Ancient Greece 3 Ways – for Second Graders

So last week, I wrote about how my second graders made passports to keep track of their time-traveling through ancient cultures. This week, I’d like to talk about how we tackled Ancient Greece.

On the first day, after making the passports, we still had about 20 minutes, so we flew very briefly to Ancient Greece, read a few pages from my library book (it is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to find a factual picture book on Ancient Greece appropriate for second grade. I should write one.), and tried on the native clothing, “chiton,” which are so functionally close to Roman togas that a small bunch of clean towels will do just fine. I assigned each student to be a citizen, merchant, artisan, laborer, or slave (roles were chosen randomly – I had them draw a card with their role assignment). The slaves didn’t have to suffer long, though, because our hour was up and we had to fly back! Bonus factoid – the Greeks preferred brightly colored clothing, but the dyes were expensive, so probably only the upper classes could afford clothing that was not plain white. This can be reinforced if you have both white and colored towels available.

Here are three more activities that we explored over the next couple of sessions about Ancient Greece:

1. Non-Sequitur – The Game!

Philosophy is a huge part of our cultural heritage from ancient Greece, and I wanted some way to make the idea of philosophy real to second-graders. So we played a silly little game called “Non Sequitur,” which, literally translated, means “does not follow.” If you don’t know, in logic, a non sequitur is an argument that “does not follow.” For example, the statements:

The Botanical Gardens are in the Bronx. I am in the Bronx, therefore I must be in the Botanical Gardens.

Non sequitur. One does not follow from the other. In more conversational terms, a non sequitur is when someone says something that has little or nothing to do with the topic at hand. For example:

“Do you often walk your dog in this park?”
“Oh yes, I love Astoria at Christmastime.”

So to teach the idea of philosophy, which I introduced as “the study of clear thinking,” we played the game Non Sequitur. I taught the kids the word, using examples similar to the ones I wrote here, and two children would pair up and have a staged conversation on a topic of my choosing (pets you’d like to have, what you like to eat for breakfast, favorite cartoons, etc.). They had to continue in this topic until I flashed a sign at them which read “Non Sequitur,” and then the next one to speak had to come up with something completely off-topic. Then the entire class would cheer “Non Sequitur!” They thought this was hilarious. In my more advanced groups, I moved on to giving them actual strings of logic statements that were relatable to them (The Botanical Gardens are in the Bronx, etc.) and had them identify the non sequiturs. They were surprisingly adept. We really should start teaching critical thinking skills earlier than we do.

2. The Greek Assembly.

Building on the idea of non sequiturs and clear thinking, we held a mock Assembly of Athenian citizens to debate and vote on matters of importance. Namely, whether video games should be permitted in the classroom. Together we brainstormed a list of pros and cons and listed them on a chart. Then the students took turns standing up, donning a chiton, and addressing their fellow citizens on the topic. We didn’t have time to make it a proper debate, where they could respond to one another, but they each had a turn to take a stand and make a very brief speech about the benefits or dangers of bringing video games into the classroom. If they went off-topic or said something that didn’t make sense, their peers were permitted to point out their non sequitur, in which case they had the opportunity to revise their statement. This activity is even more fun when you make them lift up their hands and gesture like a politician or an orator, and address the class as “Citizens!”

Then we time-traveled back to 2013, where they were not living in an Athenian democracy, and so had no say on the video game question anyway.

3. Greek masks.

If I’d had a month to work on Ancient Greece, we DEFINITELY would have written and performed our own Greek comedy or tragedy, but because we only had one more session left, we focused our study of Greek theater on the use of masks. We talked about why Greek actors wore masks (to help the audience see and understand the character’s role and expression), and then we made some:

A fierce warrior.
A fierce warrior.
A cheerful damsel.
A cheerful damsel. With vampire teeth?
LEAP-Taiwan-GAYLE-Misc 694
I think this is a frightened warrior. I might be wrong.
Angry!! Ferocious! Perhaps a monster?
Angry!! Ferocious! Perhaps a monster?

As you can see, the students succeeded in making their masks quite expressive. We made these out of old cereal boxes, which I pre-cut to make things go faster. We decorated them with a combination of markers, crayons, and paper/tissue scraps from other projects. The masks took 10-20 minutes to make, depending on the class. For how I organize a project like this to ease the materials management, please see this post.

We had a lot of fun! What about you? Would you approach this differently? How? I’d love to hear!


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