Rome was at first a village providing a central space for shepherds and farmers living in the hills of what is now Italy. By 753 BC, the city of Rome had come into being, named for its first king, Romulus. There were kings until about 509 BC, when the Roman Republic was established. After the death of Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire was born. It continued until the 400s, when Ancient Rome fell and the Middle Ages began.
Ancient Rome has had an enormous influence on all of Western civilization since that time, and a study of Ancient Rome is essential for all students at one time or another. Core Knowledge schools introduce Ancient Rome in third grade, but a study of Ancient Rome can appeal to many different ages.
Begin with Google Earth’s Ancient Rome. The University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities had a “plastica,” a roughly scale model of Ancient Rome, and they created 3-D buildings. Google Earth used SketchUp to reduce the size of the files they created so that they could be used online, and you can now see the buildings of Ancient Rome in their places on the earth, just as they were.
Swoop into Ancient Rome and fly through the streets and the buildings. Don’t download Google Earth 5 from the Rome page if you don’t have Google Earth already — get Google Earth 6. Open Layers, check 3-D Buildings so you can be sure to see the Roman buildings, and look around. Then check out three prizewinning lesson plans using the Ancient Rome layer. Each uses Google Earth to create a project about a famous person from Ancient Rome.
Once the class has a sense of the place, move into the fourth dimension and add dates from Ancient Rome to the class timeline. Some good books to use:
- Ancient Rome (DK Eyewitness Books) includes a CD of clip art that can be handy for projects and decorations.
- Ancient Rome!: Exploring the Culture, People & Ideas of This Powerful Empire has lots of hands-on projects, as well as background info.
- What Your Third Grader Needs to Know has one of the clearest, simplest overviews of the basic history of Ancient Rome.
- See Inside Ancient Rome is a wonderful visual resource.
- The Roman News presents a lot of information about Ancient Rome in the form of a newspaper — lively and readable.
- Classical Kids: An Activity Guide to Life in Ancient Greece and Rome is a favorite of ours, with lots of fun hands-on activities.
- City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction looks specifically at the Romans as engineers and architects, which can be a very good way to look at them. This is one of David Macaulay’s wonderful books, and you’ll want the whole collection.
- History Pockets: Ancient Rome, Grades 4-6+ has reproducible projects that can be used together to create an impressive booklet about Ancient Rome for each student.
- Ancient Rome Thematic Unit from Teacher Created looks at a variety of topics, including Pompei and Julius Caesar.
- TCR’s Ancient Rome Interdisciplinary Unit is a very thorough study of Ancient Rome.
- Detectives in Togas is a lively story about Ancient Roman schoolboys.
- The Eagle is one of several excellent historical novels by Rosemary Sutcliff set in this time period. Often, reading a novel makes the time period more interesting and more real to students, and Sutcliff’s books are great to read aloud to students who may have trouble reading them independently.
- The History Channel Presents Rome – Engineering an Empire is a DVD filled with interesting information about Rome’s history and accomplishments.
- A timeline of Ancient Rome helps put everything in perspective.
- The BBC has a lot of resources for elementary school.
- Neok12 has videos and pictures.
- Colosseum Lesson Plans has photos, online resource links, and two approaches to studying the Colosseum.
- The Roman House has floor plans and explanations of the typical Roman home.
- SchoolHistory has a Romans page for middle school with links to a bunch of downloadable resources, interactive games, and other stuff. Since this is a UK site, it is naturally a bit skewed toward Britain’s part of the Roman Empire, but it’s still worth exploring.
- Compare Ancient Rome in Google Earth with modern Rome and see how many of them are still around now. When we went to Rome with Google Earth, we had the chance to visit a lot of the buildings as they now exist. We were amazed by how calmly people walk around the Colosseum, treating it as normally as we treat our shopping malls or train stations. Have students write about the oldest building they’ve seen, and how they felt about it — and how they feel about the idea of a building like the Colosseum which has been around for two thousand years. Some may not be impressed by antiquity, while others may have the same sense of awe we had. Writing about it can be a great way to practice expressing rather abstract ideas.
- Create a timeline of a typical day in the life of an Ancient Roman person the same age as your students. Have students draw pictures showing what they would be doing at a given point in the day, compared with what the Roman child would be doing. Create a display of the drawings.
- Use the research materials you’ve gathered to plan an Ancient Roman feast. Whether you put on the feat or just plan it, have students determine the kinds of food, clothing, and entertainment involved, figure out where the feast should be held, choose an event to celebrate, and determine the manners and customs that will affect the behavior of the guests. If you choose to have a celebration, put different students in charge of each aspect of the feast. If not, have each student or pair of students report on what they’ve learned about their assigned aspect of the feast.