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Lesson: Build the Roman Colosseum


--World History



Brief Description

This activity gives students a hands-on history and architecture lesson about one of the most impressive and famous buildings ever constructed, the Roman Colosseum.


Students will learn about Roman history and architecture by building a model of the Colosseum.


History, architecture, Rome, the Colosseum

Materials Needed

  • 1-foot by 1-foot flat wooden board
  • 9 sugar cubes or rectangular 1-inch by 1-inch wooden blocks
  • Wedge-shaped sugar cube or wooden block
  • Glue (optional)
  • Knife (kitchen knife or craft knife, depending on materials used)
  • Ruler
  • Small saw (optional)
  • Images of the Colosseum

Lesson Plan

First, provide students with a brief history of the Colosseum:

An engineering marvel and one of the best examples of Roman architecture, the Colosseum in 2007 was voted one of the “new” Seven Wonders of the World.

The Colosseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheatre, is an elliptical amphitheatre—the largest ever built in the Roman Empire—in the center of Rome, Italy. Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology.

The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later re-used for such purposes as housing, workshops, dormitories for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry and a Christian shrine.

Additional sources of information include:

The Colosseum: Emblem of Rome
Building the Colosseum
Enter the Colosseum

Here is a video that discusses the science behind the architecture.

Next, explain to students that they will build models representing the Colosseum.

  • Ask students to do research on the structure and layout of the building and find images to work from. Help them locate a variety of images that include interior, exterior and aerial views.
  • The most famous aspect of the Colosseum is its many arches. Discuss the feat of engineering involved in constructing a Roman arch.
  • Remind students to plan for negative space. (Negative space is the area where there is no building material.)
  • Students can either use one class period and work with a partner or small group to construct a single arch, or work collaboratively as a class over the course of several days in order to build an entire Colosseum model. (If you decide to produce a complete model, determine as a class if the model will represent the structure as it stood during its heyday, or ruined, as it looks today.)

Once they have a solid grasp of how they are going build their arches or work together to produce a complete model, students can proceed.

Here are some basic instructions:

  1. Set your wooden board on a flat surface.
  2. Cut your sugar cubes in half with a knife so that they make rectangles. (Teachers may want to do this ahead of time for safety reasons.)
  3. Arrange your sugar cubes or rectangular wooden blocks in an arch shape, beginning with the base. If you want to make your arch a bit smaller, you may not need to use all of your blocks or sugar cubes. Four to eight rectangles on either side works well, but remember to keep the numbers of rectangles the same on either side.
  4. Continue arranging your blocks and cubes until you leave a wedge-like space at the top.
  5. Measure the wedge-like space and cut a sugar cube into a wedge accordingly. The wedge should be the same size as the rectangles on either side, but you will need to measure from where the rectangles meet to where the top of the wedge should go in order to get an accurate keystone piece, which will hold your structure together. If you have used a pre-made wooden block set, your trapezoid piece should fit as the keystone. If not, measure the opening with a ruler (specifically where the rectangles meet and to what will be the top of the wedge) and cut a block with a small saw or craft knife into a wedge shape in order to fit inside.
  6. Stand up your arch by tipping the wooden surface you arranged the arch on until it's vertical. See if you can take it away and allow the arch to stand on its own. If your arch has trouble standing on its own, disassemble it and place glue between each rectangle and the keystone for "mortar." You should, however, try to make it stand without the glue, as many Roman arches were made without mortar.

    If constructing an entire model:
  7. Now that you have an arch, repeat the process until you have a ring of arches that will form the base of The Coliseum. With the base set, repeat the whole process again, two more times, so that you have three rings of arches stacked on top of each other.
  8. The final ring is solid, with no arches, so this will be an easier piece to construct. Study the images of the Colosseum and be sure to include extra cubes to re-create any decorative aspects of the building.

Extending the lesson

Incorporate language arts skills by asking students to write short “factoids” that they will use to label parts of their arches or model.


Student models are evaluated in terms of the following:

  • Accuracy of design
  • Durability of the model
  • (If applicable) quality and accuracy of factoids
  • Teamwork

Submitted By

Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor

National Standards
NSS-WH.5-12.6 World History
NSS-WH.5-12.7 World History
NSS-WH.5-12.8 World History

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