Rebus Treasure

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Social Studies, Ancient History

Grade 5- 8


Students solve a rebus puzzle in order to find a hidden treasure. This can be used as an anticipatory set designed to lead into the discussion of ancient written languages, whether from Neanderthal pictographs or Egyptian hieroglyphics. It does an effective job of focusing students on the idea that early civilizations often utilized concrete images for symbols representing sounds and/or ideas.


Before class time, make copies of one of the Rebus activity sheets or create one tailored to your classroom. Choose a rebus based on where you intend to hide the incentive. Obtain the student incentive.
Divide the class into cooperative learning teams. Provide each student with a copy of the rebus. Groups should be given a specific time limit to decipher the puzzle, usually no more than five minutes.
Since it is possible that more than one group could solve the rebus in the time allowed, plan a rational method for choosing a team for the original search attempt. A random draw of team names from a hat could be one method used to break a tie. A less arbitrary measure would be to allow the first opportunity to solve the rebus to the team that most closely follows a specified set of directions and has completed the solution.
An alternative would be to move around the classroom garnering the responses from each team within the specified time allotment. In this situation, the first team to whisper the correct answer to the puzzle would subsequently gain access to the treasure hunt. The teacher should note successive completion times of other teams should that become necessary in the next step.
The selected learning group will then have a short period of time (about one minute) to locate the prize. If the group cannot find the treasure within the minute, the second ranked team would be offered a sixty-second quest. This rotation would be followed until either the prize was found or every team was given the opportunity to look.
As a follow-up activity, encourage students to create their own symbolic alphabets, employing various geometric or pictographic designs.


  • Rebus activity sheets
  • a teacher-selected treasure that will serve as an incentive for the students (e.g., pack of gum, pieces of fruit, pencils, erasers, stickers, etc.). There should be an adequate amount to share among the members of the largest student learning team.

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