Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec God of War.
Credit: Courtesy of Conquistadors.
All about us we saw cities and villages built in the water, their great towers and buildings of masonry rising out of it. . . . When I beheld the scenes around me I thought within myself, this was the garden of the world.
— Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Spanish conquistador
It is said that the Aztecs chose the site of their capital, Tenochtitlan, because of the presence of a bird perched on a cactus and eating a snake. In this lesson, students will learn about that ancient Aztec legend and about how Tenochtitlan became the site of modern-day Mexico City.
This lesson plan consists of four learning activities that build upon one another and should, therefore, be used sequentially.
Have the students carry out Web research to find out about the ancient Aztecs and answer the questions on the Student Version of the Meet the Aztecs chart, provided in pdf format. A Teacher Version of the chart has also been provided. They should visit the Conquistadors site and the Encarta pages on the Aztec Empire.
Have the students go to National Geographic's Xpeditions map site to find the geographical context of the Aztec realm. On the world map, click on North America, then click on the modern-day country of Mexico. Locate Mexico City, the country's capital—built on the site of the old Aztec capital.
Distribute blackline printouts of the North America map and have the students color in the country of Mexico. Distribute blackline printouts of the Mexico map and ask the students to draw a circle around Mexico City.
This ancient city has undergone huge changes over the years. Have the students examine the images below, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed Internet Public Library. Then ask them to answer the questions on the Informative Architecture chart, available as a PDF.
We've learned that when the Spanish conquerors were looking for their own Mexico City, they decided to build it on top of the old Aztec capital. But why was Tenochtitlan there in the first place? Why did the Aztecs choose this site? How does anybody choose a site?
Share with the students some rationales for selecting a site for a capital city:
But Mexico City? Let's look at it again on the map. Mexico City is (and Tenochtitlan was) right in the middle of the country. It's not near the coast and it's not on a major river.
Review with the students the advantages of the Tenochtitlan site — its defensibility, abundance of food, and waterways. But according to tradition, the Aztecs chose their capital's site for other reasons.
Explain to the students that the eagle, cactus, and snake are symbols of Mexico today. Click on the Symbol of Mexico icon on page one of "Aztec Life and Times" of the Conquistadors. Show the students the Mexican flag, which is available through the EDSITEment-reviewed Internet Public Library (click on Geography, then Flags, Flags of All Countries, Mexico).
Show the students a selection of Mexican state flags and have them consider what messages the flags contain and what they tell us about their states. (When necessary, point out to the students key elements of the flags.) Then have the students find the states on the map of Mexico.
The flags and map are available from the EDSITEment-reviewed Internet Public Library; click on "coat of arms" and then click on the image to enlarge.
Explain to the students that, like Mexico, many other countries have national animal symbols, such as the British lion, the Canadian beaver, the French rooster, and the Russian bear. The United States, of course, has the bald eagle. Founding father Benjamin Franklin once suggested a different national symbol for his young nation. What if his suggestion had been accepted? How would you feel about the turkey being the symbol of the United States?
Show the students a selection of national, provincial, and city flags with animal symbols. All are available from the Internet Public Library:
Show them the flag of Kiribati, one of the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific Ocean, halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Have the students write, in two to three paragraphs, a legend explaining the elements in the Kiribati flag.
5 class periods