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Ancient China Lesson Plan: Yuan 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 Yuan Dynasty

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

This is part 7 of a 12 part a hands-on unit study on China. Trace the route of Marco Polo, perform a play, & more while learning about Ancient Chinese History and the Yuan 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!

Portrait of Kublai Khan by artist Araniko, drawn shortly after Kublai's death in 1294. His white robes reflect his desired symbolic role as a religious Mongol shaman.

Portrait of Kublai Khan by artist Araniko, drawn shortly after Kublai's death in 1294. His white robes reflect his desired symbolic role as a religious Mongol shaman.

Yuan Dynasty & Kublai Khan

1. The Yuan Dynasty is considered by some to be a legitimate dynasty while others consider it to be a time of foreign dominion as the main leader was a Mongol, Kublai Khan.

  • Though Kublai Khan posthumously deemed his grandfather Genghis Khan on the imperial records as the official founder of the dynasty, Kublai Khan was the actual founder of the dynasty.
  • Read Kubla Khan: The Emperor of Everything Kathleen Krull.

YOU WILL NEED: Kubla Khan: The Emperor of Everything Kathleen Krull or other book on Kubla Khan.

2. Watch the below video on the Mongols.

Statue of Marco Polo in Hangzhou, China

Statue of Marco Polo in Hangzhou, China

Marco Polo

3. The reason why Europe knew so much about Kublai Khan was largely because of Marco Polo. It was Marco Polo's descriptions of Cathay (present day China) that inspired Columbus to sail across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492.

  • Find Venice & China on a map. Have children trace their fingers over the route they might take to get between the two locations. What do you notice about the places you'd cross?
  • Read Marco Polo by Demi.

YOU WILL NEED: maps or globes and Marco Polo by Demi or other book on Marco Polo

4. Watch the below video on Marco Polo.

Marco Polo's journey dramatization

Marco Polo's journey dramatization

Marco Polo's Journey

5. Pretend to be Marco Polo and follow his route along the "Silk Route" through a room or multiple rooms, collecting items as you go. (Ahead of time I placed various items from Marco Polo's journey around our classroom and we pretended to follow his journey as we walked.) As we journeyed, we collected items -- some of which we later pasted to our map. The items we collected are in ALL CAPS.

  • We went to Acre and called out, "Will 100 Christians come with us to tell Cathay about Jesus?" We talked about how only two came but even they returned home because they were scared. That is so sad!!! What an opportunity they had to spread God's word, and they ran in fear. God protects us and is always in charge. He can fight the battle. This reminds me a lot of the Israelites being too scared to take the Promised Land.
  • Lesser Armenia/Turcomania (Turkey) - beautiful oriental carpets (YARN)
  • Pretend to ride on horseback. Stop and look at the top of Mount Ararat and see Noah's Ark (Noah's Ark toy high up on a bookcase)
  • Rudbar Plain - Date trees (DRIED DATES), strange-looking oxen (zebu), and large 350 lb. sheep with 30 pound tails. Its tail weighs more than my son!
  • Desert Kuhbanan - refill water (DRINK A CUP OF WATER)
  • Mountaisn of Taican - (SALT)
  • Badakhshan - pretend to ride horses - Rubies and sapphires (RED CRAFT JEWELS)
  • Marco Polo sick for 1 year so they stay there. Pretend to cough. Stand still while reciting the months of the year as we wait there.
  • Oxus River to Pamirs - rams with 4 1/2 foot long curled horns. Shepherds carve horns into bowls or pile up to make fences
  • Khotan - in China at last! - Jade (GREEN CRAFT JEWELS)
  • TaklaMakan Desert - Gobi Desert for 30 days - Count to 30 (Count to 30 in Chinese if you can -- or at least count to 10 in Chinese using a YouTube video played on your phone for assistance.)
  • Kanchow - shaggy yaks - used wool for weaving (WOOL). Mongols & yurts. (Could let them taste a prepared Mongolian food item like boortsog or airag.)
  • *Been on this journey for 3 years. Kublai Khan has heard of their arrival in China/Cathay and sends horsemen to welcome them. Travel next 40 days in luxury.
  • Kublai Khan likes to go hunting with a cheetah on his saddle. The cheetah jumps off and grabs up the prey. Khan thinks Marco is very wise and inquisitive so sends him to other parts of Cathay to see what life is like there.
  • Khanbalik - (SILK), large striped lions (really tigers - STUFFED TIGER), paper money
  • Tibet - people very poor. Use salt rather than money. Scare away lions, bears, etc. at night by burning bamboo. When each section burns, it lets out a loud bang which scares away the animals.
  • Karajang - use seashells rather than money (SEASHELLS), sees snakes with fierce jaws and feet (really crocodiles - TOY CROCODILE)
  • Been in Cathay 17 years & want to go home. Princess Cocachin's husband dies and she needs someone to take her to her new husband. Khan reluctantly agrees to let the Polos take her. They now go by ship.
  • Champa (Vietnam) - many elephants (STUFFED ELEPHANT)
  • Java - (BLACK PEPPER, NUTMEG, & CLOVES)
  • Sumatra - Huge nuts with liquid inside (COCONUT), men with tails & dog faces (really monkeys - STUFFED MONKEY), & unicorns the size of elephants (really rhinoceroses)
  • Ceylon (Sri Lanka) - Ruby, sapphire, topaz, amethyst (THOSE STONES - SOME REAL & SOME NOT)
  • India near Ceylon - Pearls (PEARL NECKLACE & CRAFT PEARL BEADS), black lions (really panthers), and lots of parrots (COLORFUL FEATHERS)
  • Drop off princess. Return to Venice. Family doesn't recognize until they show off their jewels. Marco goes to war & is captured & put in jail. Tells his stories & one man writes them down. Many people think he's making it all up but some people think it might be true. 200 years later Columbus reads his book. He thinks Marco Polo was telling the truth and he is inquisitive enough to try to find out the truth.

YOU WILL NEED: (*All items are optional based on what you can easily get.*) small strips of yarn, dried dates, cups of water, small shells, shredded coconut, salt (sea salt or other larger pieces), red craft jewels, wool (or cotton balls), peppercorn, whole cloves, ground nutmeg, toy Noah's ark (or picture of it), green craft jewels, stuffed tiger (or picture of one), stuffed/toy crocodile (or picture of one), stuffed elephant (or picture of one), stuffed monkey (or picture of one), pearl necklace, craft pearl beads, colorful craft feathers, real or fake gemstones & rocks (jade, ruby, sapphire, topaz, amethyst)

Map of Marco Polo's journey

Map of Marco Polo's journey

Marco Polo's Route Map

6. Trace Marco Polo's route on this Marco Polo Route Map and paste what Marco Polo saw, using the items we collected on our walk.

  • Guide students in using a green and blue crayon to quickly & lightly color the land and water on the map.
  • Have students use their fingers or a crayon to trace the route Marco Polo took. As you speak through the locations, ask the children what happened at some of those locations.
  • Glue construction paper to the back of the Marco Polo map to help support the weight.
  • Have children paste some of the items they collected to the map.

YOU WILL NEED: Printed maps, items collected from activity #5, liquid glue (Elmer's or tacky), crayons, & construction paper

Tracing the route of Marco Polo

Tracing the route of Marco Polo

A Yuan dynasty blue-and-white porcelain dish with fish and flowing water design

A Yuan dynasty blue-and-white porcelain dish with fish and flowing water design

Yuan Dynasty Trade & Porcelain

7. Kublai Khan's reign greatly encouraged trade between the East and West.

  • This created a rich cultural diversity developed during the Yuan dynasty. Middle Eastern culture helped advance the Yuan Dynasty's medicine, astronomy, clothing, diet, and art.
  • The blue cobalt used in porcelain came from Iran.
  • We will learn more about this porcelain when we study the next dynasty, the Ming Dynasty.
  • Learn about Yuan porcelain by watching the below two videos.
Workers moving material across the Lugou Bridge (Marco Polo Bridge) to construct Khanbaliq

Workers moving material across the Lugou Bridge (Marco Polo Bridge) to construct Khanbaliq

Capitals: Zhongdu, Khanbaliq, & Beijing

8. Kublai's grandfather, Genghis Khan, destroyed Zhongdu, but in 1266, Kublai Khan built his winter capital of Khanbaligh to its northeast. It is now Beijing, also the capital of China today, and was located at the center of modern Beijing.

9. Read parts of Through time : Beijing by Richard Platt.

YOU WILL NEED: Through time : Beijing by Richard Platt or other book on the history of Beijing

10. Read the poem Xanadu by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

  • What in the poem shows that this poem is about a dream?
  • Does it sound like the author knew much about the real Kublai Khan and China? Why or why not?
 Yuan Dynasty theatrical performances with elaborate costumes and stereotyped facial makeup

Yuan Dynasty theatrical performances with elaborate costumes and stereotyped facial makeup

Yuan Dynasty Theater

11. Mongolians had always loved storytelling, so during the Yuan Dynasty, theater and novels written in the language of the common people flourished.

  • Yuan theater was slow and included lots of pantomime.
  • No curtain or scenery was used, and usually the only props used were a table and scarves, which were used for a variety of purposes: a mountain, boat, waves, wind, etc.
  • Just like with Chinese operas, costumes and make-up were elaborate.

12. Watch the below video on traditional Chinese theater.

Performing the Play

13. Select a Chinese folk tale and perform a play based on it using traditional Chinese props (table and scarves), costumes (as close as you can get), and bright Chinese-like make-up.

  • Give children 25 minutes to prepare their play and dress up in their costume pieces and makeup.
  • Allow them to perform the play in an impromptu manner, with an older child directing younger performers.
  • If some children would prefer to not perform, allow them to play live music.

YOU WILL NEED: a Chinese folk tale, a small table, scarves, costumes, make-up, and instruments (optional)

Performing impromptu traditional Chinese theater

Performing impromptu traditional Chinese theater

We only watched parts of this.

Book images are from amazon.

Book images are from amazon.

yuan-dynasty-lesson
yuan-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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