The Teacher Zone


Teacher's Guide


Mexico Lessons

Guatemala Lessons

Peru Lessons

Zimbabwe Lessons

Mali Lessons

Egypt Lessons

Internet and Society Lessons

Youth and Society Lessons

Indigenous People Lessons

Message Board


Contact Us


Odyssey Logo    Odyssey HomeCurrent TrekInfoSearch

Mexico Lessons

The lessons are preceded by an outline to allow you to quickly preview what is available.

Outline of Lessons:

  1. Introductory Activity - Mexico Jigsaw
  2. Involves students either doing very quick research on Mexico or brainstorming what they already know to share with the class.

    For assessment students can be held accountable for a record of their research or brainstorm, as well as for sharing their information with the class either informally or as a presentation.

  3. The Aztecs
  4. II.A. From Aztlan to Tenochtitlan

    Involves reading Aztec myths about the founding of their capital city.

    For assessment students either create their own illustrated version of the story or write a diary as if they were one of the characters in the stories.

    II.B. Trip to Tenochtitlan

    Involves teacher guiding students through four transparencies of Tenochtitlan as if they were traveling there.

    For assessment students will take notes, and write "letters" documenting what they learn.

    II.C. Quetzalcoatl: His flight from and return to the Aztecs

    Involves students reading Aztec myths about the departure of a great god from the town where he lived with people, and of his supposed return. Students then debate whether it is really him.

    For assessment students can write a newspaper editorial arguing whether it is true that the god that has returned.

  5. The Conquest
  6. III.A. The Fall of The Aztecs

    Involves teacher leading students through a series of transparencies as if the students were witnesses to the Conquest.

    For assessment students will take notes, and write "letters" documenting what they learn.

    III.B. The Effects of the Conquest

    Please visit the Guatemala Lessons for this lesson.


  1. Introductory Activity - Mexico Jigsaw


(Note: This activity lends itself very well to not only doing Internet-based research, but to having students share their thoughts about the Guidebook section of The Mexico Trek.)

Research / Brainstorm activity

Assessment: Students can either create individual work, share ideas, or present to the class.


A wonderful activity as an introduction is for each student to do a search on the Web about Mexico and have each report to the class on something they learned. This is easily adaptable to the age of the students as young kids can tell about something neat they saw whereas older students can actually do some writing in a brief report, perhaps including images. (If you want to give your students a shortcut, there are a bunch of Mexico-related sites on the Links page of the Guidebook section.)


The trick is what resources do you have available. The most popular and easiest resource is the Internet. If your time on the Internet is limited, it will take some work on your part to either assemble some materials for the classroom or within your library.


Alternative: simply do a brainstorm where students share on the board a list of everything they know (or think they know) about Mexico. This is nice because it allows you to come back to their list after you finish your studies of Mexico and have them see what was right and wrong and how much more they know now.



  1. The Aztecs


Lesson II.A. From Aztlan to Tenochtitlan


(Note: This ties in very well with the Odyssey team's first week in Mexico when they will be posting images of murals about Aztlan and Aztec mythology.)


Readings: The Heart of Copil, and The Eagle of Tenochtitlan (about the founding of the Aztec capital)

Assessment: Students either create their own illustrated version of the story or write a diary as if they were one of the characters in the story.


1) Preview the story for the students by explaining that the Aztecs originally lived in a land they called Aztlan. It was located in what is today northwestern Mexico/southwestern US. This story is about the adventures they had in their travels and how they discovered where they would found their city. (There is information about Atzlan on the History section of the Guidebook section.


2) Have students either read the stories themselves (if age-appropriate) or tell them the story yourself.


3) Review the story using questions you feel are age appropriate.


4) Assessment:

  • For younger students have them create an illustration for the story based on what they thought was the most important part and write a brief explanation.


  • For older students consider having them select one of the people or gods they learned about and write a one page diary as if they were that person or god.


Lesson II.B. "Trip to Tenochtitlan"


(Note: This ties in very well with the Team's first week in Mexico when they will be visiting what remains of the lakes that surrounded Tenochtitlan and the ruins of the pyramids.


Interactive Lecture using transparencies

Assessment: Students take notes, write post cards as if they were there and writing home, and take a short quiz.


1) Preview this activity for the students with the concept that they are going to travel to the city of Tenochtitan to see the fabulous Aztec capital. They will have to travel through time as well as space. The Aztec capital was one of the five largest cities in the entire world and was incredibly beautiful and well-organized. During today's trip they will visit two key places ­ the market and the main temples.


2) For each transparency, start by having your students just describe what they see, then let them start making sense of it and guessing why it is that way or who the people are, etc. Mix in the questions and info you have here to guide you. You may want the students to take notes after each one.


  1. Pretend we're sitting in the airport looking at a map before the trip - Use any WORLD MAP you have available, and guide the students through a selection of the following questions:

    - Where is US?- Where is Latin America?

    - Where is Mexico?- Where were the first people on earth from?

    - How did they arrive in the Americas?

    - What countries existed in the Americas when the first people arrived? (none)

    - What religion did the people of the Americas have? (many)

    - What languages did they speak? (not Spanish!)

    - What's the largest city in the world? (Tokyo has more people, but Mexico City is still the largest.)

    -Does anyone know what the old name was?


  3. Pretend we're in the rocket hovering over the earth ­ show Transparency 1: AZTEC EMPIRE MAP (Note: This page takes a little while to load, so make yourself comfortable, get a cup of coffee, leaf through that copy of Time you've been meaning to read, and before you know it, the page will be up.)


- What do you see?- Where are we with respect to contemporary countries?

- Note that the city was built on an island - does anyone know why Tenochtitlan was built here? (They do if you did lesson 1)

- The Aztecs first really took power in 1325

- Columbus arrived in 1492

- The Spaniards under Cortes arrived in 1519 when the Aztecs were at the height of their power.

- If you're having your students take notes, perhaps they should include a copy of the big map for future reference.


c. We're just about to land ­ show Transparency 2: TENOCHTITLÁN DRAWING (Note: This page takes a while to load, so see note above, with Transparency 1)


- What do you see?

- Note - there are two key spots we'll be visiting- one is visible here (the pyramids in center), and the other is not (the market)

- What most amazed visitors to the city (the Spaniards upon their first arrival wrote of this) was the huge size of the Aztec capital: Studies indicate that the population was anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000, with 300,000 perhaps the most likely. It was the fifth largest city in the world at that time.



  1. POSTCARD ONE: Have the students pretend they are sitting on this hill with their new friends (from the picture) and they are to write a post card to one of their friends or family members not on the trip with them. They should describe where they are and tell what they have learned. Perhaps you want to have them include a minimum number of facts.

    When they finish, have a few share them for fun


  3. We're now walking into the city and going to visit our first destination ­ show Transparency 3: THE MARKET (Note: Same as above: this page takes a while to load. Kick back and start dreaming about how you're going to spend your next vacation.)

    - What do you see here?- to European eyes they had "every kind of fruit imaginable"

    - The figure in the center is most likely NOT the emperor (even though that may have been the intention of the drawer, Diego Rivera). The emperor rarely left the palace and when he did he was accompanied by many people and people bowed before him.

    It is most likely a judge because there were always numerous judges and soldiers on hand to settle disputes immediately.

    - Diego Rivera was the painter.

    - When trading, they would haggle on prices ­ there weren't any set prices.

    - Students will perhaps note the blood ­ this is a preview of what we will see next



  7. We're now going to walk over to the next site ­ Transparency 4: TEMPLO MAYOR, CENTRO RITUAL (Note: You know the drill; this is going to take two shakes of a lambs tail. Long shakes.)


  • What do you see? Can you guess the purpose of the buildings? (Note the blood)
  • It is important to explain that the Aztecs believed that there had been a series of four suns before the current one and that each time a sun had died, all the people had died too. They believed that the gods had made many sacrifices for them and they in turn had to sacrifice blood to the fifth (the current) sun. This was thus a way of showing respect. It was also believed to be necessary to offer blood to feed the sun, otherwise it would die and all life would end. Any discussion of the sacrifices must at least be understood within this context.
  • the four images painted above the entrance represent each of the frst four suns, which were, in order, the jaguar sun, the sun of wind, the sun of rain, and the sun of water
  • our sun is the sun of movement or earthquakes. The image representing this and the other suns can be seen on the famous Aztec "calendar"
  • the eagle, nopal, and snake represent the myths from lesson one
  • the snakes represent the god Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent). He was the god of many things including the wind and learning
  • the central pyramids are for Tlaloc (rain) and Huitzilopochtli (war). Huitzilopochtli was the god from lesson one. They both come from the pre-Aztec culture of Teotihuacan which the Odyssey Team will visit.
  • The ruins of these pyramids (also to be visitied by our team) were discovered in the 60's by accident by someone working on the tunnels for the subway. They had been mostly destroyed by the Spaniards when they took the stones to build their own churches and buildings





Lesson II.C. Quetzalcoatl: His flight from and return to the Aztecs

(Note: This ties in well with the team's visits to Tula, Mt. Tlaxcala, Malinalco, Chapultepec, El Parto, and Juncos y Canas.)


Readings: The Evil of Tezcatlipoca and The Return of Quetzalcoatl (also to be posted later Thursday) (about one of the most important Aztec gods and confusion about his return when the Spaniards came)

Assessment: Students write an "editorial" debating points from the stories


The objective here is both to provide students with knowledge of important Aztec myths as well as to provide an understanding for the next unit of study ­ The Conquest ­ by having students explore the arrival of the Spaniards from the Aztec perspective.


1) Have the students read The Evil of Tezcatlipoca and The Return of Quetzalcoatl or read the stories to them.


2) Have the students pretend they are writing an editorial for a newspaper (or simply lead a class discussion) on whether they believe it is or is not Quetzalcoatl who has arrived and what the Aztecs should do. (Should they run away? Send him gifts? Try to kill him? Etc.) They can only use information from the stories to support their opinion.



  • III. The Conquest

    Lesson III.A. The Fall of the Aztecs


    Note – The team will be visiting some of the places mentioned in this lesson, and numerous powerful topics will emerge that can be developed on the bulleting board or in chat sessions on the Meet the World Webpage.

    "Interactive" Transparency Lecture - This is one of the least interactive of the transparency lectures, but it is at the same time the most captivating of subjects and consistently keeps students very engaged.

    Assessment: Notes, quick writes on key topics, an interview with "key figures," and a quiz.

    Caution: The story of The Conquest is at once amazing and horrific. A very unique set of circumstances and the roles of several unique people allowed a group of originally 580 soldiers to conquer an empire whose capital alone had approximately 300,000 inhabitants. The results, including the death of hundreds of thousands and subsequently millions of people, were tragic and the following activity should be conducted in a way so as not to undermine the awe of the story, but always being sensitive to the intense suffering and destruction that it entailed.

    1) If you have done activity II.C, lead the class in a discussion of whether they believe it is Quetzalcoatl who has arrived or not and what should be done. Share with them now the drawing (an actual Aztec rendering) of what the "pyramids" in the ocean looked like and see if they can figure out what was really happening.
    If you did not do actvity II.C, please review it for your own knowledge first, then it is highly encouraged to lead the students through a very brief introduction to those myths so they can understand the context for the arrival of the Spaniards.

    2) For each of the transparencies share with them the information provided

    Show Transparency 1 (Cortes’ route) [152K to download]

    QUICK FACTS - Columbus arrived in 1492. Hernan Cortes arrived in 1519. By this time there was a colony established in Cuba. The governor of Cuba actually decided not to let Cortes and his men go for fear he would not be able to control Cortes, and sent him a letter to this effect. But Cortes snuck out of the port by night with 19 ships and 580 soldiers in hopes of getting rich. A previous Spanish excursion had left two men living with the Mayas – Gonzalo Guerrero and Geronimo de Aguilar. They both learned to speak Mayan, but when Cortes arrived looking to conquer the people of the Americas Gonzalo joined to help while Geronimo stayed with the Mayas and helped them try to ambush Cortes. A princess from a small part of the Aztec empire named Malinali was sold by her family to some traders who sold her to a group of Mayans. They in turn gifted her to Cortes. She spoke both the Aztec language and Mayan. Gonzalo spoke both Mayan and Spanish. So the two of them together acted as translators for Cortes and helped him negotiate with many local tribes to defeat the Aztecs. There were many groups that had been forced to be part of the Aztec Empire and pay tribute to Tenochtitlan and were hated and feared the Aztecs. Cortes, using his translators, convinced many of them to give him information about the Aztecs and to join him to help conquer them. When Motecuzoma, the Aztec emperor, learned of Cortes’ presence he had no idea who he was and thought it was likely Qutzalcoatl returned. He thus sent him gifts of gold and jewelry. However, this convinced the Spaniards even more that they should go on and conquer them to get more. Cortes had every one of his ships burnt. (Can the students guess why?) It was so his troops would never retreat – their survival depended on all of them working successfully together and never running.

    QUICK WRITE – Two topics in particular lend themselves to debate at this point:
    1 - Would you have chosen to be like Gonzalo or Geronimo – to join the Spaniards or stay with the Mayas?
    2- What do you think of Malinali for helping the Spaniards after what the Aztecs did to her?

    Show Transparency 2 (Massacre at Cholula) [191K to download]

    The Spaniards marched towards Tenochtitlan following a very long route. Along the way they massacred a large number of people in the town of Cholula, accompanied by their Aztec-hating allies. Despite this, Motecuzoma received them with open arms, gave them many jewels, let them stay in the finest houses, and even gave Cortes one of his daughters.

    QUICK WRITE – What is your opinion of Motecuzoma? Given what he knew and believed about Cortes and Motecuzoma, did he act inappropriately?

    Show Transparency 3 (Motecuzoma prisoner) [127K to download]

    The Spaniards took Motecuzoma prisoner to control him and so the Aztecs would not hurt them. (Some Aztecs on the coast had already rebelled.)
    The governor of Cuba sent 1000 troops to catch up with Cortes, and take his place. Cortes learned of this, surprised them at the coast, killed their leader, and returned to Tenochtitlan wth the new tropps. But while he was gone the soldier he left in charge had massacred alarge number of Aztec warriors when they were unarmed at a celebration for the god of war, Huitzilopochtli. The Aztecs rebelled and the Spaniards were holed up waiting for his return. When he did arrive he found also that the Aztecs no longerrespected Motecuzoma. They threw stones at their emperor and it is unknown today whether he died from those wounds or the Spaniards killed him realizing he was no longer of use to them.

    c) "LA NOCHE TRISTE" (The Sad Night)
    Show Transparency 4 (The pursuit) [199K to download]

    One night the Spaniards attempted to escape, but an Aztec woman fetching water discovered them and cried out. The warriors followed them and killed 600 Spaniards and almost 1000 of the Aztec’s enemy tribesmen.

    QUICK WRITE: The Spaniard called this night the "Noche Triste" (the Sad Night). For many Aztecs and many of their descendents today this was a time of victory and is still celebrated. What do you believe would be a good name for this night.

    d) THE FALL
    Cortes spent a year organizing and making alliances. Meanwhile many of the Aztecs including the emperor who followed Motecuzoma were dying from the smallpox, a disease the Spaniards brought with them and were resistant to, but that the Aztecs were very susceptible to. A new emperor was selected, a warrior by the name of Cuauhtemoc. He also spent a year trying to create alliances for the coming war.

    Show Transparency 5 (The siege)[243K to download]

    The Spaniards finally advanced on Tenochtitlan nd laid siege to it. They didn’t let any food or arms in and no people out. The Aztecs continued to fight until the end, but many died from smallpox and began to starve due to the siege. Finally, Cuauhtemoc surrendered in the hopes his people’s suffering would be lessened.

    Lesson III.B. The Effects of the Conquest

    Please visit the Guatemala Lessons for this lesson.

    Lessons: Mexico Lessons - Guatemala Lessons - Peru Lessons
    Zimbabwe Lessons - Mali Lessons - Egypt Lessons
    Internet and Society Lessons - Youth and Society Lessons
    Indigenous People Lessons

    Help | Teacher's Guide | Message Board | Register | Contact Us | Search

    Odyssey HomeCurrent TrekInfoSearch

    ©1998 The Odyssey: World Trek for Service and Education. All rights reserved.