9th Grade New York


This annotated inquiry leads students through an investigation of the Aztec Empire through the study of its capital city, Tenochtitlán. Scholars debate the significance of the role of the Aztec Empire in Mesoamerican culture. While some observers see great innovation in architecture, agriculture and economic systems, others see a simplistic, militaristic, and flawed empire. Further complicating these arguments is the limited number of sources and archaeological evidence.


Compelling Question:

What Do the Buried Secrets of Tenochtitlán Tell Us About the Aztecs?

Staging the Question:

Look at photographs of the excavation of Tenochtitlán in 2012 and use the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to generate questions about the Aztec city.

Supporting Question Where was Tenochtitlán?

Formative Task List key features from a series of maps and describe how each map uniquely answers the question “Where is Tenochtitlán?”

Sources Source A: Image bank: Maps of the Aztec Empire and Tenochtitlán


Supporting Question What do three archaeological artifacts tell us about the Templo Mayor?

Formative Task Write a description of three archaeological artifacts found at the Templo Mayor site.

Sources Source A: The Coyolxauhqui Stone (temple entry stone)
Source B: Tzompantli (skull rack)
Source C: Tonamatl (Aztec calendar stone)


Supporting Question How did Tenochtitlán sustain itself?

Formative Task Develop a chaîne opératoire (operational sequence) for three Aztec economic innovations.

Sources Source A: Hernán Cortés’s second letter to Charles V
Source B: Codex Mendoza
Source C: Model of chinampas


Supporting Question How was Tenochtitlán buried?

Formative Task Develop a claim with evidence about the demise of Tenochtitlán.

Sources Source A: Excerpt from Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Source B: Excerpt from Daily Life of the Aztecs: People of the Sun and Earth by David Carrasco with Scott Sessions

Summative Performance Task

Argument: What do the buried secrets of Tenochtitlán tell us about the Aztecs? Construct an argument (e.g., detailed outline, poster, or essay) that addresses the compelling question using specific claims and relevant evidence from historical sources while acknowledging competing views.
Extension: Create an exhibition card for an artifact from Tenochtitlán to make a classroom archaeological/museum exhibit.

Taking Informed Action

Understand: Investigate the ethical, environmental, and/or historical challenges that modern-day archaeologists face as they unearth Tenochtitlán.
Assess: List the opportunities and challenges of uncovering the remains of lost societies such as Tenochtitlán.
Act: Write an editorial for Dig Into History magazine that makes young readers aware of one or more problems archaeologists face in digging up the past.