GEOGRAPHY—Maps & Mapping

Lesson IdeaJourney to China!
Have students make passports that will be stamped as they enter China. Then, on a large world map, students can plot their journey to China.

Basic Points of Interest on the Geography of East Asia [East Asia in Geographic Perspective, Asia for Educators]
Short overview. Part of a larger unit on East Asia’s Geography.

MapsOutline Maps of China [Asia for Educators]

MapsRecommended Wall and Desk Maps of East Asia [East Asia in Geographic Perspective, Asia for Educators]

What’s in a Name? Chinese Rivers, Cities, and Provinces [Asia for Educators]
A translation exercise with the names of Chinese rivers, cities, and provinces.

Lesson PlanMapping Perceptions [Asia Society]
For grades 3-5. In this lesson plan students map their own neighborhoods and describe what is and is not included on a map. They then look at historical and contemporary maps (of China, in this case) and compare and contrast the use of scale, orientation, etc. with their own maps to understand how to read and utilize different types of maps.

VideoChina Through Mapping [Social Studies in Action: A Teaching Practices Library, Annenberg Learner]
Social Studies in Action is a free online video library that “documents 24 teachers and their students in K-12 classrooms across the country actively exploring social studies.” In this lesson, a teacher from Solano Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona, teaches her second-grade students about China’s position on the globe and the location of important landmarks within the country.

GameThe China Game [Asia Society]
Based on a board game created at the University of Vermont, this interactive trivia-type flash game has students answer questions about Chinese history and geography to “race” a dragon from the city of Harbin in the east to Urumqi in the west.

PuzzleMap Puzzle: Map the Regions of China [Asia Society]
“Can you piece China together?” In this interactive puzzle, students learn about the distinguishing features of China’s nine major geographical regions as they try to drag-and-drop each region into its actual location on a map of China.

MapExplore China [Asia Society]
An illustration-type map showing major cities, rivers, and other geographical features, as well as the location of famous attractions, such as the Great Wall and the Giant Panda.

GEOGRAPHY—Rice Production

Lesson IdeaRice Cultivation
Have students research and discuss the stages of rice cultivation and compare wet-rice and dry-rice techniques. Discuss how climate determines which crops are grown around the world.

Lesson PlanThe Rhythm of Rice Production [National Geographic]
For grades K-2. Students will explore the importance of rice in Asian communities. They will then learn about the “rhythm” of rice production as they are introduced to its growing cycle. Finally, students will create seasonal images of rice cultivation in a calendar format.

GEOGRAPHY—Seeing China

Lesson PlanLife on the Rivers of Asia [National Geographic]
For grades K-2. Looking at the lives of people living along the Chang Jiang (Yangzi or Yangtze River) in China, as well as the Ganges in India, and the Mekong in Southeast Asia, students will gain insights into the profound influence of rivers within the regions through which they flow.

Lesson PlanCity or Country Life? [National Geographic]
For grades 3-5. Although students often think of Asia as undeveloped and rural, some of the world’s largest and most dynamic cities are located there. With this lesson plan, students will come to better determine what is “urban” and what is “rural.” Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, and Hong Kong are examined, as are villages in East Asia’s agricultural areas.

Lesson PlanNomads: Where Boundaries Move [National Geographic]
For grades 3-5. This exercise explores the way humans have adapted to regions that do not sustain communities through agriculture and the influence this has on how they live and view the boundaries of their home.

ImagesPhotographs of China for the Classroom [Asia for Educators]

GEOGRAPHY—Food and Geography

Ordering a Chinese Meal [Asia for Educators]
An opportunity for students to explore the relationship between diet and geography.

Food and Geography [Asia for Educators]
Short reading and questions for discussion about different Chinese food regions.

Lesson IdeaChopsticks
Have students practice using chopsticks. Disposable chopsticks wrapped in paper are available from any Chinese restaurant with a takeout order of dishes students can try. Discuss what countries use chopsticks as eating utensils. [Answer: China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam — the countries that form the East Asian cultural sphere. They also share Confucian thought, Buddhism, and the use of Chinese characters at some point in their histories.] Note that in many other countries of South, Southeast, and West Asia the custom is to eat with one hand, often using breads to scoop food.

Lesson PlanMarketplaces of Asia [National Geographic]
For grades 3-5. By virtually visiting a mall in Seoul, a night market in Hong Kong, the Sunday Market in Kashi (China), a bazaar in Samarqand (Uzbekistan), and a street market in Beijing, students are able to understand the human and physical characteristics of “markets” and “marketplaces” in Asian culture.

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The Chinese Language [Asia for Educators]
This overview of the Chinese language, both spoken and written, includes an introductory reading for teachers; a pronunciation guide to Mandarin Chinese; and a reading about the history, pronunciation, and writing system of the Chinese language.

Chinese Calligraphy [Asia for Educators]
This introduction includes a reading discussing the various styles, techniques, and materials of Chinese calligraphy; two calligraphy exercises for the classroom; and discussion questions.

LANGUAGE—Place Names

Appreciating Chinese Place Names [Asia for Educators]
An explanation of Chinese place names.


Count in Chinese! [Asia Society]
An illlustrated guide to counting in Chinese from 1 to 12.


Lesson IdeaThree-Character Classic (Sanzi Jing) [University of Maine]
From the 13th century on, the Three-Character Classic (Sanzi Jing) was a standard text memorized by Chinese children to learn proper behavior. This website includes the full text of the Sanzi Jing, along with an introduction, audio reading, translation, and annotations. Teachers might choose some of the four-line aphorisms from this classic text for upper elementary classes to learn and discuss.


The Lunar New Year: Rituals and Legends [Asia for Educators]
This overview of the Lunar New Year in Chinese culture discusses the lunar calendar and various customs related to food, family, ancestors, and popular gods.

Lesson IdeaLunar New Year
Have students research and present the significance of the Kitchen God, Ancestors, red envelopes, oranges, firecrackers, and cleaning the classroom as they relate to the Lunar New Year. Students can also research and compare other important Chinese festivals, including the Lantern Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, Hungry Ghost Festival, and Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival, as well as Chinese festival foods.

Lesson Plan Animals of the Chinese Zodiac [EDSITEment, National Endowment for the Humanities]
For grades K-3. In this lesson plan, students will learn about the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. In the process, they will learn about Chinese culture, as well as improve reading, writing, and researching skills.

Lesson Plan Lions, Dragons, and Nian: Animals of the Chinese New Year [EDSITEment, National Endowment for the Humanities]
For grades K-3. In this lesson, students will study the differences between Eastern and Western dragons and discover why Eastern dragons are associated with the Chinese New Year. They will also learn about dragon dancers and lion dancers in the New Year’s parade and discover that firecrackers are set off to drive off evil spirits.

Lesson Plans Chinese Dragon: A Powerful Metaphor in Chinese Cultural History [Primary Source]
This curriculum unit includes several lessons, classroom activities, a slide show, as well as web and bibliographic links. It uses the motif of the dragon in Chinese folklore to discuss aspects of Chinese literature, mythology, and political history. This unit was designed by a librarian to be used by classroom teachers in cooperation with library-media specialists.

CULTURE—Choosing Names

Chinese Names [Asia for Educators]
A short study of Chinese naming conventions.

Exercise What’s in a Name? Chinese Rivers, Cities, and Provinces [Asia for Educators]
A translation exercise with the names of Chinese rivers, cities, and provinces.

CULTURE—Homes and Gardens

The Chinese Home [Asia for Educators]
Overview of a traditional Chinese home.

Yin Yu Tang: A Chinese Home [Peabody Essex Museum]
The Yin Yu Tang House is an exquisite example of traditional architecture from the Province of Anhui. The house was purchased in 1997 by the Peabody Essex Museum, dismantled by skilled Chinese craftsmen, and shipped piece by piece to its new home in Salem, Massachusetts. It was lived in continually by eight generations of the Huang family until 1980. The Yin Yu Tang House allows students to see an actual Chinese home, a unique primary source. On this website students will explore the house until they know its rooms, its furnishings, the family, and their daily lives. Creating a Family Tree of the Huang Family and a parallel timeline of the tumultuous events going on beyond walls of the Yin Yu Tang offers students a rich opprtunity to examine history through a primary source and a rich personal family history.

Houses and Gardens [Online Museum Resources on Asian Art, Asia for Educators]
A curated list of online museum resources on Asian houses and gardens.

CULTURE—Clothing: Design and Symbolism

Imperial Silks (of the Qing Dynasty) [Minneapolis Institute of Arts]
An overview, plus 14 related examples of court attire from the Manchu period, all with descriptions.

Rank and Style: Power Dressing in Imperial China [Pacific Asia Museum]
Includes a glossary of textile terms and symbols, a chronology, discussion questions, and a reading list.


Asian Games: The Art of Contest [Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution]
A fun interactive website about games invented in Asia. Four types of games are presented: 1) Tossing & Turning; 2) War & Territory; 3) Power & Dexterity; 4) Memory & Matching.

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Lesson Plans China Source: Resources for Teachers [Primary Source & Harvard University Asia Center]
Primary Source and Harvard University have created a series of slideshows with lesson plans on Chinese dynasties. Many of them are suitable for upper-elementary level students. The link above will bring up a Harvard University Pin System login page. To access these resources, please select “XID Login” under login type, then enter “primary_source” under Login ID and “beijing” under PIN/Password.

HISTORY—Confucius & Confucianism

Classroom Exercise Confucianism: Understanding and Applying the Analects of Confucius [PDF] [Education About Asia]

What Did Confucius Say? [Asia for Educators]
A short background reading about Confucius the person and his writings, with links to selections from the Confucian Analects.

HISTORY—The Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE)

Lady Wenji and the Lament of the Nomad Flute [Asia Society]
An illustrated guide to the story of Lady Wenji, a Han-dynasty scholar’s daughter taken captive by Xiongnu raiders from the north.

HISTORY—The Liao (907-1125) and The Song (960-1279)

From China to NYC: Inspired by the Exhibition “Gilded Splendor: Treasures of China’s Liao Empire (907-1125)” [Asia Society]
What can students learn from the art of the Khitan people who ruled China as the Liao Empire? With examples of work by NYC students inspired by the art of the Khitan. Could be the basis of a discussion or a similar activity for the classroom.

The Song Dynasty in China: Life in Urban China Seen through a 12th-century Scroll [Asia for Educators]
Teaching module with maps and images covering economics, technology, urban life, society, and international affairs during China’s Song dynasty. An advanced unit more appropriate for upper-elementary students.

HISTORY—Marco Polo (1254-1324) in China

In the Footsteps of Marco Polo: A Journey through the Met to the Land of the Great Khan [The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
Follows the 24,000-mile journey of Marco Polo (1254-1324) from Italy through the Middle East and Central Asia to China and the court of Khubilai Khan. With maps and images of art objects. Suggested questions for discussion: 1) Marco Polo came from Venice, the most sophisticated city in Europe at the time. What did he find in China that impressed him? 2) How was Marco Polo able to travel through such a vast region under Mongol control?

Lesson Plan Marco Polo Takes A Trip [EDSITEment, National Endowment for the Humanities]
For grades K-3. During the Middle Ages, most people in Europe spent their entire lives in the village where they were born. But in the 13th century, a young Italian named Marco Polo traveled all the way to China! In this lesson, students will learn about the remarkable travels of Marco Polo.

Lesson Plans On the Road with Marco Polo [EDSITEment, National Endowment for the Humanities]
For grades 3-5. In this curriculum unit, students will become Marco Polo adventurers, following his route to and from China in order to learn about the geography, local products, culture, and fascinating sites of those regions. Students will record their “journey” by creating journal entries, postcards, posters, and maps related to the sites they explore. Unit includes eight lessons:
1) A Boy in 13th-century Venice; 2) From Venice to Hormuz; 3) From Hormuz to Kashgar; 4) Crossing the Deserts of China; 5) Marco Polo in China; 6) Sea Voyage to India; 7) From Hormuz to Venice; 8) Homecoming.

HISTORY—The Ming Voyages (1405-1433)

The Ming Voyages [Asia for Educators]
Unit discussing Admiral Zheng He’s voyages during the Ming dynasty, the preparation of his fleet, and the political and social problems in Ming China that brought these expeditions to a close. With discussion questions and activities for students.

HISTORY—The Qing Dynasty (1644-1912)

Interactive Unit • The Emperor and His Role in Qing Dynasty China [Asia for Educators]
In the following units, students can view life in China in the 1700s by viewing large hand-scrolls painted by artists of the time as documentaries of two emperors’ (Kangxi and Qianlong) inspection tours of the realm. Interactive viewing enlarges the images of people and life along the rivers and in the cities of 17th- and 18th-century China.

  1. The Grand Canal: the Qianlong Emperor Entering the City of Suzhou on the Grand Canal
  2. The Emperor’s Role in Overseeing Flood Control
    See the Qianlong emperor watching the workers at the site where the Huai River and the Yellow River meet.
  3. The Kangxi Emperor Visits the Silk Commissioner
    Select #11 on the scroll guide to get a look inside the rooms of the Silk Commissioner’s home in Suzhou.
  4. The Emperor and the Cosmic Order: The Kangxi Emperor’s Visit to Mt. Tai
    Select #4 on the scroll guide; the emperor’s party is in the lower left-hand corner.
  5. Merchants, Shops, and City Life in China in the 1700s
    Get up-close views of the shops, cafés, and street life of 18th-century Suzhou.

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Chinese Inventions: Can You Name Them? [Asia for Educators]
Short descriptions of key Chinese inventions or items of Chinese origin from throughout history, including silk, paper, porcelain, and tea.

Secrets of Lost Empires: China Bridge [NOVA, PBS]
Companion website to a 2000 PBS program documenting the “effort by a NOVA-assembled crew of scholars and timber framers to design and build a Chinese bridge known only from an ancient painting [the Beijing qingming scroll].” Includes a reading, “China’s Age of Invention,” that highlights many Song-dynasty inventions.

SCIENCE—Natural Science: Flora & Fauna

Classroom Activity Idea SILK: Raise Silkworms
Order the worms (from an online vendor such as Insect Lore), then have students observe and record the life cycle of the silkworm, learning scientific procedure in the process. Mature cocoons can be boiled and unraveled, revealing the silk.

Classroom Activity Idea BAMBOO: Grow Bamboo in the Classroom
Plants can be ordered from an online vendor (such as the Bamboo Sourcery, which also has extensive information about Bamboo). Have students research the uses of bamboo in China.

Red Panda [Bronx Zoo]

Giant Panda [National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution]

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MATH—The Abacus (“Suanpan”)

Classroom ExercisesMath Exercise on the Abacus (“Suanpan”) [PDF] [University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign]
An illustrated guide to using the abacus (“suanpan” in Chinese).

VideoThe Abacus: How to Use This Ancient Wonder [YouTube]
Video demonstrating both Chinese and Japanese versions of the abacus.


Classroom ExercisesTangrams [PDF] [University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign]
In old China, the pieces for this game-puzzle were sometimes made of ivory, hand carved and inlaid with gold and jade. It was played by royalty. With a puzzle pattern for students to make and solve.

Tangram Game [PBS Kids]
An interactive website where students can solve tangram puzzles.

MATH—Magic Squares

Classroom ExercisesMagic Squares [PDF] [University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign]
A “magic square” is a square divided into multiple additional squares or blocks, each block containing one number. It is said to be “magic” when the numbers in a line or row of blocks add up to the same number horizontally, vertically and diagonally. This introductory guide to “magic squares” includes some puzzles for students to solve.

Anything But Square: From Magic Squares to Sudoku [+Plus Magazine]
For upper-elementary students, a more in-depth explanation of the mathematical principles behind the “magic square” and related number puzzles.

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LITERATURE—The Story of Monkey

Journey to the West (or The Tale of Monkey) is perhaps the most widely-read, known and dramatized story in China, and the Monkey King, the story’s main character, is immensely popular with children. In the story, the Monkey King and his three companions accompany the Buddhist monk Xuanzang on his travels to India and back. The real Xuanzang (ca. 602-664) traveled west from China (hence the title of the story), in order to reach India, where he found Buddhist sutras to bring back to China, where Buddhism was expanding in popularity at the time as a relatively new, foreign religion.

Teaching UnitMagical Pilgrims on the Silk Roads: The Adventure in the “Cart-Slow Kingdom” from Journey to the West [PDF] [China Institute]
Unit R from the curriculum guide From Silk to Oil: Cross-cultural Connections along the Silk Roads, which provides a comprehensive view of the Silk Roads from the second century BCE to the contemporary period. Unit R begins on page 278 and provides the text of an episode from The Tale of Monkey. Students could enact this and other episodes with costumes and masks (see the Drama & Music section).

Journey to the West, Part 1: The Adventures of Monkey [Asia Society]
An illlustrated synopsis of the story of Monkey

Journey to the West, Part 2: Preparing for the Great Journey [Asia Society]
An illlustrated synopsis of the story of Monkey.


Teacher’s GuideUsing Chinese Folktales in the Classroom [PDF] [Education About Asia]


Video UnitTang Poetry [Asia for Educators]
Introduction to the poetry of the Tang dynasty (618-907), with links to poems by noted Tang poets Wang Wei (699-761), Li Bo (701-762), and Du Fu (721-770).

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ARTS & CRAFTS—Art: Paintings

Painting Formats in East Asian Art [The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
An introduction to the five major painting formats in East Asian art: 1) album; 2) fan; 3) handscroll; 4) hanging scroll; 5) screen.

Chinese Handscrolls [The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
An overview of the Chinese handscroll format, with images of paintings from the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties.

Landscape Painting in Chinese Art [The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
A brief overview of landscape painting in Chinese art from the Tang dynasty to the present.

ARTS & CRAFTS—Crafts: Paper Cutting

Classroom ExercisePaper Cutting [PDF] [University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign]

Classroom ExerciseChinese Cut Outs: Learning About the History of Paper [Asia Society]

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DRAMA & MUSIC—Drama: Masks and Puppets

Activity IdeasMasks for Performing Stories from Journey to the West [ChinaSprout]
Students can enact stories from Journey to the West (The Tale of Monkey) using masks such as these. See the Literature section for more on Journey to the West (The Story of Monkey).

Lesson PlanPuppets on the Move: China and the Silk Road [ArtsEdge, The Kennedy Center]
For upper-elementary (grades 5-8). Through map-making, research, and class discussions, students will gain an understanding of the dynamics of trade in China along the Silk Road, and the role of trade in urbanization throughout the Han, Tang, and Song dynasties. The lesson will culminate in student-produced and student–created shadow puppet performances that demonstrate students’ understanding of Chinese culture during the days of the Silk Road and of the connection between trade and urbanization.

Lesson PlanThe Science of Shadow Puppets [ArtsEdge, The Kennedy Center]
For upper-elementary (grades 5-8). Through online learning tools and the creation of shadow puppets and plays, students will learn how light interacts with matter. This lesson serves as an introduction to the properties of light and its role in creating shadows. While using puppets created by students and performing shadow plays, students will learn, first-hand, what differentiates opaque, translucent, and transparent materials. They will also learn how light travels and how an object’s shadow is affected by the intensity and position of light in relation to both the object and the surface on which a shadow is cast.


Flutes from Jiahu (ca. 7000–5700 BCE) [The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
A brief discussion of the archaeological site of Jiahu, in Henan province, where fragments of 30 flutes were discovered. Six of these flutes represent the earliest examples of playable musical instruments ever found.

The Qin [The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
An introduction to the qin, a type of zither that is “the most prestigious of China’s instruments.” Chinese lore holds that the qin dates back to the third millennium BCE.

The Pipa [The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
An introduction to the Chinese pipa, a four-string plucked lute that “descends from West and Central Asian prototypes and appeared in China during the Northern Wei dynasty (386–534).”

Lesson PlanChinese Instruments [ArtsEdge, The Kennedy Center]
For grades K-4. After being exposed to and learning about different types of instruments (string, woodwind, and percussion) in traditional western music, students explore Chinese instruments through demonstration, research, and instrument making. Students present their findings formally to the class and participate in a musical performance. Because Chinese music is often used to tell a story, students will create an original story to reflect their musical experience.

Sounds of China [ArtsEdge, The Kennedy Center]
An audio series that “explore[s] unique aspects of Chinese music through sounds, performance and interviews.” Featuring three episodes on “the endangered music of the Yunnan peoples; the tradtional sounds of the pipa, bamboo flute, qin and other Chinese instruments; and the creative space between them, where sounds ancient and avant-garde intersect.”

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