East Asia in Geographic Perspective: LESSON PLANS


This section remains under construction. In the interim, please see the lessons at the sites listed below, as well as the Primary Sources with questions for discussion.


Following the Great Wall of China [Grades 6-8]
The famous Great Wall of China, which was built to keep China’s horse-riding neighbors at bay, extends more than 2,000 kilometers across China, from Heilongjiang province by Korea to China’s westernmost province of Xinjiang. This lesson will investigate the building of the Great Wall during the Ming Dynasty, and will utilize the story of the wall as a tool for introducing students to one period in the rich history of China.

On the Road with Marco Polo [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.

Animals of the Chinese Zodiac [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.

Lions, Dragons, and Nian: Animals of the Chinese New Year [Grades K-3]
In this lesson, the students study the differences between eastern and western dragons and discover why the eastern dragons are associated with the Chinese New Year. They learn about the dragon dancers and lion dancers in the New Years parade and discover that firecrackers are set off to drive off evil spirits, particularly one called Nian.

Marco Polo Takes A Trip [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.


Life in the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Prints and the Rise of the Merchant Class in Edo Period Japan [Grades 9-12]
The Edo Period (1603-1868) in Japan was a time of great change. The merchant class was growing in size, wealth, and power, and artists and craftsmen mobilized to answer the demands and desires of this growing segment of society. Perhaps the most well known art form that gained popularity during this period was the woodblock print, which is often referred to as ukiyo-e prints. In this lesson students will learn about life in Japan during the Edo period through an investigation of ukiyo-e prints.

The Road to Pearl Harbor: The United States and East Asia, 1915-1941 [Grades 9-12]
Although most Americans were shocked by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the outbreak of war between the two countries came as no surprise to most observers of international affairs. Using contemporary documents, students explore the rise of animosity between the United States and Japan from its origins in World War I and culminating two decades later in the Pearl Harbor attack.

The World of Haiku [Grades 6-8]
Explore the traditions and conventions of haiku and compare this classic form of Japanese poetry to a related genre of Japanese visual art.

China and Japan in the 1800s and 1900s

Curriculum Guide to "Black Ships and Samurai: Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan (1853-1854)"
On July 8, 1853, residents of feudal Japan beheld an astonishing sight—foreign warships entering their harbor under a cloud of black smoke. Commodore Matthew Perry had arrived to force the long-secluded country to open its doors. Eight lessons explore the encounter between Japanese and Americans and its visual record.

Curriculum Guide to "Rise and Fall of the Canton Trade System: China in the World, 1700-1860s"
The images in this unit portray the abundant variety of commercial, art, and craft goods exchanged in the Canton region during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Three cities became the center of the trading system that linked China to the Western European powers and the United States. Macau, the oldest, stayed under Portuguese control from 1557 to 1999. Canton gathered traders from Europe, Southeast Asia, the U.S., and the rest of China. Hong Kong, acquired by the British after the Opium War, grew from a small fishing village to a major international port during the 19th century. Three lessons explore the life of a merchant in Canton, American views of China gained through the trade, and the relationship between Hong Kong and Canton.

Curriculum Guide to "Yokohama Boomtown: Foreigners in Treaty-Port Japan (1859-1872)"
Following the “opening” of Japan to American and then European traders after the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853-54, the port of Yokohama became a center for trade and interaction across cultures. This window on the imagined life of foreigners in Japan at the dawn of the modern era is based on the catalogue of the 1990 exhibition at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Yokohama: Prints from Nineteenth-Century Japan, by Ann Yonemura. Seven lessons explore the interaction of Japanese, Americans, and Europeans from a variety of aspects.

Curriculum Guide to "Throwing Off Asia; Woodblock Prints of Domestic 'Westernization' (1868–1912); Woodblock Prints of the Sino-Japanese War (1894–95); Woodblock Prints of the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05)"
In the mid-1800s Japan was a small, introverted, resource-poor, and fundamentally agrarian society. Even within the context of Asia alone, it seemed dwarfed in China’s shadow in every way -- historically, culturally, physically, and on any imaginable scale of human and natural resources. This was the country Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States encountered when his warships made two visits in 1853 and 1854 to force the feudal government to abandon the “closed country” policy. This was a daunting challenge to Japan’s leaders, who were aware of Western imperialism and “gunboat diplomacy” elsewhere—including in China next door. … No one was sure, at the time, whether Japan would sink or swim. No one anticipated that Japan would or could throw off seven centuries of feudal rule quickly and announce—as the new government did within a matter of months—that “evil customs of the past shall be broken off” and “knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundations of imperial rule.” Certainly no one dreamed that in 1894 and 1895, a mere 40 years after Perry’s arrival, Japan would be capable of mobilizing a modern army and navy and bringing China to its knees—and, 10 years after that, doing much the same to mighty Tsarist Russia. The remarkably swift "Westernization" of Japan in the late-19th and early-20th centuries was most vividly captured in popular woodblock prints. Images from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston illustrate the great political, social, cultural, and industrial transformations that took place. Eight lessons explore the remarkable process of change in Japan in this period.

Curriculum Guide to "Asia Rising: Japanese Postcards of the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05)" and "Yellow Promise/Yellow Peril: Foreign Postcards of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05)"
Imperial Japan’s 1904–05 war against Tsarist Russia changed the global balance of power. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 captured the attention of the world—partly because it represented a new level of “modern” warfare; partly because it offered an almost mesmerizing high-stakes confrontation between “East” and “West”; and partly because new modes of communication made it possible to share graphic images of the war with popular audiences everywhere. The first war to be widely illustrated in postcards, the Japanese view of the conflict is presented in images from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection of Japanese Postcards at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Five lessons explore the use of period postcards as an historian’s tool.


Imaging Japanese History
Imaging Japanese History is an online curriculum designed to enhance students' visual literacy skills, historical thinking skills, and knowledge of Japanese history. Five online modules each provide a case study in the role of art in capturing and conveying human experience.

A Case Study of Heian Japan through Art: Japan's Four Great Emaki
Emakimono or emaki, narrative picture scrolls, developed into a distinctly Japanese art form in the Heian period, 794-1185 CE. In this lesson, students examine four emaki masterpieces to analyze the highly refined court culture, politics, and religion in the late Heian period. Working in groups, they then create preview posters for a museum exhibit featuring the four emaki, providing their interpretation of the facets of Heian culture they believe exhibit-goers should learn.

A Case Study of Medieval Japan through Art: Samurai Life in Medieval Japan
The samurai warrior has come to symbolize Japan’s medieval period of social and political unrest that lasted from the late twelfth to late sixteenth centuries. Working with artistic renderings of the samurai as well as cultural artifacts of samurai life, students recognize the complex, complementary aspects of the samurai culture that developed during this period. Students consider this more nuanced view of the samurai as they take on the role of advisors to a director hoping to make an authentic film about Medieval Japan.

A Case Study of Tokugawa Japan through Art: Views of a Society in Transformation
For many years, Western scholarship presented a narrative of Tokugawa Japan as a stable, but also stagnant society. More recent scholarship identifies the Tokugawa period, 1603-1868, as a time when Japan experienced significant social, economic, and political changes that laid the groundwork for modernization. In this lesson, students consider a major art form of the period—woodblock prints—as historical documents providing a visual record of a society and country in transformation. They identify specific changes Japan underwent on its early path to becoming a modern nation.

The Path to Modernization in Popular Art: From Yokohama Prints to Taisho Chic
This module focuses on the Meiji and Taisho periods, 1868-1926.

A Case Study of Late Twentieth-Century Japan through Art: Tezuka Osamu and Astro Boy
How can an artist, a particular piece of art, or an artistic genre represent a historical period? This question underlies the Imaging Japan project and provides the focus question for this lesson in the series. Students first identify the criteria they would use to choose a representative artist or art form to speak for another country and era. Students then analyze whether the choice of artist Tezuka Osamu and his anime creation, Astro Boy, to represent late twentieth-century (1945-present) successfully meets the criteria they generated. Through this process, they expand their knowledge about contemporary Japanese culture and develop their analytical skills, while becoming acquainted with a remarkable artist, his creations, and the messages they conveyed.


China Source: Resources for Teachers
Primary Source and Harvard University have created a series of slideshows with lesson plans on Chinese dynasties. 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.


Korean Studies
Lesson plans for K-12 divided into subject categories; grade levels are indicated for each lesson plan title.

ART and HISTORY through ART

Online Museum Resources on Asian Art (OMuRAA): TEACHING ART UNITS
Select any of the choices in the section on "Special Exhibits and Teaching Art Units": ART subject area, TIME PERIOD, or COUNTRY. Then sort by "Display only Teaching Art Units."



Being in the Noh: An Introduction to Japanese Noh Plays [Grades 9-12]
Noh, the oldest surviving Japanese dramatic form, combines elements of dance, drama, music, and poetry into a highly stylized, aesthetic retelling of a well-known story from Japanese literature, such as The Tale of Genji or The Tale of the Heike. This lesson provides an introduction to the elements of Noh plays and to the text of two plays.

Japanese Poetry: Tanka? You're Welcome! [Grades 9-12]
This unit on the Japanese poetic form tanka encourages students to explore the structure and content of the form and to arrive at a definition of the tanka’s structure in English. Students will read and analyze the tanka form and compare it to English structures of poetry, and will finally compose their own tankas.

Hamlet Meets Chushingura: Traditions of the Revenge Tragedy [Grades 9-12]
This lesson sensitizes students to the similarities and differences between cultures by comparing Shakespearean and Bunraku/Kabuki dramas. The focus of this comparison is the complex nature of revenge explored in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and Chushingura, or the Treasury of the Loyal Retainers.

Say Hi to Haibun Fun [Grades 9-12]
In a typical high school language arts or social studies curriculum, students are asked to record events of their lives along with emotional responses and reflections. In contrast, the Japanese art of haibun, developed in Japan in the late 17th century by Matsuo Munefusa (Basho), focuses on objective reporting of the everyday moment and focusing the insights of that moment into a theme developed in a concluding poem. In this lesson students will be introduced to the Japanese writing form, the haibun.

Can You Haiku? [Grades K-5]
Students learn the rules and conventions of haiku, study examples by Japanese masters, and create haiku of their own.

South Asia

Lessons of the Indian Epics: Following the Dharma [Grades 9-12]
The epic poem the Ramayana is thought to have been composed more than 2500 years ago, and like the Iliad and the Odyssey, was originally transmitted orally by bards. This lesson will introduce students to the Indian concept of dharma through a reading of the epic, the Ramayana.

Haven’t I Seen You Somewhere Before? Samsara and karma in the Jataka Tales [Grades 9-12]
Many English speakers are familiar with the Sanskrit word karma, which made its way into the language during the first half of the nineteenth century. It is often used in English to encapsulate the idea that "what goes around comes around." A more complete understanding of the word is brought to life in the stories known collectively as the Jataka Tales. This lesson will introduce students to the concepts of samsara and karma, as well as to the Jataka Tales.

© 2019 Asia for Educators, Columbia University |