Civilizations in Africa and the Americas

A Complete Unit Plan for World History in Middle School or High School

The 10th unit in my World History curriculum covers the diverse civilizations that developed in both Africa and the Americas. This includes the Maya, Aztecs, and Incas as well as the Kingdoms of Songhai, Ghana, and Mali.

This is a fascinating, culturally engaging unit that will get students thinking about just how intricate civilization-building can be. There are excellent primary and secondary sources, readings, and projects to help students understand the impact these civilizations had.

The entire unit can be downloaded here or you can sign up for a subscription to access to everything online.


The unit begins with a look at the civilizations that existed in Central and South America. A PowerPoint and guided notes (with "flipped classroom" video and Google Slides options as well) covers the Maya, Aztec, and Inca in detail, but the lesson also touches on the Olmecs, Zapotecs, and other groups. Next, students complete maps of the Americas before moving on to a webquest or digital notebook activity.

The next lesson has students learn more in-depth about these civilizations. After a warm up and video, students break into groups to read about one of the civilizations and create a Museum Exhibit project. Following this, students create a comparison chart to review the similarities and differences of Mesoamerican civilizations.

The focus moves to Africa next, with students learning about major trading centers and trade routes of the Middle Ages. Students work together to move through stations Great Zimbabwe, Gao, and other trade centers or can use the interactive Google version to complete the project online. A reading activity on Great Zimbabwe is available for an exit ticket or homework assignment.

 The next lesson lesson covers trade and African civilizations with some reflections back to the Silk Road material previously addressed. There is a specific African Trade lesson plan available that includes a variety of readings, worksheets, and sources for teaching the concepts to students.

Next up is a lesson dedicated to the major African civilizations of this period. A PowerPoint (also with guided notes/video/Google Slides) covers the empires of Axum, Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. Following this, there is a reading activity for students on African kingdoms as well as a primary source analysis from Ibn Battuta.

In the next lesson, students think critically about one of the civilizations they learned about here with a World Civilization Recipe project. There's also some review games and activities that can be used here to help students reflect back on the diverse cultures they learned in this unit.

The unit concludes with a cooperative learning project on world empires in the year 1500. Students work together to learn about one of the major empires of the world at this time and then create a monument and presentation for it to share with the class. 

Throughout the unit, students can also work on a variety of engaging digital interactive notebook activities or the unit guide packet. There are dozens of great videos linked to use in your lessons along with readings you can share from our online textbook

The unit concludes with several available review games and activities before moving on to an editable unit test. There's also a Google Forms version if the test for easy grading!

You can download the unit here and have everything saved to your desktop. You can also sign up for a subscription to access to the unit’s lessons and resources online. A subscription also gives you immediate access to the ENTIRE World History curriculum. That’s 24 complete units like this one full of engaging resources and lessons. 

If you’re not sure which option is better for you, you can read more about the differences between subscriptions and TpT purchases here

Thanks so much for checking it out!

World History Units