Lasting Legacies of Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece lesson plans can open up a world of information for students.

By Daniella Garran


Ancient Greece Lesson Plans

The ancient Greeks were arguably one of the most advanced civilizations of their time. Not only did they create what would become the foundation for American government, but they also inaugurated the notion of citizenship. The Greeks focused on not just living life, but also thinking about their existence; hence, the discipline of philosophy emerged. Their scientists and mathematicians made tremendous advances in their respective fields including geometry, astronomy and biology, to name a few. It was the Greeks’ insatiable quest for knowledge that separated them from their contemporaries.

Students learning about ancient history sometimes have difficulty imagining what life was like thousands of years ago. Showing them that all ancient cultures left behind legacies that have transcended time is especially important in helping students connect the past with the present. In no civilization is this more striking than with the ancient Greeks.

One especially easy and fun way to demonstrate one of the most significant Greek legacies is to list a number of words on the board with Greek origins. For example, “biology” comes from the Greek root bio- meaning “life” and –ology meaning “the study of.” “Autobiography” comes from three Greek roots (auto meaning “self,” bio- meaning  “life” and graph meaning “to write) and translates loosely to mean to write about one’s life. Write different Greek root words on the board to see how many English derivatives students can generate.

Another significant area in which the Greeks made many contributions was math and science. Take the opportunity to collaborate with your colleagues in the science and math departments to host a “Mathapalooza” in which the achievements of the Greek mathematicians (e.g.: the Pythagorean Theorem) are explored and applied. Sponsor a Greek science fair in which the experiments and discoveries of the Greeks are tested (e.g.: displacement, the Archimedes’ screw, etc.). Another opportunity for collaboration is with the P.E. teacher who could hold a mini-Olympics in which the events of the ancient Greek games are featured with modifications (for example, use a Frisbee in lieu of a discus).

To understand the influence of Greek styles on architecture, have students record all the buildings in their town or city that they find with Doric, Ionic or Corinthian columns. Also, if there are any local amphitheaters, have students visit them to learn about the pros and cons of this architectural style.

Finally, to facilitate students’ understanding of the similarities and subtle differences between America’s representative democracy and ancient Greece’s direct democracy, pose a controversial question to the class (e.g.: school should be held on Saturdays, all students should wear uniforms) and have them debate and try to vote as if in a direct democracy wherein everyone has his say. Students will quickly see how difficult it is to have their voice heard. Then have the class elect representatives to debate the issue in a more orderly fashion. Students will be amazed by how ubiquitous the influence of ancient Greek culture is in their lives. What follows are more ancient Greece lesson plans.

Ancient Greece Lesson Plans:

How Does the Civilization of Ancient Greece Influence Us Today?

This lesson provides an excellent framework for examining the legacies of ancient Greece. Not only does this lesson provide an opportunity to reinforce geography skills and knowledge, but it also allows for an exploration of the social and political structure of the ancient Greek city-states. Special attention is given to the study of democracy and mythology in ancient Greek culture.

The Olympic Games: Beyond the Medals

One of the best-known legacies of the ancient Greeks is the Olympics. The Olympics were reflective of the values and principles of the ancient Greeks (physical strength and perfection, athletic skill and worship of Zeus as the supreme deity). In addition, the Olympics, started in 776 B.C.E., were one of the few times that the Greek city-states would lay down their weapons and come together in the spirit of national unity. This is a tradition that remains today; even amidst conflict and turmoil in the modern world, nations participating in the Olympics put aside their differences in the spirit of competition. This lesson provides a great opportunity to help students recognize that the legacies of the Greeks are still alive in our society.

Ancient Greek Influences in Science and Math

The Greeks were among the most prolific scientists and mathematicians in the ancient world. Examining their contributions to the various scientific fields is a critical element of any study of Greek history and its legacies. Students will be amazed at how the things that they are learning in their science and math classes were discovered by the ancient Greeks. This lesson also provides a nice opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration with science and math colleagues. The more students see the application of history to the modern world, the greater appreciation they will have for the groundbreaking ancient cultures

Deep Roots of Ancient Greece

The development of Western “ethos” is strongly based on the logic and principles first devised by the ancient Greeks. This lesson focuses on the ancient Greeks’ contribution to Western thought and culture. It also explores the influence of Greek mythology and literature on the arts of today. 

Political Traditions

Arguably the most important contribution of the ancient Greeks was the creation of democracy. It is critical for students to understand the influence of the Greek notions of citizenship and government (as well as the Romans’) on America’s government. This lesson also provides good opportunities for primary document analysis.