Xerxes lesson for elementary kids

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Hey, Future Ticia 2020 here, and I’m updating a few things here, and expanding on this Xerxes lesson, which is part of a greater library of history lessons and in particular part of our Ancient History and Babylon unit. I now mostly return you to 2014 Ticia.

Our Xerxes lesson is actually one we completed almost 5 months ago, but I haven’t been able to sit down and explain just what we did. 

King Xerxes history lesson #ancienthistory #homeschooling #handsonlearning

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Just for the record, the kids were in 2nd and 3rd grade, says Future Ticia 2020, or at least I think that’s how old they were…..

Who is Xerxes?

Xerxes is important for a couple of reasons, first because he managed some rather impressive and important engineering feats, and managed a rather large empire, and second because he’s married to Esther in the Bible (or at least that’s one of the leading theories among Biblical scholars)


Xerxes’ father attempted to defeat the Greeks, but suffered a rather humiliating defeat at the Battle of Marathon, and Xerxes obsessed over this.  Xerxes decided it would take way too long for his army to march around the Hellespont, and so he built a giant bridge for his army to cross.

Xerxes and the Hellespont lesson

Just so you can understand the full magnitude of this, he is building a bridge across a sea by lashing boats together and putting sod over them.  This is a HUGE undertaking.

His army successfully crosses and he goes on to fight the Greeks at the Battle of Thermopylae.  He wins decisively, and we watched the Decisive Battles episode: Battle of Thermopylae to learn more about it (my boys are now obsessed with this show, in case you’re wondering). Sadly that video is no longer available, so I’ll share this video with you.



However, he pressed his advantage too far and pursued the fleeing Greeks to Salamis where he lost the battle.  The next year the Greeks were able to push Xerxes and the rest of the Persians out of Greece.

Xerxes was quite a competent king for his time and achieved some truly impressive things.

Xerxes lesson for elementary

Xerxes lesson: rebuild the Hellespont Bridge

I wanted the kids to understand the engineering genius required to build a bridge on the scope we’re talking about.  Part of me wanted them to build a bridge across an entire river, but I realized that would take a lot more materials than we had, and a lot more time than we necessarily want to put in.  So our Xerxes lesson was just crossing a much smaller area.

supplies for Xerxes challenge lesson

supplies for our Xerxes lesson:

fabric, yarn, pipe cleaners, egg cartons, popsicle sticks, various wooden pieces, and a few random toys

learning about xerxes

We arrived at the park and dumped out the backpacks full of supplies I’d had them scrounge up and said “Figure out how to build a bridge across this span,” and they got to it.

xerxes lesson for kids

They tried out a couple of different ideas before deciding the egg cartons would be the most effective way to span our sea.  The biggest challenge was securing the pieces together (they used pipe cleaners) and how to secure the bridge at the start and end of the bridge (very long pieces of yarn tied around rocks).

Xerxes lesson

After successfully building a bridge they tried out how our bridge would stand up against a storm.  While it did get covered in water, and we may have lost a soldier or two overboard, most of the bridge stood up to the splashing just fine.


Xerxes lesson: writing

The second part of our lesson was to write a WHO paragraph about Xerxes.  We’ve been talking a lot about what paragraphs should look like.  If my kids were left to themselves here is how all paragraphs would go.

Xerxes was a king.  Xerxes was important.  Xerxes as a bad man.  Xerxes fought people.

Not very interesting, is it?  It also doesn’t really tell you all that much about him either.

Brainstorm together to help reluctant writers 

First, we brainstormed as many things as we could think of about who Xerxes was or what Xerxes did.  Then we talked about paragraph structure.

A “WHO paragraph” has 4 sentences.  The first sentence tells us WHO the person is.  You then expand with more details about that person and wrap it up with a sentence about WHAT they did (I’m feeling kinda fuzzy on this right now, so I can see the kids and I both need a review for our writing).

I wrote a sample paragraph using what we’d brainstormed, and then they took turns writing about Xerxes themselves.  As I recall their sentences went something like this:

Xerxes was a king.  Xerxes hated Greeks.  He was a good warrior.  Xerxes fought Greeks.

For a quick writing lesson, it was pretty good.  We’re working on their paragraphs making more sense, because by the end of the upcoming school year I want them writing 5 paragraph essays.  We’ve got a lot of work to do on that front.

King Xerxes lesson for elementary

more ideas or materials for a Xerxes lesson

linking up to All Things Beautiful


More history fun!

what you need for your homeschool history lessons Sumerian hands on activities for ancient history lessons Thirty years war history lesson A to Z of Hands on History lessons F to J Hindenburg disaster resources for junior high


Originally published August 7, 2014

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