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Ancient China Lesson Plan: Song Dynasty

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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.

Hands-on, activities based lesson plan on Ancient China and the Song Dynasty

Hands-on, activities based lesson plan on Ancient China and the Song Dynasty

This is part 7 of a 12 part a hands-on unit study on China. Create tangrams, paint landscapes, set off firecrackers, watch traditional Chinese opera, & more while learning about Ancient Chinese History and the Song Dynasty. Also included are our favorite Children's books and YouTube video clips. Use these ideas with your class, family, or homeschool co-op group!

(*Five Dynasties Period (907-960) books will be included in this lesson under the Children's Books section as there will not be a separate lesson on that time period.*)

Traditional tangram puzzle

Traditional tangram puzzle

Tangram Puzzles

1. There are numerous legends as to how the Chinese developed tangram puzzles. They are usually traced back to either the Tang Dynasty or Song Dynasty.

  • One legend says a popular calligrapher named Huang Bosi created a set of seven rectangular tables & a collection of diagrams to show how the tables could be arranged.
  • Another legend attributes the creation of tangram puzzles to a master glassmaker who was commissioned to construct a pane of glass for the royal palace.
  • While no one is certain exactly how tangrams were first created, the popularity of tangram puzzles eventually spread around the world.

2. Read The Warlord's Puzzle by Virginia Walton Pilegard.

YOU WILL NEED: The Warlord's Puzzle by Virginia Walton Pilegard or other book on tangram puzzles such as Grandfather Tang's Story by Ann Tompert

Attempting a tangram puzzle

Attempting a tangram puzzle

Complete Trangram Puzzles

3. Complete tangram puzzles. You can print off the one in the back of The Warlord's Puzzle by Virginia Walton Pilegard or find others online. After creating a square, children can try to make other shapes. My children especially enjoyed making the animal shapes.

YOU WILL NEED: a tangram puzzle

Li Cheng (Chinese: 李成; pinyin: Lǐ Chéng; Wade–Giles: Li Ch'eng; 919–967),Luxuriant Forest among Distant Peaks, detail

Li Cheng (Chinese: 李成; pinyin: Lǐ Chéng; Wade–Giles: Li Ch'eng; 919–967),Luxuriant Forest among Distant Peaks, detail

Shan Shui Landscape Painting

4. During the Song Dynasties, monochrome landscape painting flourished and Song Dynasty landscapes are some of the most highly regarded today. The Five Dynasty and Song Dynasty periods are known as the "Great Age of Chinese Landscape."

  • Landscape painting is taught as a right/wrong way in school just as the alphabet is taught. Students are taught the correct way to paint a mountain, tree, etc.
  • The shan shui style painting is most prominent during this time period. "Shan" means mountain and "shui" means river.
  • If the painting includes a person, he is usually a sage contemplating the mountains.
  • Typically there are no reflections painted in water and shadows are not painted.
  • We will be creating watercolor paintings, known as literati or water and ink paintings, in Chinese shuǐ-mò.

5. Watch the below video on a simplified landscape watercolor painting. Then look through more examples of monochrome Chinese paintings online.

Painting traditional Chinese watercolor landscapes

Painting traditional Chinese watercolor landscapes

Landscape Painting

6. Have children use black watercolor paints to create a landscape painting on a "scroll" paper. (We cut white cardstock into 1/3 pieces to have the shape of a scroll.) Children may use red to add their signature if desired.

YOU WILL NEED: black and red watercolor paints, paintbrushes, paper (such as white cardstock cut into thirds the long way), water, a table cover, and some printed examples

Some of the Chinese watercolor landscapes painted by elementary and middle school aged children

Some of the Chinese watercolor landscapes painted by elementary and middle school aged children

Costume and makeup in the opera Farewell My Concubine

Costume and makeup in the opera Farewell My Concubine

Chinese Operas

7. Though Chinese opera began during the Qin Dynasty, Tang Dynasty's Emperor Xuanzong created the first national opera troupe called the Pear Garden. It was during the Song Dynasty that traditional Chinese opera spread.

  • Learn about Chinese opera by watching the below videos.

8. Read Lady White Snake : A Tale from Chinese Opera = [Bai She Chuan] by Aaron Shepard.

YOU WILL NEED: Lady White Snake : A Tale from Chinese Opera = [Bai She Chuan] by Aaron Shepard or other book based on or about Chinese Opera

(We only watched parts of this.)

Northern Song Paper Currency

Northern Song Paper Currency

Paper Money

9. Among the many innovations of China that amazed Marco Polo, paper money was toward the top of his list. Paper money was used during the Tang Dynasty, but it was during the Song Dynasty that paper money was distributed nationally, making China the first nation in the world to have true paper money.

  • Look at pictures online of early Chinese paper money.
  • How is it similar/different to our paper money today?
  • How might having paper money change a society?
Small bound feet were once considered beautiful in China

Small bound feet were once considered beautiful in China

Foot Binding

10. During the Song Dynasty, foot binding spread. Girls (ages 4-6) were forced to have their feet tightly wrapped and their smaller 4 toes broken to create what was considered to be beautiful, small feet shaped like lotus flowers. Women were told they would not be able to find husbands if they did not do this. Foot binding continued into the early twentieth century.

  • Watch the below video on foot binding.
  • How might this have affected the daily lives and roles of women?
  • What are society's attitudes about women's feet today? Do shoe stores sell shoes that look uncomfortable and even dangerous? Has your mother or grandmother ever worn shoes that hurt her feet just to be fashionable? Do you?
  • Why do you think men don't wear shoes with high, thin heels and sharply pointed toes? Who do you think designs shoes, women or men?
  • What do you think should be the first and most important considerations when buying a pair of shoes?

(Some of the above questions came from KONOS History of the World II.)

Setting off small fireworks

Setting off small fireworks

Fireworks

11. During the Tang Dynasty, gunpowder was developed. By the Song Dynasty the Chinese used the gunpowder to create fireworks. Fireworks were used in warfare and also in celebrations. Even today fireworks are commonly used to celebrate the Chinese New Year and are traditionally said to be able to ward off evil spirits.

12. Read The Explosive Story of Fireworks! by Kama Einhorn.

YOU WILL NEED: The Explosive Story of Fireworks! by Kama Einhorn or other book on fireworks

13. Set off small fireworks.

YOU WILL NEED: Small fireworks - or use sparklers or party poppers if you can't set off fireworks where you live

Fun Video Idea: Watch Disney's Mulan Movie - How does it compare to the book?

Song Dynasty Books

Song Dynasty Books

Song Dynasty Books

  • The Legend of Mu Lan : A Heroine of Ancient China by Wei Jiang
  • Lady White Snake : A Tale from Chinese Opera = [Bai She Chuan] by Aaron Shepard
  • The Explosive Story of Fireworks! by Kama Einhorn
  • The Boy Who Swallowed Snakes by Laurence Yep
  • The Warlord's Puzzle by Virginia Walton Pilegard
  • Grandfather Tang's Story by Ann Tompert
  • The Emperor's Painting by Jessica Gunderson
song-dynasty-lesson
song-dynasty-lesson

Over the years I have posted over 40 science and social-studies based unit studies, compromised of more than 170 lessons. The unit studies include the Human Body, Simple Machines, Earth Science, Medieval Period, American Revolution, Pioneer Life, Countries of the World, and many more! For each lesson I have included activities (with photos), our favorite books and YouTube video clips, lapbook links, and other resources. I posted links to all of my unit studies and lessons at Fun, FREE Hands-on Unit Studies .

KONOS History of the World Volume II

KONOS History of the World Volume II

KONOS History of the World Volume II

Would you like more? These lessons are inspired by History of the World: Volume II by KONOS Curriculum, which includes many more discussion topics, interesting facts, activities, writing topics, and book suggestions.

© 2021 Shannon

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