02. Ancient Mediterranean, Art & Humanities, Teaching

Lesson Plans: The Egyptian Book of the Dead

Lesson Plans: 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.

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.

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. 🙁



  1. Hi,

    Thank you for this amazing ideas and resources!
    In the Funerary Arts PPT slide 1, you mentioned an article on Egyptian cult of the dead.
    Which article is that?

    Thank you

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