KS2 Mayan civilization outstanding history lessons

When teaching this Mayan unit at KS2, you are advised to use the medium-term planner (see medium term planning) from which all the outstanding lessons flow. Starting with exploring the reasons why the Maya topic is on the curriculum, pupils learn how the Mayan civilization grew so strong when the odds against it were so huge. They then devote most time to exploring the characteristics features of the Mayan society and comparing it with the state of Britain at the same time i.e. about AD1100. To help pupils develop the use of evidence, they are asked to work out how we can be so sure about what life was like for the Maya a thousand years ago. The topic concludes with an open-ended enquiry which challenges pupils to work collaboratively to create their own plausible answer to the riddle of why the Mayan  civilization came to such an abrupt end.

Why do we study the Maya in history at KS2? (KQ1)

Following a brief introduction to locate the Mayan civilization in time and place, stress that we knew very little about this society until recent excavations. Then give over most of the lesson to pupils finding out for themselves possible reasons why the Maya were such...
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Reasons why the Maya empire grew (KQ2)

Pupils are able to offer at least 2 valid reasons for its growth e.g. Mayans knew how to grow crops like maize (slash and burn technique) and irrigate fields, and how to hunt e.g. for deer, and to trade. The more able grasp how many of...
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Everyday life in Mayan civilization

Having been introduced to the nature of Mayan society with its clear hierarchy, and having seen various models and artists’ impressions of life in Mayan city states 1,200 years ago, pupils are asked to use their creative imaginations to produce a brief tour guide of...
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KQ4 What was life like for the Mayan people 1,000 years ago? SMART TASK


This multi-faceted enquiry ranges from scene-setting story telling, and making deductions (using the strategies Zones of Inference and Prove it!), through to creative uses of evidence with Call My Bluff and Curator’s dilemma. At the heart is pupils asking and answering, historical questions showing an...
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Mayan civilization and human sacrifice

Please note that this can be a delicate issue to be treated with care. Whilst some pupils will be quite blasé about humans sacrifices, others will not. We have deliberately tried to downplay this aspect but it would be a gross distortion of what was...
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Why did the Mayan empire decline?

When there are apparently 88 competing theories about the end of the Mayan civilization where do pupils start? Well, having asked them to predict possible reasons they are then placed in research teams under the guidance of 5 leading experts: Dr. Drought, Professor Poorsoil, Dr....
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