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Lesson Plans Library 6-8 > Ancient History
Enduring Influence: Rome, Greece, and Byzantium  image
Enduring Influence: Rome, Greece, and Byzantium
Grade level: 6-8 Subject: Ancient History Duration: One class period

lesson plan support
Students will
  • Understand how historians and scientists have pieced together the story of Pompeii.
  • Examine Pliny the Younger's first-hand account of the eruption of Vesuvius.
  • Describe what the personal account reveals about the events in Pompeii.
  • Enduring Influence: Rome, Greece, and Byzantium videoand VCR, orDVDand DVD player
  • Computer with Internet access
  1. On a classroom map, locate the city of Pompeii.(It is found near Naples, along Italy's west coast, just east of the Bay of Naples.)Ask students to describe what happened there in A.D. 79 and why the town is so well preserved.(The volcano Mount Vesuvius erupted. While volcanic material buried the town it also preserved it.)

  2. Next, have students share some of the many ways that archaeologists, geologists, and other scientists have been able to piece together what happened during the eruption.(Answers will vary, such as: Archaeologists have made plaster impressions of spaces left by human and animal bodies; archaeologists have studied the artifacts found with bodies; radiologists have used MRI to learn more about the skeletons that have been discovered; scientists have studied the rock layers to determine the different stages of the eruption and how long each lasted; scientists studying the soil found a lack of bacteria, a sign of extreme heat.)

  3. What crucial pieces of information were provided by the first-hand account of Pliny of the Younger?(His account provides a date and time of the eruption: August 24, A.D. 79, around noon.)How was Pliny able to view the eruption without getting hurt himself?(He witnessed the eruption from across the Bay of Naples.)How did he describe the eruption?(As a column of cloud stretching many kilometers into the air)How did this description help scientists understand the eruption?(It indicated the eruption must have been a massive explosion, not a slow lava flow.)

  4. Tell students that Pliny the Younger's account was taken from letters to his friend Tacitus, a Roman historian. These letters were not discovered until the 16th century. Have students watch the Web documentary of Pliny's account online at:

  5. Have students watch and listen to the documentary once through without taking notes. Then have them watch it a second time, noting surprising or revealing phrases from Pliny the Younger's account. Have them write a brief essay about what the letters reveal, answering the following questions:

    • How does Pliny the Younger describe the actual eruption?
    • How does he describe the reaction of the people?
    • What does this letter reveal about the events that could never be discovered by experts today?

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • Three points:Students were active in class discussions; provided several examples of how various scientists and Pliny the Younger's account have contributed to our understanding of Pompeii; essays reflected a strong understanding of Pliny's account and answered all three of the questions provided.
  • Two points:Students participated in class discussions; provided a few examples of how various scientists and Pliny the Younger's account have contributed to our understanding of Pompeii; essays reflected a satisfactory understanding of Pliny's account and answered two of the questions provided.
  • One point:Students did not participate in class discussions; provided few or no examples of how various scientists and Pliny the Younger's account have contributed to our understanding of Pompeii; essays reflected a weak understanding of Pliny's account and answered one or none of the questions provided.

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Definition:A scientist who studies ancient peoples by analyzing the things they left behind.
Context:Archaeologists have learned a lot about how the ancient Romans lived by studying the remains of Pompeii.

Definition:The act of digging a large hole or cavity for the purpose of locating and removing artifacts
Context:Excavations in Pompeii have uncovered about a thousand bodies in the streets and houses

Definition:A lightweight, bubble-filled volcanic rock that forms from foamy magma
Context:Within a few hours a blanket of pumice nearly a meter deep had smothered Pompeii.

pyroclastic flow
Definition:High speed, high temperature avalanches of volcanic fragments, ash, and gases caused by eruptions or the collapse of a volcanic dome.
Context:Pyroclastic flows have the power to destroy everything in their path.

pyroclastic surge
Definition:Similar to a flow but with a smaller amount of fragments and a higher concentration of potentially deadly gases.
Context:Scientists believe a combination of pyroclastic flows and surges killed many of the residents of Pompeii.

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National Academy of Sciences
The National Academy of Sciences provides guidelines for teaching science in grades K-12 to promote scientific literacy. To view the standards, visit this Web site:

This lesson plan addresses the following science standards:

  • Science as Inquiry: Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data; Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
McREL's Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education addresses 14 content areas. To view the standards and benchmarks, visit

This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:

  • World History: Era 3 Understand how major religious and large-scale empires arose in the Mediterranean Basin, China, and India from 500 BCE to 300 CE
  • Science: Nature of Science Understands the nature of scientific inquiry

The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)
NCSS has developed national guidelines for teaching social studies. To become a member of NCSS, or to view the standards online, go to

This lesson plan addresses the following thematic standards:

  • Time, Continuity, and Change
  • People, Places, and Environments

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Joy Brewster, curriculum writer, editor, and consultant

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