Elements of Civilization

By Jon Rehm, October 25, 2009

Grade Level

  • High School


  • City of Neighborhoods

Subject Area

  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

180 minutes for classroom activities


Our students have grown up living with in a civilization, yet they never contemplate its purpose, origin, and elements.

Each civilization, no matter where it is in the world, shares certain common elements.  Through this lesson students will be able understand and identify the necessary traits and elements of all civilizations, as well as communities of the past and present.  This helps the students to understand that the basic elements of society are considered universal in the discipline of history.  It is only the peripheral elements related to culture that differentiate civilizations from one another.

National Standards

World History

Standard 1. Level IV. Understands the biological and cultural processes that shaped the earliest human communities

3. Understands physical, social, and cultural characteristics of different human communities (e.g., the possible types of early hominid communities; characteristics of skeletal remains of nonhominid, primate, hominid, and Homo sapiens and how to classify them chronologically; major features of flora, fauna, and climate associated with different hominid communities)

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach. Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Knowledge of Language:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will be able to:
  • identify and describe the common elements that make up all civilizations



  • topographical maps of river valley civilizations including: Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, the Yellow Valley


  • civilization: the social, political, technological and economic traits of a society.  These traits include, 1) cities as administrative centers, 2) a political system based upon territory, 3) people engaged in specialized non-food production, 4) status distinctions based upon wealth, 5) monumental buildings, 6) a system of keeping permanent records, 7) long distance trade, and 8) sophisticated interest in arts and science.


1. Students will be asked to create their own ancient civilization.

2. The students will be asked to investigate various ancient civilizations to help them in the creation of their civilization.  These will include but not be limited to: Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Harrapan in the Indus Valley and the Yang Shaou along the Yellow River.

3. Students will be assigned randomly one of the river valley topographies to design their civilization.

4. The students will Brainstorm in groups to decide upon the elements of their civilization. They will have to create and design the layout of a city-state in the particular topography they’ve been assigned.  They will then be asked to decide upon the government, system of laws, and numbers of individuals needed in areas of specialized labor to sustain their city.

5. The students will then be asked to create an initial proposal for the teacher based upon the Brainstorming session.

6. Students will then be asked to create a map of their civilization and make a presentation on the benefits of their society.

7. Presentations will be given to a group of “prospective citizens” of the new civilization.

8. Students will participate in a debriefing where they will determine the features common to all of the civilizations. 


Students will be assessed upon the presentation of their civilization and the debriefing.
  1. To include the reflection component of the design process, you can require the students that are in the audience while the others are presenting to take notes on the civilizations being given. Once a group is done presenting, you can give the students about 30 seconds to examine their notes and chose whether or not they would become a citizen of that civilization. At the end of the lesson have a sign up sheet posted on the walls of the class of each of the civilizations and have the students place their initials on the civilizations they would join. Have a post-lesson group discussion amongst the class where the students have the opportunity to verbally state which civilizations they would join and why. You can also questions the designers of the civilization state if they would do anything different to attract more people.

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