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Social Studies

Mayan Pyramids vs. Egyptian Pyramids Lesson Plan Idea

6 Min Read
Mayan pyramids vs egyptian pyramids lesson plan idea hero

If you’re looking for a way to incorporate ELA instruction into your social studies classroom, you’ve come to the right place. Our Mayan pyramids vs. Egyptian pyramids activity encourages students in Grades 9 and up to compare these two man-made wonders. So, what are some similarities and differences between the Mayan and Egyptian pyramids?

The Mayan pyramids were built mostly between the 3rd and 9th century AD by the Maya, a Mesoamerican civilization that arose around 1500 BC. These pyramids are located in eastern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador and they vary in style and design. Most of these structures are step pyramids—meaning their sides are not smooth but instead rise up in stages, like giant stairs. Mayan pyramids may also feature one or more actual staircases built at the top of the steps. The builders of these spectacular structures used various materials, such as stone blocks held together with lime mortar. Some pyramids were covered with plaster and painted.

The Maya positioned these pyramids to note essential points in the calendar, such as the solstice and equinox. The pyramids also functioned as temples; only priests were allowed to climb to the top of the stairs, where they performed religious rituals, including sacrifices. Pyramids were often part of large complexes that included palaces, ball courts, plazas, and courtyards.

Like the Mayan pyramids, the Egyptian pyramids are striking structures that continue to wow travelers, mathematicians, and archeologists alike. The alignment of the Great Pyramid of Giza continues to inspire wonder. The four sides of this structure align almost precisely with true north, south, east, and west. It’s speculated that the builders used the stars to make their calculations.

Egyptian pyramids have been around for over 4,500 years! Laborers built the structures primarily using solid limestone and granite blocks. The largest of the pyramids, the Great Pyramid, was the tallest man-made structure for more than 3,800 years (it’s taller than the Statue of Liberty, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and Big Ben in London). The three pyramids at Giza are visible from space!

These impressive structures were designed to be permanently sealed after the bodies of pharaohs were placed inside. Unlike the Mayan pyramids, they had no other purpose than to serve as tombs.

Mayan pyramids vs egyptian pyramids lesson plan idea in line 1

Compare and Contrast Mayan and Egyptian Pyramids Essay

In this writing activity, your students will compare and contrast the Mayan and Egyptian pyramids! In a compare and contrast essay, writers discuss the similarities and differences of two or more subjects (i.e. books, characters, theories, issues, and events). In this essay, students will show similarities and differences between the two types of pyramids.

Like other essay types, a compare and contrast essay consists of an introduction (with a hook, background information, and a thesis statement), body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Have your students follow these five steps to write their compare and contrast essays:

1. Gather Details from Sources

Your students should gather relevant details from their sources. As they’re reading their sources, they should write important details and annotate by circling and underlining information that’ll come in handy once they’re ready to write their first draft.

2. Plan and Prewrite

Students should have quite a few notes to start planning and prewriting their first draft. First, they should decide on the key points of their essay and summarize them. These key points should show the similarities and differences between the pyramids.

To help students plan their writing, they could use a Venn diagram. A Venn diagram is a great visual tool for planning and consists of a set of overlapping circles. One circle shows the traits of one subject, and the other circle shows the traits of the second subject. Finally, the overlapping portion contains the characteristics shared by both subjects.

After they summarize their key points, students must then develop their topic. They have two options when structuring the body paragraphs:

  1. Point-by-point: The point-by-point text structure compares and contrasts both subjects, one point at a time. Writers choose two or more points of comparison, and each paragraph focuses on one point.
  2. Subject-by-subject (or block method): This text structure discusses all the points relating to the first subject before moving on to the second. For example, the first paragraph focuses on Subject A (i.e. Mayan pyramids) while the second focuses on Subject B (i.e. Egyptian pyramids).

Once students fully grasp the relationship between their subjects, they’re ready to develop their thesis statement. The thesis statement should clearly state the two subjects. Remind students to consider their audience (for example, what should readers learn about the two subjects); and, the thesis should come at the end of the introduction.

Finally, students should finalize their writing plan. They should:

  • Prepare a hook to include in the introduction. This hook could be a question, interesting detail, a bold statement, or a quote.
  • Identify what they will be comparing and contrasting and draft their main idea.
  • Finalize their text structure.
  • Draft a conclusion that summarizes key points, restates the main idea, and includes an insight that follows from and supports the main idea.

A graphic organizer could help students finalize their draft (you can find one on page 12 of this handout).

3. Draft Essay

Now, students are ready to write their first draft! Their essays should include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. They must use a formal and objective tone and transitional words and phrases (such as “for example” and “because”) to create flow.

4. Revise

Have your students revise their work. The following questions will help guide them:

  • Does the introduction grab the audience’s attention?
  • Is each point of comparison supported by textual evidence, facts, and concrete details?
  • Are appropriate and varied transitions used to connect and contrast ideas?
  • Does the concluding section sum up key ideas? Does it give the audience something to think about?

After students make necessary changes, have them exchange their essays with their classmates for peer review. Using the same questions each student used when revising their work, classmates should identify the parts of the drafts that need reworking.

5. Edit

Finally, the last step is for students to edit their essays for spelling, grammar, clarity, and punctuation errors.


By writing a compare and contrast essay about the Mayan and Egyptian pyramids, your students will have the chance to sharpen their writing skills in the social studies classroom. This downloadable PDF handout for students goes more in-depth on this subject while providing essential organizing, writing, and editing tips.


Want more lesson plan ideas that’ll allow your students to dig into history and develop their critical thinking skills? HMH Social Studies brings history to life and strengthens ELA skills.

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