Teacher Guidance: Medieval Civilizations

This is the third of three units of teaching ideas covering ancient and medieval history.



The Medieval world, 500 AD – AD 1453

This unit addresses

  • chronology
  • change and continuity
  • cause and consequence
  • similarity and difference
  • connections and linkages

It looks at the role of geography and the environment in shaping human society, and asks students to look at technological developments, as well as developments in governmental, economic and belief systems. The unit seeks to give practice in critical thinking skills such as interpretation, analysis and significance.


To provide students with a historical and geographical context for the study of the different regions and societies in medieval times;
To explore the distinctive features of these regions and societies;
To assess how they changed over time;
To discover what belief systems they held;
To determine the linkages between them.


Group activity

Divide the class into groups, with each group tasked to study one of the big regions of the Eastern Hemisphere: Europe, Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Africa, South East Asia. If more groups are required these could focus on the Western Hemisphere, North America and South America, and the Pacific.

They do this by going to the world map for 750 AD and following the relevant icon to their region.

They then look at the map (which should be either Europe 750 AD, the Middle East 750 AD, South Asia 750 AD, East Asia 750 AD and South East Asia 750 AD) and read the accompanying information, making notes. If they wish to cover a part of the region in more depth, they can click on the relevant icon to access a map of one part of the region.

They repeat this exercise for the maps for 979, 1215 and 1453.

They make notes on the following:

- headline episodes and events; what states and empires rose and fell?

- developments in government, society and economics;

- developments in the realm of religion and ideas;

- developments in science and technology;

- any features that (in your view) make civilization here distinctive;

- key individuals - how did they contribute to the histories of their civilizations? Might they have shaped world history as a whole?

[Note: not all of these issues will be covered by all the maps, or perhaps, for some regions, by any of them.] 

By 1453, had civilization in this region influenced civilizations in other regions? If so, how? (If necessary, encourage speculation!).

Did the development of civilization in the region owe anything to influences from other regions?

How might geographical location and environment have effected the development of civilization in the region (you may have to delve back to the origins of civilization to answer this).

If there is time, and you wish your students to become acquainted with the history of their regions in more depth, they can use the Explore page to access articles on the different civilizations and empires.

We also commend our range of Topic TimeMap Apps. Current titles for this period include The Fall of Rome, The Rise of Islam, The Black Death. These will allow students to answer the above questions more fully, and to undertake more in-depth enquiry with the suggestions accompanying each title.

Whole-class wrap up:


Groups deliver their presentations.


Then, have a class discussion:

Which major states or empires appeared or vanished? [If there is time, develop a timeline (or perhaps a group of parallel timelines) showing the rise and fall of the major states and empires.]

How were civilizations similar or different to one another in their key features? [List especially similarities and differences between geography and environment; political systems; social systems; belief systems and ideas]

Were there any episodes which affected more than one of these big regions?

Identify the way in which some regions influenced others: how did these influences spread? What impact did they have? Did these influences affect the course of world history as a whole?

If the Western Hemisphere and the Pacific have been covered, spend a bit of time talking about how the civilizations and societies here are different from those of the "Old World" - and think of reasons for these.


Supplementary activity:

Chart the development of major insights and technologies: develop a diagram showing the chronology, geographic spread and linkages between the major strands.


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