Driving Question

How do empires build and maintain power?

Student teams will act as historians analyzing the successes of a classical empire of their choice.  They will engage in an academic debate  with other teams about how successful their chosen empires was at using religion, social hierarchy and/or government structures to maintain and expand its power. Rival historians may disagree and believe the empires they are studying were more successful.  In order to hash this out like civilized historians we have proposed a series of debates!  Teams need to be armed with the best historical evidence from primary source documents and secondary readings for this debate.  Each week you will review documents about your empire related to one of the following themes; religion/belief systems, social hierarchy or government structure.  You will read and analyze these documents and then use them to win the upcoming debates surrounding the question:

How do empires maintain and expand their power?

Unit Title:

Classical Empires Debate

For Students:

10th Grade


6 weeks


AP World History

Unit Launch

Introduction to DBQ Essay and Unit Question:  Why do you come to school each day?

Classical Civilizations Debate (2)

Opening Question: How does your high school build and maintain power?

Why do you come to school each day and comply with the rules?

In empire triads make a list of top three reasons on white board.

 Ask: How would you group these?


  • Laws forcing you to be in school
  • School spirit
  • School Rules (cell phones, etc.)
  • School Hierarchy

Who has more power the truant officer or the American Dream?

Introduce Key Question: How do empires build and maintain power?

Midpoint Check

Students take weekly quizzes on chapters that cover the political, social, and cultural characteristics of classical empires.  In addition, they must get 100% on a map quiz identifying the location of the 5 classical empires in the project.  They may retake this quiz as many times as they need to demonstrate mastery.

Culminating Experience

Students will engage in weekly debates about the how their empire used social, cultural, and political practices to maintain and expand their power.  Each week one student in the triad will be the lead historian preparing their team for the debate.

The final assessment will require students to write an individual DBQ essay using documents from multiple empires that were used during the debate.

Outside experts are invited to judge the debates between the empires and to determine which one makes the most persuasive arguments about their methods of maintaining and expanding their power.

Differentiation (e.g. Special Education, English Language Learners)

SpEd and ELL students as well as students who struggle with reading are given a modifiedand shortened  list of key “factors to consider” about their empire so that they have the evidence with which to debate even if they have difficulty accessing the information in secondary sources like their textbook.

In addition, because of rotating leadership in the group, students can be assigned to lead their group based on the complexity of the empire the topic they are debating.

Finally, the class reviews one case study drawn from one of the classical empires each week as an example.  SpEd or ELL students can be assigned to present the samples that were reviewed in class.

Classical Empires Debate Team Member Eval

Mini DBQ Rubric

Students are assessed based on their performance in the debates, self and peer evaluations, written DBQ essay, and 50 question multiple-choice test.

Teacher Reflection

Here’s what I really enjoy about this unit….

The way students have to work together to analyze documents.  They realize that everyone in their group needs to understand the primary source documents because they will need to use them as evidence in their debates.

In addition, students realize that they need to understand how the opposing empires will frame their debates and what their main arguments are.  Students begin to practice the skill of rebutting an opposing argument.  They understand that they have the “need to know” what the other team might be arguing.

Here’s what I’m still working on making better about this unit…..

This project is not as authentic as I would like.  Perhaps they could become a committee of historians and teachers on the College Board going through the process of creating a DBQ?

Student Reflection
Outside Expert Reflection
Authentic Problem
Authentic Assessment
Student Voice
Culturally Responsive Instruction
Academic Discourse

AP World History Course Description


  • Interaction Between Humans and the Environment: Technology
  • Development and Interaction of Cultures: Religions, Belief systems, philosophies and ideologies
  •  Creation, Expansion, and Interaction of Economic Systems: Labor Systems
  • Development and Transformation of Social Structures: Gender roles and relations, social and economic classes

Content: Global Interactions and Conflict Unit

Historical Thinking Skills:

  • Comparison and contextualization
  • Historical interpretation and synthesis
  • 4 Level Primary Source analysis (see attached) and DBQ Essay Skills

Key Concepts:

2.1 The Development and Codification of Religious and Cultural Traditions

2.2. The Development of States and Empires

From Common Core Standards:


Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

About the Authors

Rob Hallock has been teaching social studies at Sammamish High School for more than ten years.  His focus has been AP World History and he has been a reader for the AP World History Exam for seven years.  Rob also has been deeply immersed in the pedagogy of problem-based learning (PBL) and has presented on PBL at the National Conference for the Social Studies Conference as well as the College Board’s Western Regional Forum.  When he is not teaching Rob likes to travel and has been a recipient of a NEH Fellowship to study in Istanbul and most recently of a Transatlantic Outreach Program fellowship to learn about Germany in 2014.


Contact: hallockr@bsd405.org or (425)456-7600

Katie Smoot 

The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.