Hands-on activities we used for our third grade world history unit

The number of hands-on projects you can do for world history studies is limited only by your imagination. See how you can easily make ancient civilizations come alive for young students!

How I designed our ancient civilizations unit

The world history information in our third grade social studies text left much to be desired: there were too many details and a lack of comprehensive focus.  So I designed my own unit that would take children from prehistoric to modern times in three months of instruction, and to my delight, it actually made sense to the kids and got them excited about history.

The unit is comprised of a variety of activities: reading the textbook and trade books, internet research, Discovery Channel videos downloaded from United Streaming, web quests, hands-on activities, reenactments, worksheets, skits, home research projects, and more.

We spent a week each on Prehistoric Times, Ancient Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient China, Ancient Greece, Middle Ages, and the Renaissance/Age of Exploration.  We then spent four weeks on American history, from native peoples to the first settlements to colonialism, and ending with a look at slavery, segregation, and desegregation (which you can read about on the American History Activities page).  The last two weeks of school are spent exploring modern times: inventions and developments that shape life as we know it.

When we started the world history unit, I created a bulletin board with a section for each time/setting we would study.  Then I added ‘artifacts’ that the kids produced and wrote a simple caption under each one.  (This could have been written or typed on paper and then added on, but since this was our last social studies unit of the year and the bulletin board paper was going to come down, anyway, I decided to make my life easy and just write directly on it).  While not traditional looking, the bulletin board really helped the kids keep the different cultures straight in their minds and also showed classroom visitors what we had been studying.

Each child had a timeline and world map so that he could keep track of the various time periods and cultures.  I also created a World History packet that the students completed in groups after we studied each place.  Because the packet is tailored to our social studies text, and is extremely long, I didn’t upload it here.  Instead, I’ve included a blank version of the packet that you can use to have your students complete.

.Activities and bulletin board

One of our prehistoric times activities was a ‘cave drawing’. I used bulletin board paper and hung it across the white board so the whole class could paint at once. )You could also lay it out in the hallway and send students a few at a time to paint.) The children found it very difficult not to have a system of writing, and were intrigued by the aspects of daily life they needed to portray (especially the expectations for each gender).

This activity was for ancient Mesopotamia. We also made clay tablets out of play-doh and practiced writing pictographs with a homemade stylus.


The cartouche craft is just something I thought up for the ancient Egypt portion of the unit. We used heavy card stock and covered it with school glue. Then we wrapped foil around it. Last, students used their fingernails to write their names in hieroglyphics on the foil: the end result, which you can’t see well here, is really cool: it looks like real silver has been engraved. The students knew how to spell their names in hieroglyphics because I put the hieroglyphic alphabet correlation on the board for them.

One year, I included ancient India in the unit. This project is another of my random ideas! Each child was given a small amount of clay and carved out a special seal, which was then dipped in ink and stamped onto paper.

Our studies of ancient China included watching a short video and reading a book about the Chinese New Year, then making these lanterns.

The kids made a model of the Parthenon for ancient Greece. They also made travel guides, which opened up to reveal a section for each aspect of Greece: architecture and monuments; religion; language and writing, etc. Students were to choose two facts from their textbook for each section and also include illustrations.

The kids made postcards for each of the ancient cultures we studied. They composed them as if they were actually living in ancient times and writing about their lives to a friend in a faraway place.

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

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