Grade level: 6-8 subject area: World History credit

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Great Wall of China


One to two class periods



World History

Tish Raff is an elementary-school assistant principal, a member of the associate faculty of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, an educational consultant, and a freelance writer.


Students will:

1. understand the roles played by different dynasties in the construction of the great walls of China;

2. understand the varied contributions of the Qin, Han, Tang, and Ming dynasties to ancient Chinese civilization; and

3. understand and recognize some of the events occurring in other parts of the world during the time of the early Chinese dynasties.


For this lesson, you will need:

Print and Internet resources related to the Qin, Han, Tang, and Ming dynasties. Suggested Web sites include


List of China Links


Condensed China: Chinese History for Beginners


History Timeline

1. Share with the class this quotation from Confucius in 500 B.C.: “Learning without thinking is labor lost; thinking without learning is perilous.” Talk about what Confucius meant by this. Explain that you will be challenging your students to both learn and think as they investigate the great walls and some of the great dynasties of China. Begin with a discussion of the meaning of the word dynasty. Then ask your students to hypothesize why you used the plural, walls, instead of just referring to the Great Wall of China.

2. Next explain that several different dynasties participated in the creation of the walls. List Qin, Han, and Mingon the board, stating that the primary architects of the walls lived during these dynasties. Add, however, that the golden age of China is considered to have occurred during the Tang dynasty, when no walls were constructed.

3. Now divide the students into four groups. Each group will develop one segment of a television news magazine show (15 Minutes) featuring a different dynasty. Give each student a copy of the program preparation sheet and review its elements with the class. Explain that each group member will be expected to present at least one part of the report for the class and the camera.

4. After you, as executive producer, have reviewed and approved each preparation sheet, have the groups present their segments to the class. Tape these, if possible, to share with parents, the PTA, or another class.


Adaptation for older students:

Older students should investigate each dynasty in greater depth and be given the option of choosing one on which to prepare a written individual program preparation sheet. Without the time limit of taping, the reports can be as extensive as is appropriate for the class and time allowed in the curriculum. Groups can later condense these written reports into an assigned time slot for a news magazine program.

1. What is the purpose of walls? Why did the Chinese construct them? How important is it that the Great Wall of China has survived through the centuries and remains standing today? To what extent does it serve as an icon for China?
2. The first Qin emperor built a huge and opulent tomb containing a life-sized army constructed of terra-cotta soldiers. It took over 700,000 men 38 years to construct it. Why would he have done this? Compare this to rulers' tombs of other eras, such as the Egyptian pyramids.
3. How is archaeology important to the study of history? Compare archaeology and history. How are they similar, and how are they different?
4. Genghis Khan is frequently credited with being the most legendary warrior the world has ever known. Have your students debate the extent to which they agree or disagree with this assertion. Challenge them to nominate others deserving of this title.
5. Analyze the impact of the Great Wall(s) of China on the course of western civilization. How would the world be a different place if the Chinese had not constructed their walls?
6. The Chinese required ambassadors from other places to kowtow to the emperor. This involved three bows with three acts of prostration (having the forehead touch the ground) each time. Which world leaders throughout the course of history would you consider worthy of this act of extreme respect?

Assign individuals separate grades for the parts they present. Then use the following rubric to evaluate each segment as a whole for a group grade:
- Segment title: Is it catchy and engaging, yet also descriptive? (0-2 points)

- Setting the stage: Does it open the piece effectively and also give background about the time period in general? (0-3 points)

- Dynasty in depth: Is there sufficient depth, and does it include the main rulers and their dynastic achievements and show the ways in which the rulers helped move China forward? (0-4 points)

- Emperor interview: Are the interview questions relevant? (0-2 points) Are the interview answers thorough and on target? (0-3 points) Is information about the wall, or other dynastic achievements in the case of the Tang, incorporated into the interview? (0-3 points)

- Elsewhere in the world: Are at least two other locations or civilizations included? (0-2 points) Is there sufficient information about what was happening in these places? (0-2 points)

- Closing with a segue into the next era: Is this both a summary and a lead-in as appropriate? (0-2 points)

- Total flow of the piece (0-2 points)

Total: 25 points

Wall to Wall

Challenge your students to investigate other historical walls, both real and imaginary. Have them learn more about the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain, the walls of Jericho, the walls of Madrid, and any other walls they can discover. Think about the purpose of walls throughout history, and consider the alternatives available in today's world to achieve the same purposes. Then discuss the extent to which such barriers remain practical.

Dynasties: Part 2

Were there other dynasties that should have been included in your edition of 15 Minutes? Have your students investigate more about the history of China to determine this. Then challenge them to learn more about the People's Republic of China. Create a segment on this and any other dynasties you feel should be featured for a program entitled "Dynasties: Part 2".

The Great Wall of China

Tim McNeese, Lucent Books, 1997.

The history of China's Great Wall is explored from its beginnings under Emperor Qin over two thousand years ago to the rebuilding undertaken during the Ming Dynasty fifteen hundred years later. The book includes the reasons why it was built and the methods used to build it.
Ancient Chinese Dynasties

Eleanor J. Hall, Lucent Books, 2000.

The lives of China's first dynastic rulers and the everyday life of its people from 2000 BC to 500 AD is the focus of this book. Photographs of artifacts, maps, and timelines help illustrate the variety and complexity of ancient Chinese society.

Secrets of the Great Wall

A chance to explore the Great Wall with a fantastic collection of photos and descriptions of the various dynasties.
The WebChronology Project

Brief chronology of what was happening in China.
China the Beautiful

An extensive site of Chinese Art, Culture, and History. For ease of use choose the "Table of Contents in English."
Chinese Cultural Studies

Extensive collection of Chinese pictures and illustrations.
The Great Wall: A Virtual Tour

Outstanding pictures, map and overviews of different sections of the Great Wall


The scientific study of the material remains of human life in the past.


Archaeology has helped uncover a great deal of information about the history and construction of the walls of China.


A succession of rulers of the same line of descent.


The rulers of the Tang dynasty, not known for building walls, led China during its golden age.


The supreme ruler of an empire.


Emperor Qin (pronounced Chin is considered the first emperor of China and is the leader for whom the country is named.


A tribal group of Mongolian nomads.


Nomadic hordes terrified the Chinese as they attacked them and killed their animals.


An emblem or symbol of something.


Today the Great Wall of China is protected, as it serves as an icon for China.


A sign foretelling a future event.


The fact that Genghis Khan's right hand was drenched in blood at birth was considered an omen of his violent and warlike ways.

terra cotta

A fired clay, either glazed or unglazed, used for making statuettes and vases and for architectural features such as roofs.


The first Qin emperor's massive tomb contained an army of terra cotta, with each soldier having a different face, to protect the emperor's body as in life.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

World history


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Grade Level:


Subject Area:

World history


Understands how major religious and large-scale empires arose in the Mediterranean basin, China, and India from 500 B.C. to A.D. 300.


Understands fundamental social, political, and cultural characteristics of Chinese society under early imperial dynasties (e.g., the importance of the “Mandate of Heaven” to the success of the Zhou dynasty and its development of imperial rule; the literary and artistic achievements of early imperial dynasties; the development and consequences of iron technology and the family division-of-labor system; comparisons among the Shang, Zhou, Qin, and Han empires in the areas they controlled and their methods of government; the composition and stratification of Chinese society and the factors that gave individuals status; and imperial attitudes and actions toward nomadic peoples along the borders of the empires).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

World history


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Understands the culture and technological achievements of Tang-dynasty China (e.g., the ideals and values of everyday life as expressed in the poetry, landscape, painting, and pottery of the Tang dynasty; the system of roads and canals in Tang-era China; the extent of the Tang empire, the trade routes used by the empire, and the products exchanged; and major technologies developed during the Tang dynasty and how these technologies influenced Tang society and spread to other regions).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

World history


Understands major global trends from A.D. 1000 to 1500.


Understands economic, political, and cultural differences and similarities between Europe and Asia (e.g., causes and consequences of productive growth, commercialization, urbanization, and technological and scientific innovation in Europe and China; and the societal, economic, and political organization of Europe and Japan and the causes of economic growth, urbanization, and cultural innovation in the two regions).
Copyright 2001

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