Social Sundays: The Legacy of Thought from Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece is a unit rich with fascinating topics - major changes in governmental structures, architecture and art whose influence and style are still used today, city development, literary themes that have been replayed in literature and novels for centuries, and of course, philosophical thought.  Our approach is shaped by the themes of the year and the maturity and interests of the students.  I ascribe to the school of thought that supports reaching high, and when possible, we include at least one day on the big three philosophers: Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato.  The scope of this first lesson is divided into four parts: primary source readings, background and discussion, and activities.

Readings:  primary sources are the way to go if my students can handle it. I often choose readings from each philosopher that generally approach the same topic, because this provides a good basis for comparison. 

  • Socrates:  so, Socrates is interesting because of course there are no primary sources for Socrates.  What we attribute to his writings were actually not written by him. Our knowledge of what Socrates thought is through Plato's dialogues.  Plato was the witness of Socrates' teachings.  Sections of The Republic describe Socrates' beliefs and views on government.
  • Plato:  there are lots of choices for Plato.  I like Plato's cave allegory which is found in Republic VII.  Students complete the reading and sort out what they think is happening and then we continue the discussion and analysis in the next two parts of the lesson.
  • Aristotle: excerpts from Aristotle's A Treatise on Government have long-term value as this set of writings is arguably one of the most influential political thought texts, even today.

Background and Discussion:  The primary sources present their own challenges but can be difficult for students to understand.  I provide a 2-page summary of each philosopher that includes background on their lives and key ideas.  Often this is a homework assignment, so they are prepared for hands-on classwork on day 2. 

Activities:  Five activities to help students work with the material are provided.  I give students a choice of two or three to complete.  I require one involving government and the philosophers.  Students compare the viewpoints of each Socrates, Plato and Aristotle on government. Students follow their analysis of the philosophers with their own viewpoints on government.  Depending on the number of activities each student completes this can take 1-2 class periods.  

Analysis:  On the final day we wrap up our study of thought from Ancient Greece with a Socratic discussion.  It seems only fitting.  For those less familiar with the how-to of Socratic Method, has a good outline here.  Although this is where we conclude our formal study of these philosophers, the ideas we have read, discussed, and analyzed will be revisited for much of the year (and hopefully, as students go on in their studies).

This is part of a series of posts on teaching topics in World History.  Topics include:
  • Ancient Mesopotamia
  • Ancient Egypt
  • China
  • Ancient Greece
  • Ancient Rome
  • The Middle Ages in Europe
  • Medieval Japan
  • The Renaissance
  • The Age of Exploration

Social Sundays is a bi-weekly post sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching social studies.  If you have questions or think there is something I should share, you can leave me a message in the comments below or at the store in the question and answer section.