General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 19 Sep 2017/8 Reed
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Article suitable for older students

How should I start teaching a topic on the Aztecs?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Amy West: I’m a teacher, about to embark on a project on the Aztecs with Y5/6. What would you recommend as the best starting point to introduce the unit? Thanks! (Am SO pleased I found your brilliant site!) (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Famous Aztec turquoise mosaic ‘butterfly’ mask in the Mexico Gallery, British Museum
Famous Aztec turquoise mosaic ‘butterfly’ mask in the Mexico Gallery, British Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

Thanks for your kind comments, Amy. We thought that, to answer this down-to-earth question we’d call on the expertise of one of our more experienced ‘regulars’, Michelle Cohen (herself a History graduate) and colleagues at Bovingdon Primary School in Herts., where we’ve been impressed year after year on many fronts, not least by the careful planning that goes into their Aztecs topic (for Year 6). What follows is a summary of Session One (two lessons) taken from their History Planning document that they kindly shared with us on one of our visits to them. Cheers, Michelle!

Little can beat a collection of postcards gathered from different museums...
Little can beat a collection of postcards gathered from different museums... (Click on image to enlarge)

Start by posing the question ‘What is a civilisation?’ Discuss what they may already know about Aztec civilisation and what they might like to find out. Look at artefacts, pictures and postcards what they/you might hope to find out about the Aztecs. What do the sources tell us? What are the children’s first impressions of Aztec civilisation? What can we tell about how they lived?

Showing off an Aztec topic book, Morgans JMI School, Hertford
Showing off an Aztec topic book, Morgans JMI School, Hertford (Click on image to enlarge)

Main Activity
1. Make a mind map using books and postcards
2. Generate questions they would like to research. Share questions as a whole class and collate for ongoing work - display questions and answer when these questions may be covered.
3. Design front cover for an Aztec (project) book based on the famous double-headed snake pectoral in the British Museum. Discuss the significance of the snake and its place in the sacred calendar. Make one picture from the sacred calendar.

Aztec artefacts: what Mexicolore is all about!
Aztec artefacts: what Mexicolore is all about! (Click on image to enlarge)

Notes
DIFFERENTIATION: BA - Mind map outline to record notes. Work with a partner to scribe questions; AA - use internet to locate a range of sources
EVALUATION: ‘Traffic Light’ system: I can interpret information about the Aztec civilisation from sources
LEARNING OBJECTIVE FROM QCA: To select sources and infer information that is relevant to the topic
WILF: Facts in topic areas; relevant enquiry questions; look for clues; use what they know; pick out key information
KEY VOCABULARY: artefacts, Aztec, sacred calendar, civilisation
KEY QUESTIONS: How can we find out about the Aztec civilisation? What do you want to know about the Aztecs?
KEY RESOURCES: Postcards, pictures, artefacts, snake template, black card for front cover, sugar paper for snake, coloured pencils, black outline pens, traffic light evaluation sheet, poster paint, sacred calendar pictures, mind map for BA pupils

The real thing: one of the very few ancient Mexican manuscripts in the world
The real thing: one of the very few ancient Mexican manuscripts in the world (Click on image to enlarge)

Or of course, kick-start your Aztec topic with a visit from the Mexicolore team...!

(All photos by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Ideas for codices...

Our gallery of the 20 Aztec calendar signs

Aztec artefacts...

The BBC has a useful child-friendly page on the Aztec double-headed serpent

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Mexicolore replies: Cheers, Amy! Michelle and colleagues may well have new ideas and suggestions to add to this...