Ancient Cities

By: Rose Gonzalez, adapted and modified from National Geographic “Xpeditions”

Time: 3 class periods
Photocopy chart and preview websites
Materials: Maya and Inca charts, computers with internet access, books and websites about the Mayans and Incas



Students will be able to:
1. Explore how geography and climate affected the development and land use of ancient cities.

National Geography Standard
(4) The physical and human characteristics of places.
(14) How human actions modify the physical environment.
(15) How physical systems affect human systems.
(17) How to apply geography to interpret the past.

Teacher Background
Teachers should have knowledge of ancient civilizations.

Related and Resource Websites
Students may use online encyclopedias:
Note: This site has many links for information:



2 Days
1. Prior to starting the lesson, contact the school library to see if they can gather books addressing the Mayans and Incas.

2. On the board have the following ready for a daily warm up for students as they come into the classroom: How are homes, buildings and cities designed for our particular climate and geography? (For example in Tucson the thick walls of the adobe buildings help keep the interiors of houses cool. Areas with a lot of snow would benefit from sloped roofs.)

3. Begin by explaining to students that all civilizations make use of and alter their environments. Ask them for examples. Encourage students to share how people in different civilizations have used their natural resources to build their cities and homes and provide their own food. People learn to live within their environments based on the geography and climate that is unique to their cities.

4. Share with the class that ancient civilizations provide a wonderful example of how people develop structures to live within and modify the physical environment.

5. Explain that the achievements of the cities that the Mayans and Incas built are considered some of the most extraordinary and that they will be researching how these great cities were built.

6. Give each student a chart and have them conduct library and online research to explore how the Mayans and Incas developed their land based on their climate and geography. Have them complete their charts with the information they find using the online encyclopedias and texts within the school library.

Day 3
1. Have students work in pairs in an activity called “Write, pair, repair.” Instruct the students to share their notes and add or change any information.

2. Have students create a one page report that briefly explains how the geography and climate influenced the development of the Mayan and Inca cities.

3. As a class, have students return to the warm up question from the first day relating to their city’s modifications for its’ particular physical environment. Is there anything that they would add?


Embedded Assessment
Students can be assessed for their ability to explain how geography and climate affects the development and land use of today’s and ancient cities through their initial warm up, chart and final paper.


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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