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Teaching Primary History: Ancient Egypt for Key Stage 2

The following lessons have all been judged to be outstanding according to OFSTED criteria. There is a wide variety of teaching and learning activities as well as a rich array of teaching resources including PowerPoint® presentations. New lessons are regularly added to meet the demands of the changing primary curriculum. 

>>Teaching Ancient Egypt in the new 2014 history curriculum Following a stay of execution, Ancient Egypt is thankfully now back on the KS2 curriculum, see below for comment

Outstanding Lessons

Excellent numeracy opportunities using the British Museum site which is a brilliant resource.

From Page to Stage. Pupils act out scenes from the Book of the Dead

Year 4 pupils recovering from their Reconstruction relay to discover what Howard Carter saw when first he glimpsed Tutankhamun's tomb.

Illustration from Egyptology a beautiful book published by Templar



Cross-curricular medium-term planning with strong ICT, literacy, numeracy and drama links, including highly recommended websites (Members only)

If you have time to look at just one website, go to the British Museum's website. Superb resources have been interpreted better than at any time in the Museum's history and have been well-pitched for Y4/5 work in primary schools. The talented Museum staff have gone out of their way to produce downloadable resources of stunning quality and usability. The site is grateful to the British Museum for kindly agreeing to the use of several images of its exhibits.

If you want a stimulating, creative and genuinely  inspiring book for the school library, then have a look at  Egyptology , published by Templar ISBN 1-84011-852-0 at £17.99. The price is easily justified by the contents. The book covers the journal of Emily Sands from 1926. There are letters to open, coloured postcards to read, papyrus rolls to unfold, flaps to lift, and games to play, with plenty of gold and coloured stone to dazzle. Even if you think it too fragile to be placed on library shelves why not keep it  as a reward or bring it out on special occasions. I spent ages drooling over the contents, wondering what surprises lay in store as I turned the reassuring thick pages.

Teaching Ancient Egypt in the new 2014 history curriculum

Following a stay of execution, Ancient Egypt is thankfully now back on the KS2 curriculum.  What could Gove have been thinking of when he left it out of the first draft!  The Ancient Egypt topic not quite the same though as it was with the 2000 curriculum, however.  It must be taught as a depth study, along with an overview of other civilizations.  Pupils must study ‘The achievements of the earliest civilizations – an overview of where and when the first civilizations appeared and a depth study of one of the following: Ancient Sumer; The Indus Valley; Ancient Egypt; The Shang Dynasty of Ancient China’.

You will find learning resources on the Sumerian, Shang, and Indus valley civilizations thin on the ground.  Few have been written for primary aged pupils.  The skill for you will be making this overview active rather than just telling pupils or asking them to find out.  We will be offering one overview key question to the list of enquiry questions that feature on the site.  All existing lessons still hold good and will really excite and enthuse your pupils as well as helping them deliver important historical skills.


Teaching Ancient Egypt in the proposed new primary curriculum for 2011

My take on what teaching this topic might still look like in the future can be found below with its suggestions for teaching the topic in a cross-curricular context.  It was re-written to ensure that it matched precisely the requirements of the proposed primary curriculum.  Although the current government has abandoned the planned changes of the Rose Review and is probably going to back a narrower content-led curriculum favoured by Gove, the advice you will find here still holds good.

This planning has been written with the new 2011 curriculum in mind but remember that the bill to implement this was rejected by the House of Commons in April 2010.

The Rationale

In the spirit of offering schools greater flexibility in what they teach, there is no mandatory requirement to teach Ancient Egypt.  Indeed, many of you might think that the topic bears such little relevance to pupils’ daily lives that it would be good to see the back of it.  In my opinion, this would be a mistake.  Not by chance has this been one of the most popular KS2 topics, even before the National Curriculum.  Its popularity has not waned.  It is worth continuing with it as it offers not only a fascinating and colourful glimpse into a distant world, but it also provides extremely rich cross-curricular opportunities.  You all know the great Art, Technology, Maths and RE you can get from this topic, let alone the strong literacy links. 

Don’t just take my word for it.  Those of you familiar with Belle Wallace’s book Using History to Develop Thinking Skills (NACE/Fulton, 2003) will know that one of the four chapters in the book focuses exclusively on using Ancient Egypt as a context.

At first sight, it might seem as if Ancient Egypt has been written out of the new primary curriculum. Indeed, there is only reference to ancient history under breadth of learning. Most of us will want to carry on teaching it to lower juniors, because they love it and it works brilliantly in a cross-curricular context. If further justification was needed I would look at the key skills section i.e. Pupils should:

a. Undertake investigations and enquiries using various methods, media and sources.
All the lessons featured here are enquiry based. The new one on Tomb Robbers provides one of the best problem-solving activities you could hope to find for Y3/4. The full lesson and all related PowerPoint slides and activities are available in the subscribers section of the site.

b. Compare, interpret and analyse different types of evidence from a range of sources. The lesson on the Book of the Dead in which drama is used extensively, focuses pupils’ attention on analysing just one source, whereas the Who really did build the pyramids? enquiry engages pupils in comparing film, written and archaeological sources as does the really fun and popular lesson on the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb

c. Present findings in a range of ways and develop arguments and explanations . Consider and debate alternative viewpoints.

The planning, that you can find in the planning section of the site, does not attempt to be all-embracing, but rather seeks to focus on those aspects which offer real scope for developing thinking skills as well as links with other subjects.  You can find a high-quality, comprehensive medium-term planner in the planning section of the site, available to subscribers.  You won’t find detailed work on chronology or causation.  What you will find are activities that focus on: How can we find out about Ancient Egypt; planning an archaeological expedition today using Mantle of the Expert; or playing detective to work out who owned the tomb treasure that has just been raided.

The key history skill is that of deduction.  To make this work pupils need to have a sense of unearthing clues which they bring together to draw conclusions.  Pupils develop problem-solving skills when they play Crimewatch Egypt, returning looted treasure to their original owner.

Work on interpretations can also be profitable. Staring a lesson with a clip from Prince of Egypt suggests that slaves built the pyramids.  But did they?  Pupils work as a team with lots of pieces of evidence fed in from time to time (see fully resourced Outstanding Lesson) and arrive at their own conclusion.

To develop this sense they need to experience the excitement of discovery. This could be by putting tables together to create a tomb chamber. Pupils in role as Howard Carter’s assistants have to open the tomb and have just 20 seconds to fix in their mind the treasures that lie there. To prevent themselves being overcome by gases they have to retreat and the draw what they have seen. But this is not a solo activity. They work in teams each adding to their team members drawing (See Outstanding lesson: reconstruction relay).

When it comes to the issue of Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, who can resist playing ‘From Page to Stage’ in which an image from the Book of the Dead comes to life. All Year 4 boys want to be Ammut the gobbler.

What about developing literacy links by asking pupils to write instructions on mummification for the hopelessly forgetful embalmer? (See fully resourced Outstanding Lesson with PowerPoint, connectives cards etc.)

Not only are there strong cross-curricular subject links, there are also clear opportunities to develop thinking skills, emotional intelligence and group work.

For your convenience, the planning is organised under the five main headings below. The ‘plan at a glance' gives you an overview, but the important detail can only be found in the learning activities section.  Here you will find detailed descriptions of each activity, often featuring images of the resources themselves.  Likewise, the resources section does not just give you generic types of resources.  Instead you will find very specific references to the best that exist nationally.  Often this will be a short Interactive Whiteboard activity produced by a Museum.  At other times it will be a card-sort made to suit the pupils’ needs.  The final section, outcomes and assessment gives you two types of advice: ideas for imaginative products for pupils to how creativity and short fun diagnostic assessment tasks which provide easy-to-mark evidence to help you monitor pupils’ progress, in line with the new APP requirements.

Up next

  • How can we possibly find out the height, area and weight of the Great Pyramid?  Why not take up the challenge on  the British Museum's excellent site and make a great contribution to pupils' numeracy through history.  The British Museum site has some superb resources for classroom use.


If you would like to see any examples of draft activities for the above lessons then please email us and we can send  you a few samples. SUBSCRIBERS ONLY

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