Arabic Learning Scenario:
The Splendors of Egypt

Author: Fadwa Saqer
Level: Intermediate/Advanced


Egyptian hieroglyphics tell much about the life and death of the ancient Egyptians. Their beliefs, customs, and culture come to life through these writings. In this scenario, students become "Egyptologists" as they conduct research on a variety of topics. At the end of the scenario, students complete two projects of their choice based on their findings. Students conduct class discussions in English as needed. More advanced students and native speakers of Arabic use target language resources as much as possible.

ACTIVITY SET 1: Activating Background Knowledge
To activate learners' background knowledge about Egypt, students watch two videos in English. One of the tapes is designed for the prospective traveler in Egypt, and the other is a documentary from National Geographic (see Resources). As they watch, students choose two cities that interest them based on the location of the ruins and antiquities. They make notes in Arabic, listing three facts about their selected sites. As each student shares information with the class, other students add to their own lists. From this small beginning, students develop a learning log notebook with extensive information about Egypt that they use as they develop their final products.

ACTIVITY SET 2: Understanding Hieroglyphics
Students are given a chart of the Egyptian hieroglyphic alphabet with transliterations used by Egyptologists and the approximate pronunciations in English. The orientation of the language, the sounds, the vowels, the gender, and the Egyptian numbers all are discussed in class and are compared with Arabic. Students practice writing their names in hieroglyphics.

ACTIVITY SET 3: Viewing Artifacts
Students take a field trip to a museum that has an ancient Egypt collection such as the Museum of Fine Arts or the Museum of Natural Sciences in Houston, Texas. They participate in a guided tour, take pictures (if allowed) or make sketches, and gather information that they add to their notebook. While at the museum, students study the artifacts and attempt to identify any hieroglyphics they find. (If a field trip is not possible, students visit and gather information from a virtual museum, such as the one found at

ACTIVITY SET 4: Investigating Egyptian Deities
Among the artifacts students encounter on their museum visit are examples of ancient Egyptian deities. Animals were important spiritual figures for the ancient Egyptians, and their deities' characteristics were often represented both physically and mentally.

ACTIVITY SET 5: Visiting Egypt
After visiting the museum, students make a virtual trip to Egypt using the Internet to explore more aspects of its rich history. Students investigate ancient sites such as the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, Hatshepsut’s temple, the Light House at Alexandria, Al Karnak, and/or the Delta. They choose a travel destination and look for information for their notebooks such as who built the ancient site and why, where it is exactly, and what makes it interesting. Once they have gathered enough information, they “send” post cards from their Egyptian vacation location. They draw a colored picture of one of the sites, create a stamp with an Egyptian theme, and address the card to a friend or a family member. Intermediate students write a standard post card message that reports on where they are and what they are doing. More advanced students write a lengthier card that includes their feelings about when they first arrived, whether they would return, and what were the best and worst things about their visit.

ACTIVITY SET 6: Building a Pyramid
One of the sites even a virtual tourist is sure to encounter is the Great Pyramid. Students build a model of this ancient monument, but first they must properly scale it down. To do so, they must make the pyramid 3,000 times smaller than it really is! This means that every 30 meters of the pyramid is scaled down to one centimeter on their plan in their notebook. Students visit a Web site where they find an outline and the instructions for building a paper pyramid ( Once they have assembled and printed their scaled-down model, they compare it to scaled-down versions of other buildings and objects, such as the tallest building in the neighborhood, the Sears Tower in Chicago, or the Statue of Liberty. (To do this, students divide the object’s height in meters by 30 to get its scaled height in centimeters.) They make comparative statements (either orally or in writing) about their discoveries, for example: The Great Pyramid is ____ times larger than my house; The Statue of Liberty is ____ times smaller than the Great Pyramid.

ACTIVITY SET 7: Creating a Mummy
Since the ancient pyramids were used as a final resting place for the dead, students enjoy investigating mummies on the Internet to gather information about all aspects of the mummification process. One particularly good site includes a “clickable” mummy ( Each aspect is assigned to a particular group for research. For example, one group may study the different methods for the preservation of the internal organs; another, the mummification of the head; a third, why the brain was treated differently from the rest of the internal organs, etc. A Fact Chart (see Resources) is used to organize the data gathered and is included in their learning log. Students then become “mummification instructors.” Groups of students take turns giving the class lessons on one aspect of the mummification processes using props in their presentations. Other groups take notes as they listen.

ACTIVITY SET 8: Shopping, Egyptian Style
Most tourists don't limit their travel experiences to museums and monuments; they often like to shop as well! One of the famous markets in Egypt is the Khan El Khaleeli bazaar. It is a public market place where one can find souvenirs, artifacts, and many other kinds of products. It is also a place where people have to bargain and negotiate prices before they make a purchase. Students learned about the bazaar from the videos viewed in Activity Set 1; they now use Arabic to compare it to the flea market in the United States using a graphic organizer such as a T-chart or Venn Diagram. (See Resources for samples.)

To further their investigation of products found in the bazaar, students create a mail order catalog of Egyptian items with pictures, descriptions, and prices in Arabic. Catalogs include a variety of specific categories such as furniture, food, African animals, personal care/fashion items (e.g., cosmetics such as kohl, wigs, clothes, sandals, mirrors), or funeral equipment such as sarcophagi, coffins, canopic jars, Book of the Dead. Each catalog page contains only one item from each category to facilitate using the pages in the roleplay that follows. Students name their catalogs and create an appropriate cover. They next work in pairs to recreate the atmosphere of an Egyptian bazaar in the classroom by constructing and decorating stalls that are filled with items for sale, either pictures from their catalogs or realia that is available. Students take turns roleplaying the shopper and the salesperson, enacting the bargaining and negotiating process in Arabic as they “purchase” items that interest them.

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Targeted Standards

  • Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretative, & Presentational Modes
  • Cultures: Practices & Perspectives, Products & Perspectives
  • Connections: Access to Information, Other Subject Areas
  • Comparisons: Concept of Culture, Influence of Language & Culture
  • Communities: Within & Beyond the School Setting, Personal Enrichment & Career Development

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  • Computers with Internet access and software (such as PowerPoint) for both publishing and presentation
  • Art supplies for students to draw maps, make sketches of the artifacts, and create the greeting cards and Egyptian stamps
  • Rulers, calculators, pencils, papers, cardboards, adhesive (glue), erasers and geometry set to draw the scales of the pyramids
  • Different forms and charts to help students handle their data gathering and organize their ideas such as: Fact Charts, Character Charts, and KWL charts
  • Wall map of Egypt
  • Chart of the hieroglyphic alphabets, corresponding vocabulary word list
  • Pictures of artifacts (e.g., from the Museum of Natural Sciences and/or the Museum of Fine Arts)
  • Laura McKenzie’s Travel Tips: Egypt (video)
  • Egypt: Quest for Eternity (video)

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Reflections on How the Standards Are Met


Communication: The interpersonal mode is used in class discussions and shopping roleplay. The interpretive mode is used as students conduct research, listen to Arabic songs, and listen to student presentations. The presentational mode is used when students conduct their “mummification” lessons and present final products.

Cultures: Students learn about Egyptian cultural products (art, language, food, etc.) and practices (shopping, religion). They also gain an understanding of the perspectives behind these products and practices (e.g., the significance of the afterlife to ancient Egyptians and the resultant items and rituals).

Connections: Students use target language resources to gain access to information about all aspects of ancient Egypt. They connect to many other subject areas, such as social studies, history, geography, mathematics and the fine arts.

Comparisons: Students compare their culture to the culture of Egypt as they compare the flea market with the Egyptian bazaar and the pyramid with the Statue of Liberty.
Communities: Students use the language beyond the school setting during their field trip to the museum.

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Expansion Ideas

  • Have a "Food Day" in which groups of students prepare select dishes from Egypt using the school's home economics facility. Dishes can be prepared after school and consumed in class the next day. This rewards the students for working hard and gives them a chance to have a real taste of Egypt.
  • Play the song Desert Rose, performed by Sting and Cheb Mami or other suitable Arabic songs. Students translate the Arabic part of the lyrics.

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    • The Museum Of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH)
      1001 Bissonnet Street Houston, Texas 77005
      Telephone: (713) 639-7588
      contact person: Shelley F. Roselius,
      Resource Center Coordinator correspondence:
      P.O. Box 6826, Houston, TX, 77265-6826

  • Houston Museum of Natural Science
    Information/Tickets: (713) 639-4629


  • Laura McKenzie's Travel Tips: Egypt (Republic Pictures Home Video)
  • Egypt: Quest for Eternity (National Geographic Classic Videos, Westron Video).


NOTE: These Internet resources may have changed since publication or no longer be available. Active links should be carefully screened before recommending to students.



Sample Graphic Organizers

  • (registration required)
    This site includes links to printable graphic organizers such as fact charts, character charts, T-charts, and Venn diagrams.

"Desert Rose" Song Sites