Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Decipher This!

Eric Miles


This lesson is to be used when studying Ancient Egypt and the Rosetta Stone. The purpose of this lesson is to show students the difficulty of deciphering and determining the importance of a message written in hieroglyphics.


The student understands how ideas and beliefs, decisions, and chance events have been used in the process of writing and interpreting history.

The student evaluates conflicting sources and materials in the interpretation of a historical event or episode.


-World History Textbook
-Copy of the Rosetta Stone
-8 X 10 manila paper for each student
-Colored pencils for all students
-Hieroglyphic alphabet


- Prep students on Ancient Egypt and its form of writing.
- Prep students on importance of Rosetta Stone.
- Gather colored pencils. (Tell students to bring them to class.)
- Go to website and print hieroglyphic alphabet.


1. Present information on Ancient Egypt and the history of the Rosetta Stone to the class.

2. Discuss the message that was translated from the stone. Ask students what the purpose of the message was according to those who translated it. Ask students if the interpretation is exact. Why or why not? Elicit that there are conflicting ideas about what is on the stone; however, historians agree to the general message. Ask students to explain how the message pertains to this particular period of history. Draw out in the discussion that history is written or rewritten when new evidence that supports or negates the event is found.

3. Pass out one piece of manila paper and the hieroglyphic alphabet to each student.

4. Have students write a message of only twenty-five characters or less using the hieroglyphic alphabet and colored pencils. Make sure students write their messages from right to left. They are not to use punctuation or spaces in between words or sentences. Collect the messages and redistribute to a different history class the next day.

5. Have students decipher the messages. Ask students why some had trouble translating the messages (poor spelling, incomplete sentences, not enough information, etc.) Point out that historians have the same problem and that cryptographers often spend a lifetime just deciphering one written piece because they must research every little detail.

6. Have students write a paragraph on the problems of deciphering ancient works and about their experiences with this project. Tell them they must include the following:
-a summary of the Rosetta Stone's message.
-the purpose of the message according to historians.
-two reasons why it is so difficult to explain and interpret ancient writing.
-how discoveries such as the Rosetta Stone can support or negate how we interpret historical events.
-results of interpreting another student's hieroglyphics.

7. Assess paragraphs. (See Assessment.)


Formatively assess the students' paragraphs according to the following criteria:
Student includes a summary of the message on the Rosetta Stone.
Student includes how the message relates to the historical period.
Student includes two reasons why interpreting a message written long ago is difficult. (Example reasons: Don't know the translation code, different historians have different interpretations, pieces can be missing, punctuation and spacing can be non-existent, etc.)
Student explains how ancient written pieces can explain, support, or negate historical events.
Student includes a summary of his activity of writing and reading a message in hieroglyphics.


-For honors students, the teacher may write out sentences in French or Spanish and have the students decipher the message.

Web Links

Web supplement for Decipher This!

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