In Praise of the Egyptian Gods

This past year I did a new Egyptian gods project, shared with me by my fab co-Humanities teacher. It was such a great way to combine art, mythology, creativity, writing, AND presentation skills! To teach the Egyptian gods, I put the students in partners and each group was assigned a god they had to research. With their research, they create an artistic representation of the god based the Egyptian canon then they had to write a hymn to the god and then present it to the class.



The Visual God

The students had to follow the canon of art from Ancient Egypt  and were given dimension guidelines that their gods that to meet. They had to created a gridded sheet and draw their god meeting those dimensions. For example, we told the students their gods had to be at least 9″ tall with their waist at 1.5″ and shoulders 2.5″. They had to make a grid which each square measuring ½”.

After they drew their god, it was time to decorate! They had to follow conventions for how that god actually looked in Ancient Egyptian art but any material not part of the god’s body had to be from a material different from the gridded paper (i.e glitter, feathers, construction paper, tissue paper, fabric, etc.). They students REALLY got into this part and some of their gods are exquisite!

Read more Student Series! Egyptian Goddesses


The Hymn

In addition to the visual god, the students had to create a hymn to the god that explained aspects of the god’s protection/jurisdiction/role in Ancient Egyptian religion. They had to make the hymn 3 stanzas with 5 lines each and (obviously) could not copy an already existing hymn. Some of my students were incredibly clever with their rhymes and their explanation of the gods. They even wrote in some bad mouthing of other gods that were in competition with their deity. 🙂 These were hilarious! Here’s a sample of a great one:

Hail to you Anubis,
God of the afterlife, 
protector of the dead
with the body of a man
and a jackal for a head.
Wearing black to symbolize decay
punished those who offended the gods, the ones who betray.


After we are finished with the visual god and the hymn (about three 50-minute class periods) they had to present their god to the class and read out the hymn as the students jot down important notes about them. I told the students that they would see some of the gods appear again in the Book of the Dead activity so they needed to pay close attention.




Teaching the Egyptian Book of the Dead

There are tons of different ways to teach this fabulous funerary book from ancient Egypt. I’m going to illustrate some of the ways I’ve taught it in both my AP Art History and Humanities classes with some of my procedures with pros and cons to each method.

Read more Last Judgment of Hu-Nefer


National Geographic Documentary: The Egyptian Book of the Dead

Before the students watch the documentary, which is about an hour and a half, I taught an introduction to the Book of the Dead and important scenes in it in a 50-minute lesson. On the day of the documentary, I gave the students questions to think about connecting with the two different story lines appearing throughout the documentary:

  1. The first storyline is of the Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge as he discovers the pristine Book of the Dead and deals with the ethics of archaeology versus treasure hunting (and the grey area in between).
  2. The second storyline is the journey the Ancient Egyptian, Ani, goes through to get a Book of the Dead for himself and his journey through the pages of the book once he dies.

Pros: This method is pretty low-key; the video does a good job of simultaneously displaying two storylines dealing with the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead: one about early archeology and the second about the literary journey in the Book of the Dead.

Con: The quality of the documentary on YouTube isn’t the best, so try to find a DVD if you can. Also, my students liked parts of the documentary, but the whole thing kinda dragged on a little bit and some of the acting was weak. Also, in total this method takes about a week for a one-day introduction to the Book of the Dead with about an hour-and-a-half for the documentary plus an assessment at the end about the Last Judgment scene.


Making a Book of the Dead

For this lesson, the students are in partners and assigned different individual scenes from the Book of the Dead. They have to create a depiction of their assigned scene on “papyrus” (aka brown paper bags cut into strips) with paint and other art materials. In addition to the painting, they also have to research what the different gods look like and any  vocabulary words they do not know from the description I gave them. I split up the text from the ENTIRE Book of the Dead, so at the end of the project I display all of the scenes together like a big scroll so we can see the whole story together.

Click HERE to get text for the individual scenes from the Book of the Dead.

Pros: This really challenges the students on a few different levels: painting on a smaller scale with lots of detail, creating the scenes based on the written descriptions alone, research, and partner work. The end product is also super impressive when you see the different scenes strung together.

Cons: This method takes about a week for a one-day introduction to the Book of the Dead with about three 50-minute class periods for the research and painting of the scene from the Book of the Dead. It also requires some art supplies: one “papyrus” paper per partner and painting supplies.


Book of the Dead: “AP Style”

The above mentioned Book of the Dead activities are for my Humanities classes, unfortunately I can’t take as much time with AP Art History class. I have to cut out the fun art part for my AP lesson and I only focus on the scene from the AP curriculum: The Last Judgement of Hu-Nefer.  The students are assigned the Khan Academy video at home to watch before they come to class and then in class I lectured about Egyptian Funerary Arts in which we looked at the Book of the Dead, tomb of King Tut, and the Great Pyramids. It is my introduction to Ancient Egypt and it allows them to be able to pick out this theme throughout the unit.

Click HERE to get my Egyptian Funerary Arts PPT!

Pros: It gets all the main information in quickly and hits all the objectives for the AP test while still connecting it to other thematic topics.

Cons: Time!!! I would love to spend more time on this piece with my AP kids but I just can’t. 😦



Falling in Love with Still-life Painting

So many people are of the opinion that still-lifes are literally the worst genre of painting. Ever. They’re literally the foodie Instagrams of their day. I mean why in the world would some want to carefully catalogue a tables cape of bowls, plates, food, and sometimes bugs????? I felt the same way until I had to teach Rachel Ruysch in AP Art History and I knew I had to jazz it up a bit. The question was how!

So here are some ways to spice up looking at still-life paintings:

Play an “I Spy” Game

Brooklyn Museum instagram

In the attempt to make these boring paintings more lively I decided to play a little “I spy game” in which I would call out things and the students had to find them in the painting. This showed them that there is more than initially meets the eye with these paintings. It also makes the students realize that not all the things really “go together.” For instance, why are there bird eggs in this image above with fruit?

Read more: Museum Madness: Making the Most of your Museum Visit

I also play this game while walking around museums with myself or my husband. We each try to find something for the other to “spy.” Honestly, some of these really make me hungry. 🙂 It’s hilarious but I always want wine, oysters, and fruit after staring at too many still-lifes.


Still Life with Oysters, a Silver Tazza, and Glassware, Willem Claesz Heda, 1635MFA-Still Life with Bread, Ham, Cheese, and Vegetables, Luis Melendez, 1772

Once they are alerted to the fact that some items feel out-of-place, it’s a good time to ask why certain items would be included. In art history, the answer is nearly always some kind of symbolism. Here are some of my favorite books and articles on still-life symbolism to use with the students or do research yourself:

This is a good small-group activity in which students take 1-2 still-life paintings nd try to beat eachother to “crack the code.” Why don’t you try it with the two images above? How many symbols can you find?

Hands On Activity


A great way to get the kids to really analyze each part of a still-life is to recreate it! I had my AP Art History kids last year use materials I had gathered from arts & crafts store to recreate in 3D Rachel Ruysch’s Fruits & Insects (I went shopping during a huge fall decor sale so everything was SUPER cheap!). They had a ton of fun making sure they got every detail right and this really allowed them some structured (& productive) “fun” time in class.

In the end, art is what you make of it. So if, as the teacher, you enjoy the material the students will too (my kids always know when I don’t like something! lol). You may not have time for all of these in class so pick and choose according to the time allotted and the desires of your kids and hopefully they get into it!

Make Up a Story

Still Life with Fruit and Carafe, Pensionante del Saraceni, c. 1610-1620

With little kids it could also be fun to make up a story about the items left on the table (I would never do this with my AP kids FYI). Tell the kids to image there was a group of people around the table and they suddenly had to get up: what were they doing? Who were they? What were they talking about? Why did they gather this still to the table? Where did they have to rush to so quickly that they left their food?

This type of exercise can help kids get into the mindset of a painting and really brings them to life. Especially when “museum fatigue” starts setting in. I don’t have any kids yet but you can be sure these museum games will be in my back pocket when I do!

Read more: Foods of Belgium & the Dutch

Here are some more still-lifes from my travels:

Still Life with Ham, Gerrit Willemsz. Heda, 1650MFA-Still Life with Silver Brandy Bowl, Wine Glass, Herring, and Bread, Pieter Claesz, 1597-1660MFA-Still Life with Fruit, Wan-Li Porcelain, and Squirrel, Frans Snyders, 1579-1657MFA-Still Life with Fruit and Shells, Balthasar van der Ast, 1593 or 1594-1657Floral still-lifes, Rachel Ruysch-with meMFA-Still life oyster detailIMG_0180MFA-Still life ???


P.S. I got hungry as I was writing this post so I strted munching on garlic toast and cheese 🙂

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The Human Figure in Ancient Egyptian Art

I group together a few different Ancient Egyptian images into a lesson I call: The Human Figure in Ancient Egypt. I focus on the “ideal” in Ancient Egyptian art and how close (or far) some of these pieces follow the Egyptian Canon. The pieces in this lesson are Seated scribe, King Menkaure and queen, Kneeling statue of Hatshepsut, and Akhenaten and Nefertiti with three daughters.

The students have to fill out a chart that analyzes the form and related historical context while reading a section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Educator Guide that explains the Canon of Egypt Art in general as well as on each of the pieces. They have to work as a team to accomplish this task and I sit them in groups of four to get this done. I will break down each piece according to the chart:


Does this piece conform to the Egyptian Canon?

Seated Scribe

Certainly a NO for this answer. The Egyptian Canon emphasized idealized beauty, masculinity for males, perpetual youth, stiff musculature, lack of personality or flaws, upright pose, etc. The seated scribe with his pudgy features, thin wrinkles, and relaxed pose does not fit the bill.

King Menkaure and queen & Kneeling statue of Hatshepsut

Yes and Yes! Both figures are idealized, simplified yet realistic human figures with no emotion or imperfections shown.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti with three daughters

Not even close! Many of my students describe these figures as “alien” because of their pudgy bellies, elongated limbs and stretched out skulls. They are humanoid but extremely stylized.


Describe the Form of the art piece.

Students are expected to look at the color images provided to describe simply what the looks like (this deep looking provides the framework to answer the other questions).


Why does this piece look the way it does?

Seated Scribe

The Seated Scribe is not a pharaoh, not even royalty (although part of the literate upper class), so he is not expected to be as “perfect” as the god-kings of Ancient Egypt. However, he showcases his literate status because he is in the act of writing.

King Menkaure and queen & Kneeling statue of Hatshepsut

Both of these images are of pharaohs (and wife) so therefore they need to express the ideals of ruler-ship: stability, permanence, controlled actions and emotions, and the ability to bear the weight of ruler-ship. Also the statue of King Menkaure was made during the Old Kingdom, the height of the Egyptian Empire and a period of strong pharaohs (I mean the built the pyramids for goodness sake!).

On the other hand, Hatshepsut was a woman who was trying to establish her rule in the shadow of strong male leaders. Therefore it makes perfect sense that her art would look like theirs; she even went so far as to suppress her womanly shape (reduced breasts, added a false beard, little hips) to further support this image.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti with three daughters

Although Akhenaten was pharaoh like Menkaure and Hatshepsut, his historical context is what sets him apart. Akhenaten temporarily abandoned the pantheon of Egyptian gods to elevated the sun-disk Aten. This major religious changed was also political: the priests were no longer needed because all communication with the god(s) solely went through Akhenaten. Whenever there is a massive cultural shift, art transforms with it. Gone is the masculine and ridged forms of the past, say hello to curvy “soft” bodies.


seated scribe:

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Political Narrative in the Ancient World

Although I move chronologically through time, I also like to combine that with thematic lessons. I cover the Palette of King Narmer with The Code of Hammurabi and the Standard of Ur from the Royal Tombs at Ur (modern Tell el-Muqayyar) in a lesson I call “Political Narratives in the Ancient World;” this lesson is 100% student led.



I put the students in groups of three, with each student getting an 8×10 color image of their assigned art piece and two articles that cover different parts of FFCC. They spend the first half of class reading, highlighting, and annotating the articles while I have guiding questions on my PowerPoint to help them identify the most important information.

  • What is the historical/political context of the piece? How does that affect the content?
  • Be able to identify all the important symbols and storyline that demonstrate the political context.
  • Do we know the political leader depicted? Who are they in the art piece?
  • How are the human figures depicted to demonstrate relative importance?

When I call time (usually 20 minutes in) I give the students the last 30 minutes of class to teach their group mates on their pieces; I provide suggested time limits of 10 minutes per piece.


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Ziggurats vs. Pyramids


This past year for Humanities, I designed various stations to compare and contrast the cultures of the Ancient Near East and Egypt in prepartion for their final test. One of the stations I set up was “Ziggurats vs. Pyramids.” In this station, students are asked to read the blog post Ziggurats and Pyramids” and answer four short questions on the function and shape of ziggurats and pyramids. I gave them a bonus point if they could come up with another building that is also pyramid-shaped (from any time period or culture).


**Disclaimer: this is just one station of many and this activity does not take the students more than 10 minutes, MAX.

Now that I teach AP World History, I was able to incorporate this topic into a recent essay  my students did. To teach the Early Civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, I had the students in groups looking at different over-arching topics to research for their comparative essay that was assigned that night for homework.

Some of the topics I assigned are:

  • Politics and social structure
  • Culture and religion
  • Art and architecture
  • Scientific contributions
  • Geography and environment
  • Trade and interaction

Most of the students in the art and architecture group compared ziggurats and pyramids in their essay. I am trying my hardest to incorporate the arts and culture into AP World History will still teaching all of the essential knowledge their need for their AP test in May. So far, it’s successful!


P.S. Even though this lesson is one I do in Humanities it can easily also be adapted and expanded to teach the  White Temple and its ziggurat and Great Pyramids and Great Sphinx in the AP Art History curriculum.


Kinesthetic Learning in Humanities

In a recent lesson in Humanities on the Venus of Willendorf my fellow teacher and I incorporated a fun kinesthetic lesson to drive home the content. Kinesthetic learners, in my experience, are typically harder to engage because those lessons requires extra time, materials, and flexibility with your lesson.

**Note: I have a LOT of flexibility with Humanities so I know this lesson would not work with every subject. Also, this lesson was for a 90-minute block period but can easily be shorted for a more traditional 50-minute class by cutting out a video or shortening the activity time.



When the students walked in I had 5 different articles at each group on the Venus of Willendorf that the students read silently and highlighted then shared with their group mates until I was ready to start.

Here are the articles I provided them:

Class Discussion & Videos


Once the group conversation was dying down (or becoming sidetracked) I started the lesson asking the class to teach me something about this figure. I used questions to guide them to important information as they referred to their articles and added new information they learned from other individuals. The conversation was great because we focused in on the representations of the “ideal body” and my girls really got the ball rolling talking about the effects of magazines and social media on their self-image and body consciousness.

We also talked about the size and scale of the Venus and how that may implicate her usefulness as a fertility figure. As a class, we hypothesized what about her full-bodied figure may have meant and how she may have been used during the Paleolithic period.

After our discussion we watched two short videos: Women’s Ideal Body Type Throughout History & Venus of Willendorf, an extract from The Sculpture Diaries.

Read more: The Human Figure in Prehistoric Art

Kinesthetic Activity


Now to the fun part! After our discussion I instructed my students to each get a container of play-doh and  thin paintbrush (they used the pointy end to mark details in their play-doh). I told them that they were going to create their own Venus of Wilendorfs using these materials. They had to match the form and scale of the original. It was a lot of fun and got kids thinking about the creation. mobility, and use of art during the Prehistoric periods.

As they were creating, I played some “themed” music, most appropriately: “All about that Bass” by Meghan Trainor, “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix A Lot, and “Man! I Feel Like a Women” by Shania Twain. 🙂 It lightened up the mood and got them in a creative and fun atmosphere.

After some playing time, I walked around and talked with each of the individual groups about their creations and concepts of an idealized body in the past and today. All in all a win of a lesson! Thanks to my teacher-partner for sharing this awesome idea with me!


guide to surviving a summer roadtrip-2