfully incorporate them into their speech and writing is a key objective.

We start by reading the entire text aloud. Then go back and reread the first paragraph, which will give them the first two facts for the answer sheet. The first one poses no problem and the students quickly agree on the correct answer. The second one is more challenging. Many students suggest ‘farmers’ as the answer because it fits the criteria for Clue A and follows Clue B in the text. They are surprised when I question their reasoning because they did not attend to the text, which states, “The farmers were then able…” Plus the idea of ‘government’ fitting the category of “People” did not occur to the majority of students. Now they realize that reading the text carefully demands concentration.

Group Work

20 minutes

The groups compete to fill in the rest of the text accurately. They quickly realize that working quietly is a must if they do not want to give away the answers to a neighboring group. I set the timer for 15 minutes and then pass out answer keys to determine each group’s score. A completed worksheet appears here.

While they work, I circulate among the groups to keep students on track and correct any misconceptions that arise. The students enjoy the competition and everyone works hard. I notice that they are using terms such as polytheism, ziggurat, and cuneiform accurately in their conversation and praise them for doing so.

Time to Show What You Know!

30 minutes

The assessment is a multi-page web diagram that students glue together and fill in. They must take the information from the text and synthesize it in a way that demonstrates Sumer meets the criteria of a civilization. More thoughts on that appear here: