My Y2/3 class are half way through our term-long topic on Ancient Egypt and I wanted to stimulate some great independent writing for assessment week as well as continue to engage children with the topic.
I found an old, brass-covered chest and arranged it in the classroom with signs saying, “Do not touch” and “Beware of the curse” so that the children would see it as they came in for morning registration. Some children regarded the chest with idle curiosity; some completely ignored it and a handful of children were absolutely fascinated by it.
I carried on with our usual morning routine, carefully avoiding touching or going too close to the “cursed” chest. Once everyone was settled, I began our first lesson, still carefully and ostentatiously avoiding coming into contact with the chest. I warned a couple of children to move away from it when they went too close but otherwise continued as if it were not there. Suddenly, I remembered that I needed to photocopy something for the lesson. Leaving my teaching assistant in charge, I dashed out of the room.
Whilst I was at the photocopier, the TA investigated the chest closely. She read the signs aloud and carefully inspected the chest, wondering aloud whether or not she should open it. Some children urged her to open it quickly, whilst others told her that it was cursed and that she should leave it alone.
Without too much persuasion, the TA opened the chest to find an old, stained note inside. She read it aloud to the children: it was a warning that the contents of the chest were cursed and that they should not open the fabric bag inside. Ignoring the warning, the TA opened the bag to find some old jewellery, some ancient-looking coins and some chocolate. She ate some of the chocolate herself and gave some to a child to eat.
I came back into the room and was horrified that they had opened the chest. I expressed great concern for the TA and the child who had eaten the chocolate, and hurried to put the contents of the chest back. In the meantime, I asked the TA to do a quick job for me outside the classroom, still concerned for her wellbeing. She returned a few moments later with a face full of red spots and feeling quite unwell.
By this time, the children were completely engaged in the role play. Even the child who had noticed that the handwritten notes looked suspiciously like my handwriting was entranced! The TA went to remove her spots, and we talked about why people might want to pretend that chests, or tombs, or other special things, were cursed.
This led on to finding out about Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon’s discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb and the supposed curse on the contents. We watched archive footage of the two men from 1922 and read about the events surrounding the discovery. The children then paired off for some drama work, with one child in each pair pretending to be Howard Carter greeting Lord Carnarvon at the discovery site and explaining what he had found.
The activities took most of the morning. After lunch, the children quickly and eagerly settled down to their writing task: writing a letter in role as Howard Carter to a friend, explaining the discovery. Some really high-quality writing was produced, with not one child saying, “I don’t know what to write!”