Write Like an Egyptian

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11950

Have you tried to read instructions written in other languages? If you recognize the letters it's possible to pronounce the words. Some letters are pictures, like ancient Egyptian. Take a closer look!



learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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What form of writing do you use where you are from? Compare your writing to the writing used in other cultures. Which appear to be the most difficult to learn?

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Every culture has a unique language, and for most languages, there is a unique written language to go with it.

Some countries use letters while other countries use symbols in their writing. The examples you looked at above show the written language used in China and Arabic-speaking countries today. Write a simple word, such as "dog," in your written language. Then, use the images above to write the same word in Chinese and Arabic. Discuss the similarities and differences you observe with your paper or teacher.

One of the earliest known written languages comes from ancient Egypt, which existed from around 3100 B.C. to 332 B.C. If you were to travel back in time approximately 5,100 years, you would arrive at the time of the ancient Egyptians.

The ancient Egyptians' written language is called hieroglyphics. Egyptian hieroglyphics consist of thousands of pictures that are used to depict different words and sounds. That is a lot of symbols, considering the English alphabet consists of only 26 characters! The following image depicts some ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. What do you think some of the symbols and pictures represent? Tell your teacher or parent:

Egyptian hieroglyphics

You can also take a closer look at some hieroglyphics by visiting the website, Fascinating Facts About Hieroglyphics, by National Geographic Kids. Be sure to read through the article and watch the video at the bottom of the page. When you are finished with the page, discuss the following questions with your teacher or parent:

  • Which images are associated with the letters in your name?
  • What letter(s) do the ancient Egyptians have hieroglyphics for that are not a part of the English alphabet?

With all of these unique symbols that are so different from what we are accustomed to seeing, how did historians figure out what they all mean?

The major breakthrough occurred in 1799 when a French soldier discovered a stone tablet near the town of Rosetta in Egypt. The tablet contained three different written languages: Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Egyptian demotic. Since historians knew how to read Greek, they were able to read the Greek passage on the tablet. The passage indicated that the other two writings said the same thing that was written in Greek. Knowing this, historians were able to use the Rosetta Stone as a key for decoding the meaning behind Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Rosetta Stone gave historians unique insight into ancient Egyptian history and culture, but many hieroglyphs still remain a mystery, since there are thousands to decipher.

Rosetta Stone

Before moving on to the Got It? section, discuss the following questions with your teacher or parent:

  • How do ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics compare to other written languages you have examined in this lesson?
  • How was the Rosetta Stone used to help historians decode the ancient Egyptian written language?
  • How does being able to read a written language help historians learn more about a culture?

The Rosetta Stone was one of the greatest breakthroughs in the past 300 years because it enabled historians to decode all sorts of ancient Egyptian writing, giving them greater insight into the history and culture of ancient Egypt.

When you are ready, move on to the Got It? section to take a closer look at some ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

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