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.

Maps & Images

MapsOutline Maps of China [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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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LANGUAGE—Place Names

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

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

Chinese Calligraphy, the Art of Writing [China Institute]
Students will gain an understanding of the Chinese characters they see all over the city.

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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.

Understanding Filial Piety [China Institute]
This lesson will explore the Chinese value of xiao, or filial piety, through a discussion of selections from the Analects and Mencius and an activity based on The Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Devotion.

Around the Globe: China Grades [PBS LearningMedia]
The Around the Globe: China collection allows students to take a virtual trip to China to learn more about China’s society and culture, as well as the art of China through the centuries. Explore significant events in Chinese history, the history of U.S.-China relations, and the experiences of Chinese Americans through videos, images, documents, and lesson plans. Play some games and learn about China's history and culture with video clips from The Story of China.

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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.

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.

Chinese New Year: Lai-See Envelopes [Allen Art Museum]
Lai-See envelopes are typically given to children on Chinese New Year. Some contain money for candy or gifts and are always a special treat on this festive occasion! Students will learn about this holiday and make their own envelopes and Chinese coins!

Chinese New Year: Paper Lanterns [Allen Art Museum]
Students will learn about Chinese New Year, the Chinese zodiac, and some of the traditions of the holiday. Students will make their own paper lanterns in celebration of the Lantern Festival, the closing of the 15-day celebration.

Nian the Beast: A Lunar New Year Story [Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]
Watch a Lunar New Year story about a beast named Nian.

New Year Investigations: Tablescapes [Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]
Students compare and contrast the different ways in which people commemorate the passing of a year by interviewing their families, creating a tablescape, and sharing their traditions with their classmates.

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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.

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CULTURE—Homes and Gardens

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.

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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. See also Index to Resources.

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. Uses Flash.

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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.

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

Tomb Treasures: Explore a Tomb from China’s Han Dynasty [Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]
Explore a virtual tomb Tomb Treasures exhibition and assembled using photography and reference material provided by the Nanjing Museum, the Tomb Treasures 3D Experience begins with an aerial view of a reconstructed Han Dynasty royal mausoleum; the burial mound is lifted to reveal Tombs 1 and 2 prior to presenting an interactive 3D of Tomb 1. Explore 12 different areas of the tomb, where different objects were discovered.

How to Identify a Buddha [Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]
The earliest surviving representations of the Buddha date from hundreds of years after his death, so they are not portraits in the usual sense. Buddha images vary greatly from place to place and period to period, but they almost always show these conventional features...

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

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.

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HISTORY—Marco Polo (1254-1324) in China

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 Plan Silk Road/Trading Good & Currency [EDSITEment, National Endowment for the Humanities]
Students will explore concepts such as bartering, trade, and consumerism as they study the Silk Road. Students will also learn about the evolution of Chinese currency as it relates to the trade along the Silk Road. Students will relate learning experiences to modern day consumerism and create a replica of a Chinese coin that might have been used for trade along the Silk Road.

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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.

The Investigating the “Forbidden” in the Forbidden City [China Institute]
This lesson is intended to teach students about the concept of forbidden spaces through an interactive, hands-on activity based on the history and design of the Forbidden City. Students will use primary sources to discuss how different spaces in the Forbidden City’s outer courts and living quarters evoke different feelings. From this class, students will learn elements of Chinese symbology, architecture, and cosmological principles as well as more general concepts of forbidden space.

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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 (zoom in to and select pins to read captions) 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
    Includes a look inside the rooms of the Silk Commissioner’s home in Suzhou (see pin on far left).
  4. The Emperor and the Cosmic Order: The Kangxi Emperor’s Visit to Mt. Tai
    Select third pin fron the left on the scroll guide; the emperor’s party is just below and to the left.
  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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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.

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SCIENCE—Natural Science: Flora & Fauna

Classroom Activity Idea Silk: Raise Silkworms
Order the worms from an online vendor 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.

Classroom Activity Idea Pandas
Exlore the Pandas of the National Zoo through their webcam and read addtional information on Giant Pandas.

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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.

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Tangram Game [PDF] [PBS Kids]
Printable tangram download with example shapes. Also see their interactive online tangram game where students can solve tangram puzzles.

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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).

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Teachers' GuideUsing Chinese Folktales in the Classroom [PDF] [Education About Asia]

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Freeman Book Awards [NCTA]
An annual list of the winning titles (see the elementary category) for the Freeman Book Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature on East and Southeast Asia from the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA). Please refer also to Recommended Titles of children’s books, by grade level, also on the NCTA site.

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Brushpainting: Nature in Art (Video) [Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]
This video documents the Asian Art Museum’s Nature in Art school program.

Understanding Decorative Motifs on Chinese Porcelain [China Institute]
This hands-on activity is designed to be an inexpensive way for students to learn and appreciate the cultural significance of select symbols as they appear on Chinese porcelains.

Lacquerware Boxes [Allen Art Museum]
Primitive lacquering was known in Japan as early as the third century B.C., but did not develop into a significant art form until the introduction of Chinese lacquering techniques in the seventh or eighth century A.D. Based upon the AMAM's own lacquerware document box, students will create their own versions as they study the history and techniques of lacquerware.

Comparative Sculpture [Allen Art Museum]
Throughout history artists in every culture and society have created sculpture of some kind. Sculptures come in many different shapes and sizes, are made using all kinds of materials and a variety of processes and techniques, and satisfy various purposes. Inspired by the book From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, students will compare several types of sculpture and create their own out of air-dry clay.

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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]

Classroom ExerciseFold a Paper Lotus Flower [Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]

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OMuERAA (Online Museum Resources) [Asia for Educators]
Additional lesson plans and resources on art can be found at the OMuERAA (Online Museum Educational Resources in Asian Art) which can be explored by a number of categories, including country or region.

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DRAMA & MUSIC—Drama: Masks and Puppets

Lesson PlanPeking Opera Masks [Allen Art Museum]
In this lesson students will be introduced to the Chinese Peking Opera and symbolism as it is used in such performances. Students will also explore stereotypes and relate such ideas to personal experiences. As a studio project, students will create their own masks in the style of Peking opera masks (both a 2D and 3D project are available).

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.

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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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