Lesson Plan: Using Symbols
Student Learning Objectives

Students will be able to define needs and wants.

Students will be able to classify needs and wants by explaining the reasons a specific item is a need or want.

Students will be able to compare and contrast needs portrayed by ancient Egyptians and their own needs.

Students will be able to define hieroglyphics as a system of writing using picture symbols to represent sounds or words.

Students will be able to create their own symbols to represent needs and compare those symbols to the symbols of their peers.

Visual Arts

K.V.1.1, K.V.1.3, K.CX. 1.5, K.CX.2.1, K.CX.2.2

1.V.1.2, 1.V.1.3, 1.CX.1.1, 1.CX.1.5, 1.CX.2.2

Social Studies



Written by Sarah Fink, Elementary Educator
Essential Question: How do we use symbols to represent needs?
Abstract: Students will read a book about needs and wants, discuss basic needs, observe Egyptian symbols representing basic needs, and create their own ‘vacation list’ using symbols to represent their basic needs.
    1. Ask students to imagine that they are going on an adventure trip for two weeks. They are going to park their car at the entrance to a forest and spend the next two weeks in the woods with no houses or buildings. Brainstorm a list of things their family would need to bring. Keep the list on large chart paper or on the whiteboard so that students can refer to it later in the lesson. Encourage students to break categories down. Rather than ‘food’, ask what kinds of food might be needed. Write "fruits," "vegetables," and "grains." Write down everything the students mention, even if it is a ‘want’ rather than a ‘need’.  Students will edit the list throughout the lesson.
    2. Read Needs and Wants by Gillia M. Olson. After you have read, ask students to discuss the book. What is the difference between needs and wants? Are there items on their list that were mentioned in the book as well? Are there things in the book that should be added to the list? Are there wants on the list that are not things a family would need to survive? Add to and cross out items to reflect class discussion. Encourage students to explain reasons that they might or might not need items.
    3. Discuss list making. When do adults make lists for things? Why do we make lists? Give the example of going to the grocery store. We make lists to remember all of the items we need for the week. If we need two bags of apples, we might write a 2 by the word apples. Tell students that people for thousands of years have thought carefully about what they need. Long ago, Egyptians carved symbols into stone for the tombs of people who died. Show students the Relief from the Tomb of Khnumti 1. Observe quietly for two or three minutes. What symbols do you see? What might the symbols represent? Tell students the Egyptians drew symbols on tombs because they wanted their friends to have everything they needed in the afterlife. What things did the Egyptians think they needed for the afterlife? Some needs represented above the head of Khnumti include bread, cattle, birds, and linen. The line below of repeated plant symbols indicates thousands of these provisions, just like we use numbers to show how many things we need today.
    4. Tell students the symbols they see on the tomb are called hieroglyphics. Rather than using letters to write words, ancient Egyptians used pictures to create words. The pictures represented the items that the Egyptians needed. 
    5. Again show students Relief from the Tomb of Khnumti 1. Ask students what they think the tomb relief is made of. Tell them it is stone. Ask them how the hieroglyphics might have been created in the stone. Show them how the symbols pop out of the stone, like a low profile stamp. The artist would have to carefully outline the symbol and then slowly and carefully chip around the outline to make the image pop out of the stone. Today we do not need to carve our lists of needs in stone. We use paper instead. We use words today to make lists, but we also use symbols. Where do we see symbols in our neighborhoods? Examples might include stop signs and crosswalk signs and in a legend on a map. 
    6. Tell students they are going to look at the list of needs the class created and choose five things they would most want to bring on a family trip to the woods and represent those items using symbols. Brainstorm different simple symbol options for each item, and draw a symbol next to the word. Tell students they can use the symbols on the list or create their own. Ask students to create a 'packing list' of five different needs. If they choose water and think they might need a lot of water, encourage them to show that amount through repetition as they saw in the relief by drawing their symbol for water across their page. Hand out paper and ask students to draw their 'packing list' symbols. 
    7. Put packing lists up. What needs are represented on the lists? What symbols are most common? Did anyone create his or her own symbols? Why might some needs be most represented or popular? How are the symbols similar to or different from the hieroglyphic symbols of the Egyptians? Was repetition used in creating the packing lists?


  • Class discussion and creation of the class list will show that students understand the difference between needs and wants and can articulate that difference when crossing off or adding to the list.
  • Class discussion will show that students are able to identify hieroglyphic symbols for various needs of the Egyptians.
  • Creation of 'packing lists' using symbols will show that students understand that each need is represented by a symbol and that symbols can be used in repetition to represent large amounts.

Need: something necessary to live a healthy life

Want: something desired that is not necessary to survive

Afterlife: the "next world" or life after death

Relief:  projection of shapes, symbols, or words from a flat background

Hieroglyphics: a system of writing using picture symbols to represent sounds or words


Colored pencils



Lesson Resources:

Needs and Wants by Gillia M.Olson

The Bag I’m Taking to Grandma’s by Shirley Neitzel (optional text)

Lesson Plan Document

These reliefs from a tomb chapel symbolically provide for the needs of the deceased through all eternity. In one scene (G.72.2.1), Khnumti, identified by an inscription as a lector priest (one who reads sacred texts for religious observances), is seated before a table on which stand twelve loaves of bread. Beneath it sit a variety of vessels and a bundle of leeks. Khnumti wears a kilt and a broad collar on which floral details would have been painted. In conformity with Egyptian sculptural practice, Khnumti’s head, arms, and legs are seen in profile, while his eye, shoulder, and torso are shown frontally.

The hieroglyphic text above Khnumti’s head promises him bread, beer, cattle, fowl, alabaster, and linen, and the line of repeated plant symbols below indicates thousands of these provisions. Columns of text in sunken relief below the broken top edge extend a menu of offerings. This list is invoked by the five officials visible at the upper left, three of whom wear sashes identifying them as lector priests like Khnumti. The first figure kneels before a low offering table; the last walks away from the scene, dragging an herbal broom to clean and perfume the chamber in final preparation of the tomb for Khnumti’s afterlife.

The second relief from the same tomb was originally part of a panel on the opposite wall. Almost a mirror image of the other relief, its differences provide information on the technique of the ancient sculptor. The figure of Khnumti is seated in a similar pose, but in order to portray both the right arm reaching toward the table and the whole left arm with its hand holding a folded cloth, the left arm is bent awkwardly back across the chest. The area beside the table features a wealth of offerings, including fruits and vegetables, vessels, and a trussed duck. Most of these offerings are only outlined with incision, a preliminary step to removing the stone from the background to create the low-raised relief seen in the more finished section of the panel. The inscription above the figural scene is striking in its unfinished state, with the marks of the chisel still visible in the background. It is tempting to suppose that the hasty execution of this panel was due to the unexpected need to prepare quickly for Khnumti’s burial.

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