Olmec Big Head Statue Activity

My 4th grade students recently completed an Olmec big head statue activity as part of our study of ancient civilizations in the Americas. I knew very little about the Olmec civilization before I started teaching it as part of my history curriculum, and students are typically not familiar with the group either. The Olmec settled in present day Mexico and were the predecessors to groups like the Maya and Aztec. They developed calendars, may have been the first to harvest the cacao bean, were wealthy traders, and carved giant head statues from basalt stone. To date, seventeen big head statues have been found along Mexico’s Gulf Coast.

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity

In order to help my students understand the concept of the large head statues, I planned a hands on activity that let them build their own model of a big head statue using air-dry clay and Play-Doh. We reviewed photographs of the real statues and noted details about the facial features, helmets, and carving techniques to try to duplicate some of the key traits. The students were really excited about the project and demonstrated much better recall of the Olmec civilization after completing the heads. The activity could be adapted to fit with a study of other cultures such as the Easter Island statues, Ancient Egyptian sculpture, or the Leshan Giant Buddha in China.

Big Head Statue Materials

  • air-dry clay
  • Play-Doh in bright colors
  • paper plates
  • sharp pencils, bent paper clips, toothpicks, or other pointy tools for carving details

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity

Big Head Statue Directions

  • Give each student about 1/2 pound of Air Dry clay. I have 18 students and bought two 5-lb buckets of clay. I divided each bucket of clay into 9 clay balls of roughly equal size.
  • Students put the ball of clay on a paper plate and molded the ball into a head shape.
  • Using a pencil or other pointy tool, they carved eyes, nose, mouths, etc. into the face. They also used their hands to pinch and form facial features.
  • After the basic design was finished, they took small amounts of colorful Play-doh and added details. According to researchers, the statues may have been painted with bright colors, so students used that detail from our readings to add to their statue design.

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity

In addition to the hands on activity with the clay, I added supplemental readings like THIS ONE to enhance our study of the Olmec people. We practiced finding topic, main idea, and details while completing the reading. To see more of my reading comprehension passages and procedure for correctly identifying topic, main idea, and details in reading passages, CLICK HERE.

Olmec Big Head Statues Activity

If Montezuma had an Instagram Account

 

If Montezuma had an Instagram account, what would he say when Cortez arrived in 1519? My fourth graders have some ideas. We are finishing our study of the conquests of the Inca and Aztec empires and have been reading about Cortez, Pizarro and the events that took place in the 1500s when the Spanish arrived in Mexico and Peru. Students took the information they had about Cortez’s encounter with the Aztecs and Pizarro’s contact with the Incas and created Instagram posts from the point of view of the leader, the conquistador, and a common citizen or soldier. The students wrote comments that shared knowledge of the time period as well as demonstrated point of view and perspective.Point of View Instagram Activity

In order to create the Instagram posts, I shared a template with the students in PowerPoint. It had a permanent background with text boxes layered on top. The students clicked in the text boxes to create the usernames and three comments.instagram-historical-figures-5

The first comment was from the Inca or Aztec leader. The second comment was from the conqueror, and the last comment was from a person who would have been at the scene. The students were also allowed to create related hashtags.

instagram-point-of-view-activity

After students typed their comments, they printed the Instagram post. I set up the template, so the Instagram post filled the left side of the paper only.

instagram-template

Using a paper cutter, I cut the paper into a strip about 4 1/4 inches wide. I also trimmed about 1/2 inch off the top. I cut colorful construction paper into strips that were 4 3/4 x 11 inches. With scissors, the students rounded the corners of the construction paper. They also had the option of rounding the corners of the printed Instagram post. They glued the Instagram post to the construction paper centering the white strip closer to the top of the paper. With a Sharpie, the students drew a circle for a home button at the bottom of the construction paper to complete the effect of an iPhone.

instagram-historical-figures-close

Students colored a profile picture and drew a scene that matched the comments. The details in the drawing were based on information from the readings and unit of study.

img_2983

The finished Instagram posts have been so much fun to read and have made the material much more personal for the students. The activity idea is great because it can be adapted for almost any historical figure or time period you may be studying. CLICK HERE to make a copy of the electronic template via Google Docs. If you would like a PDF version of the template and have students handwrite their Instagram posts, CLICK HERE.