And the Progenitors, Creators, and Makers said… “The time has come for dawn, for the work to be completed, for those who must give us sustenance and feed us to appear, illuminated offspring, civilized vassals; let man appear, humanity, on the face of the earth.”

—Popol Vuh


  • The Basics of Ancient Maya Civilization – Who were the Maya?  Where did they live and when?
  • The Ancient Maya in Time and Space – How did the Maya interact with their environment?  How did the Maya conceive of themselves and the universe around them?  In European influenced societies, geography, ecology, time, and spirituality are all relatively distinct spheres – not so for the ancient Maya, whose since of time, space, and religion were closely linked.
  • Ancient Maya Society – How was the ancient Maya society structured?  How did they govern and feed themselves?
  • The Maya City – The most durable testament to the grandeur of the ancient Maya are their grand construction projects.  How were these cities made, and what makes them so awe-inspiring?
  • The Written Language of the Maya – Language shapes thoughts, knowledge, and feelings as well as human imagination, so it permeates all aspects of culture – the complexity of the Mayan language is key for understanding the richness of this people.
  • A Guided Tour of Maya Mexico, 2017 – Explore the ruins of Ek’ Balam, Uxmal, and Chichen Itza, scramble through streets of colonial Merida, and sample the cuisine and culture of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.  Supplementary photos and information on the Yucatan, past and present.

Documentary Shorts

  • The Maya: Collapse at Ek’ Balam – Take a tour of the ruins of the Maya city of Ek’ Balam, in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.  This haunting marvel begs the question: what led to the collapse and dramatic restructuring of this ancient civilization?
  • Uxmal: Thrice-Built City of the Maya – Take a tour of the ruins of Uxmal, one of the largest and best preserved cities of the Maya.  Located in Mexico, on the Yucatan Peninsula, the ruins of Uxmal are comprised of the Pyramid of the Magician, the Nunnery Quadrangle, the ballcourt, the Governor’s Palace, and the Great Pyramid.  Learn about the history and function of each of these impressive structures, as well as what they can tell us about the Maya world and culture.


  1. Use this dictionary to write a short poem in the Maya script, using at least a dozen glyphs.  Does composing in Mayan effect the experience of writing and reading?
  2. The Popol Vuh is one of the few remaining Maya stories dating to before the Spanish conquest.  It was originally preserved through oral tradition throughout the Maya world until approximately 1550 when it was written down.  The Popol Vuh includes the Mayan creation myth, beginning with the exploits of the Hero Twins Hunahpú and Xbalanqué.  Read some of an English translation of the Popol Vuh, then choose a scene to reenact in a 3-5 minute skit or video in front of your class.
  3. Write an essay that compares and contrasts the 16th century Spanish conquistadors and the 21st century Taliban.
  4. Research the Caste War of Yucatán, which occurred in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the nineteenth century.  Take inspiration from the form and style of the Dresden Codex to tell the story of this late period Maya resistance.
  5. Choose any section from this unit and develop a lesson – in the form of a presentation, a storybook, or a worksheet – that teaches younger students about the Maya.  Make sure the material is age appropriate in content and approach, and create some simple questions to check your audience’s understanding.

Further Reading

The Maya (People and Places) by Michael Coe.

Ancient Maya by Barbara Somervill.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.


If you value the free resources we offer, please consider making a modest contribution to keep this site going and growing.

Panel 1

Browse by country and region

Every lesson on Open Ended Social Studies features a free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities.  Use this page to navigate by country or region through our catalog of lessons.

These are the chapters your other world history textbook is missing:

button - americasbutton - arabiabutton - bolivia
button - bulgariabutton - cambodiabutton - chinabutton - cubagulf buttonbutton - koreamesoamerica buttonbutton - mexicobutton - nicaraguabutton - perubutton - russiabutton - stateless

Panel 2

Become a Contributor

In this era of uninspired and tepid textbooks – when paint-by-numbers course materials generate big bucks for corporations with no real stake in fostering a new generation of curious, critical learners – the best way to ensure a good social studies curriculum is to write it ourselves.

Have a social studies lesson plan that would fit in well here?  Consider sharing it here for the benefit of students, teachers, and interested readers all over the world.  Openendedsocialstudies generates no profit – it exists solely to spread high quality lessons as far and as wide as possible.  You can make an important contribution to that mission.

Thanks for sharing so generously!