AP World History Teacher

In the Beginning: Dealing with Period 1


“Dare to Omit” can be a painful process

In AP World History, not all Time Periods are created equal. Like the Third Estate in revolutionary France, Period 1 is immense but accounts for so little. Spanning 8000 BCE to 600 BCE, this era gets several chapters and 100+ pages in most textbooks. In AP World History these 8 millennia constitute a mere 5 percent of the course content.  Eight to ten days should be the maximum time you spend on it, making this the perfect opportunity to start heeding the mantra “Dare to Omit.” It is imperative to design this unit according to the Key Concepts of the Curriculum Framework to prevent falling behind at the onset of the year. Many new teachers fail to do this and play catch-up for the next 9 months.

One thing I did to help me stay focused on the Curriculum Framework was to create “mashups” of the Key Concepts. That is, I disassembled their component items and repackaged them into the topics I teach in my class. You can find my mashup for Period 1 HERE. (Note you don’t have to teach everything here; I included all illustrative examples so this can serve as a convenient check-list no matter what civilization you teach or assign as student projects in class.) For example, students don’t need to know the details of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus and the Shang River Valley Civilizations. However, they do need to know the benefits of a system of writing, urban planning and monumental building, how laws support social hierarchies, and how religion supports authority. A teacher can teach any of the ancient civilizations to illustrate these concepts. Teach all the concepts, not all the civilizations.

memeAs for the civilizations you don’t use to illustrate the concepts, all students need to know about them is their locations.

By the way, HERE is my itinerary for teaching Period 1.


Ancient sewer system at Lothal near the Indus. Urban life required more central planning and complex forms of authority.

Another effective method of organizing this unit is around essential questions. At the beginning of the first semester this year I showed about 10 minutes of the pilot for the TV series Lost. I asked my class what the immediate concerns of those people stranded on the island would be, how they might allocate resources, and who would decide how it all should take place. This lively discussion spawned more fundamental questions, such as how authority would have to be more complex as the number of people grew, and what would happen if our group of people came in contact with others who had done things differently. These discussions, which are really AP themes and key concepts, led to my teaching of the rise of complex states and societies, and cultural exchanges through trade. However you frame your questions and discussions, all of it should include AP Themes, Key Concepts, and Skills.

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In short, even though this period covers 8000 years, don’t think your students need to memorize the first 5 chapters of your textbook. Do your self and your students a favor and only teach the Key Concepts.


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