The story of Atlantis, the wonderful kingdom that sank beneath the ocean, captures student imaginations and provides terrific teachable moments for science, literature, and social studies.
The only written record of Atlantis, and the origin of the story, is in the Dialogues of the Greek philosopher Plato, where he writes
Many great and wonderful deeds are recorded of your state in our histories. But one of them exceeds all the rest in greatness and valour. For these histories tell of a mighty power which unprovoked made an expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia, and to which your city put an end. This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean; for this sea which is within the Straits of Heracles is only a harbour, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may be most truly called a boundless continent.
Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent, and, furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia. This vast power, gathered into one, endeavoured to subdue at a blow our country and yours and the whole of the region within the straits; and then, Solon, your country shone forth, in the excellence of her virtue and strength, among all mankind. She was pre-eminent in courage and military skill, and was the leader of the Hellenes. And when the rest fell off from her, being compelled to stand alone, after having undergone the very extremity of danger, she defeated and triumphed over the invaders, and preserved from slavery those who were not yet subjugated, and generously liberated all the rest of us who dwell within the pillars.
But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island.
Later writers took the story of Atlantis further, giving the Atlanteans highly developed technology and occasionally also mystical powers. There have been people who claimed that extraterrestrial beings from other planets colonized Atlantis.
Read about Atlantis
Use the passage above, the online references below, or books from your library or the list here to examine ideas about Atlantis. Since there has been no proof of any of the claims and theories about Atlantis, you can practice evaluating data without knowing the ending, so to speak. You can also enjoy speculating.
- DK Readers: Atlantis, The Lost City is a comfortable nonfiction read for fluent readers at elementary level.
- The Mystery of Atlantis (Unsolved!) brings upper elementary readers a range of theories about Atlantis, while maintaining a sense of mystery.
- Where Was Atlantis? is one of Raintree’s easy readers.
Have students use Plato’s description and any other information they find to identify the location of Atlantis. The Atlantis Map is a great starting point. They might enjoy reading about Google’s Atlantis discovery and also about some of the locations archaeologists have proposed for the source of the mythical Atlantis:
Have students use Google’s MyMaps tool to create a map of Atlantis once they’ve decided where it is or was.
Write about Atlantis
I like to use Atlantis for writing because it is a controversy with several completely defensible views and no proven answer, and because it works equally well for fiction or nonfiction assignments.
Begin by having students do research to identify the main points of view about Atlantis. They should find at least these:
- Atlantis is completely fictional, a story made up by Plato or perhaps a fairy tale reported by him.
- Atlantis existed or still exists.
- The story of Atlantis is based on a historical disaster which befell a city somewhere in the past.
Have students choose one of these viewpoints to support, or on which to base an original story. Our lesson plans for Science Fiction might be useful if you decide to go with fiction.