Tenochtitlan Needs a Drink

By Lindsey Clement, September 8, 2009

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Mathematics
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

450 minutes for classroom activities


How can you provide drinking water to a village that is built in the middle of a salt-water lake?  This lesson will give students an opportunity to understand just how special the community of Tenochtitlan was.  Students will gain an understanding of the technology that the Aztecs used and the students will create a way to provide fresh water to this community.  Students will have to put forth thought into discovering, a. How can we get the water to the village?  And, b. How will we distribute the water?  Students will review the challenge, add their knowledge of the Aztecs and Tenochtitlan, and decide how to create a solution.  They will do this all while using the design process.

National Standards


Students will:
  • use knowledge of the Aztec’s technology and resources
  • use problem-solving to determine a way to provide fresh water to Tenochtitlan (students will know that there are aqueducts under the island)
  • understand the design process as problem-solving option


Google Images: Map of Tenochtitlan 


  • map of Tenochtitlan
  • paper
  • pencils


  • custom: a habitual practice; the usual way of acting in given circumstances
  • Aztec: a member of a group, or the group itself, in central Mexico that were conquered by Cortes in 1521
  • Tenochtitlan: the capital of the Aztec empire, founded in 1325; destroyed by the Spaniards in 1521; now the site of Mexico City
  • aqueduct: a conduit or artificial channel for conducting water from a distance, usually by means of gravity
  • causeway: raised road or path, as across low or wet ground


Day One: Laying the Foundation for Design 1. Teacher will teach about the lifestyle of Aztecs (customs, lifestyle, technology, etc.). 2. Teacher will inform students that the Aztecs built their village in the middle of Lake Texcoco.  They quickly began to overgrow their village and had to branch out to the surrounding lake area.  They created floating gardens that were very successful. 3. Teacher will then describe the “Floating Paradise” by showing the map with the causeways (bridges that connect to the mainland). 4. Teacher will then describe the success of Tenochtitlan and how it was the largest city of the time.  It’s population was around 200,000 people! Day 2: Set up Challenge 1. Teacher will say, “The Aztecs are in need of a way to provide fresh water to their people.  They are surrounded by salt water that they cannot drink.  How can we get fresh drinking water to these people?” Teacher will explain that there are aqueducts under the island and that there are mountains on the shore of the mainland.  Teacher will guide students to devise a way to extract the fresh water and also a way to distribute the water to the citizens of Tenochtitlan. 2. Teacher will provide students with a map of island.  Students will determine where to place three aqueducts (as a whole class, so that everyone’s aqueducts are in the same place).  Class will also determine a common location on the island as to where to deliver the water. 3. Teacher will guide students to devise a way to extract the fresh water and also distribute the water to the citizens of Tenochtitlan.  Teacher will then ask students to revisit the problem: “Knowing what we know from our research yesterday, let’s think about the actual problem.  Is there more research that needs to be done to fully understand what our “client” needs?”  (How much water does each person need?  Is there a certain time that needs to be stated for water delivery?  Once the water is retrieved from the aqueducts, how do we get it to the people?  Will buckets work?)  These questions will generate more research needed. 4. Next, teacher will gather class together as a whole group to generate possible solutions to supplying water to the village.  Teacher will jot down ideas on white board.  (This will be helpful to the students who are confused or who are scared to think wildly.  It will be beneficial to guide these students in the right direction.)  Teacher will then split class into small groups and these groups will review the challenge and brainstorm ideas on how to get water to the village.  Students will be encouraged to create models, sketches, and also write down their ideas. Day 3: Present Findings 1. Each group will present their ideas to the group.  Give students five minutes to present their ideas and then the class gets five minutes to provide feedback to each group.  Teacher will also provide feedback for each group. 2. Now, the groups (with their feedback) will work together to create and finalize their final solution.  They will be encouraged to sketch their ideas, create models, or anyway that the students feel comfortable presenting their ideas on how to get water to the village.  Students will need a bit of time for this portion because some groups may be starting completely over with a new idea. Day 5: Final Presentations 1. Students will present their final solutions.  Teacher will stress that students verbalize how their solution meets the challenge.  


Teachers should assess this project by checking to see if the students understand the similarities and differences of this culture and our culture.  Teacher should also assess the creativity and practicality of the ideas the students come up with.  Teacher should differentiate the instruction by giving oral and written instructions, and should also allow students to choose the way they want to submit their ideas.  Students can draw their examples, or write their ideas.

Enrichment Extension Activities

This could become cross curricular by turning it into a math lesson.  The teacher could give specific dimensions of the water canisters and specific amounts for each person.  The student would then have to figure out how many trips to make to insure that each Aztec receives enough water.  They could also find out how many miles the trips would accumulate to.

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