Ancient Egyptian writing equipment

Teaching ideas

Show students the image of the palette and ask them to describe it. What is it made from? What are the different parts? How do they think it was used? Ask the class to make a list of all the different things we use for writing today. Which ones do they think they would find in a modern workplace?

Demonstrate how to make pens from reeds or bamboo skewers and help students make their own. Have the class practise writing with hieroglyphs while sitting cross-legged on the floor. Use black and red watercolour cakes or Chinese ink blocks for the ink, and a variety of different surfaces – papyrus (or paper), bits of broken flowerpot, sheets of wood – to write on. Some students may like to try making a complete set of scribal equipment using the instructions in For the classroom.

Using the two paintings from Nebamun’s tomb in A bigger picture, have the class look at the differences in how the scribes and field workers are shown. Are their clothes and hair different? Why are the field workers bowing down while the scribes sit or stand? Print out the two scenes and give them to groups. Ask them to identify the following items:

  • palette
  • pen
  • papyrus
  • briefcase
  • filing cabinets

What do the class think the scribes are counting, and why? Look at the statue of Peshuper and at the flask in A bigger picture. Notice how fat the scribes are. Why do the students think these men would want to be shown as fat?

Using the resources in For the classroom, explore Egyptian numbers and mathematics with the class. Try some simple Egyptian mathematical problems. Challenge groups to do some addition and subtraction exercises manually before checking the answer with a calculator. Ask them to time each process and make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of each method to share with the class.

The first Egyptian writing was made up of pictures and symbols. Discuss how we use symbols to communicate today, for example, road signs, emoticons, logos. Give students examples of hieroglyphs and ask them to collect images of modern signs and symbols that either look similar or have the same meaning. Make a display or presentation comparing the ancient and modern signs and ask students to label them with their meanings.

The Egyptians used the sound values of their pictograms to spell out words that were hard to draw, like names or ideas. Get students to explore how this worked by creating and solving picture rebus puzzles, for example, drawings of an eye and a deer for ‘idea’. After solving a few puzzles as a class, individual students can draw their own name as a rebus. Then, working in groups, they could create picture messages in rebus form for the rest of the class to decipher.

In much the same way as text message abbreviations, written Egyptian omitted vowels. Ask the class to translate a few text messages and to identify what makes this type of communication different from the normal written word. Discuss why people send texts. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this method of communication? Demonstrate how the Egyptians used determinative signs to avoid confusion.

Ancient Egyptian education was all about preparing young people for the jobs they would do as adults. Using the resources in For the classroom, list and discuss all the ways in which ancient Egyptian education was different from today. Compare the benefits of practical experience and theoretical knowledge. Ask students to work in pairs and imagine a conversation between an ancient Egyptian child and someone of the same age today. What are their daily lives like? What are they learning? When will they start work? How do they imagine their future?

As part of their education, Egyptian students had to copy texts known as ‘instructions’. As well as providing writing practice, these texts gave advice on how to behave at work and in private life. Look at the example of a student’s work in For the classroom and compare it with corrected work the students have. Print out a selection of Amenemopet’s maxims from For the classroom and give them to groups to discuss - you may need to adapt the language. Do students think these are still good advice today? You could ask them to select the most relevant examples and use them as the basis for a class assembly.

You might arrange to visit your local town hall to find out how modern administrators work. Look at jobs such as:

  • writing letters
  • ordering supplies
  • paying wages
  • filing documents
  • keeping records

Ask groups to find out how Egyptian scribes did these jobs, then collect images of modern office workers to display alongside.

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Ancient Egyptian writing equipment