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China: People And PlacesChina-People-And-Places

  • Subject: Geography
  • |
  • Grade(s): K-5
  • |
  • Duration: One class period

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. In the spoken Chinese language, tone as well as words communicates meaning.
2. The Chinese languages use a writing system made up of symbols, called characters, rather than letters; each character has its own meaning.
3. Chinese names are made up of several characters.
4. A name in Chinese characters can be rewritten as a word with letters of the English alphabet. Then we can pronounce the Chinese name and figure out what it means.


For this lesson, you will need:
Examples of Chinese characters from a printed source such as a Chinese newspaper or from an online source such aszhongwenorchina.
List of words used in place names (see Procedures for reproducible list)


1. Discuss with students two of the major differences between the Chinese and English languages. If you have students or teachers of Chinese descent in your school, try to involve them in the following instruction and demonstration:
  • In spoken Chinese, a speaker uses different tones to change the meaning of a syllable. For example, the syllable ma said as you slowly move your head back and forth from left to right means "mother," but the syllable ma said deep in your throat as you drop your chin to your chest means "horse."
  • In written Chinese, a word appears not in letters but as one or more pictures, which are called characters. (See Materials for sources of sample characters.)
2. Explain that because most people outside China cannot read Chinese characters, linguists had to come up with a system for writing Chinese words with the letters we use in English. So in addition to having characters that name each person, place, and thing, Chinese can also give each name in letters that we recognize. Write the following place names on the board, and ask students if they are familiar with any of them:
  • Beijing
  • Nanjing
  • Shanghai
  • Yunan province
  • Sichuan province
Whether or not students are familiar with these five places, point them out to students on a map of China.
3. Ask students to use the Chinese-English list to figure out the literal meanings of the five geographical names given above. For example, according to the list, Beijing means "northern capital."
4. Encourage students to make up other Chinese place names using the Chinese-English list and to challenge one another to figure out the names in English.
5. You may want to extend this activity by asking students to bring in news clippings that include other place names from the People's Republic of China. The students should try to translate those Chinese names into English.

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Instead of concentrating on place names, teach your primary students—or invite someone else at school or from the community to teach primary students—the basic words that they as children would find useful: for example, the words for mommy, daddy, please , and thank you .

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Discussion Questions

1. Why are traditions and heirlooms important to families? Share traditions from your own family.
2. Pretend someone can't communicate in Chinese or English. Do you think it would be more difficult for them to learn Chinese or English and why?
3. Can you think of any symbols that are universal, and is it important to have universal symbols?
4. Consider what it takes to become a champion. How would this training affect your education? Discuss the physical and mental impact on young athletes throughout their childhood and adolescence.
5. The Chinese have had a history of producing the best diving teams in the world. Discuss the reasons this country has been so successful.

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The process is more important that any products in this lesson, so evaluate your students according to participation in the class lesson, interaction with other students, cooperation, and self-control.

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A New Writing System
Ask students, working in small groups, to create a new way of communicating English words, phrases, and sentences in writing. They may not use the letters of the alphabet. They can create abstract, representational, or stylized characters to stand for whole words; they should produce a dictionary giving the meanings in English of each of their newly created characters. Finally, they must combine some of the characters to form phrases or sentences that students in other groups will have to decipher.

A Picture Language
Encourage students to do research in the library or on the Internet to identify, learn about, and report on an ancient language that used pictures or characters instead of letters of an alphabet for writing. Students may choose to study cave paintings, Sumerian writing, or Egyptian hieroglyphics.

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Suggested Readings

At the Beach
Huy Voun Lee, Henry Holt, 1994.

In the Snow
Huy Voun Lee, Henry Holt, 1995.

Pictograph Symbolizes More Than 'Woman'
Charles Burress, San Francisco Chronicle, September 13, 1995.

Catherine Charley, Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1995.
Read about daily life in China and see how everyone participates in exercise and sports.

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Chinese Logographic Writing
Here is a summary of the legends, both ancient and modern, about the shadowy civilization of Atlantis, including Plato's proof and description of a paradise on earth populated by a beautiful, highly intelligent race. It also describes the claims of some modern mystics and explorers who say they have had hints of its existence.

Answers to Your Questions About Sports and Nutrition

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    calligraphy
Definition: Beautiful and artistic handwriting.
Context: One of these traditions is a form of writing called calligraphy.

speaker    gymnast
Definition: A person trained in gymnastics.
Context: If you want to be a champion gymnast, you have to have a flexible body.

speaker    endurance
Definition: The ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity.
Context: Great athletes have strength, endurance, coordination, and lots of skill.

speaker    proportioned
Definition: Made with parts that are harmonious or symmetrical.
Context: Graceful line and well-proportioned arms and legs.

speaker    vigorous
Definition: Full of physical or mental strength or active force.
Context: There is a lot of training and it is very vigorous.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: K-5
Subject area: history
Understands selected attributes and historical developments of societies in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe.
Knows significant historical achievements of various cultures of the world (e.g., the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Taj Mahal in India, pyramids in Egypt, temples in ancient Greece, bridges and aqueducts in ancient Rome).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: geography
Understands the physical and human characteristics of place.
Knows how the characteristics of places are shaped by physical and human processes (e.g., effects of agriculture in changing land use and vegetation; effects of settlement on the building of roads; relationship of population distribution to landforms, climate, vegetation or resources).

Grade level: K-2
Subject area: physical education
Uses a variety of basic and advanced movement forms.
Uses simple combinations of fundamental movement skills (e.g., locomotor, non-locomotor, object control, body control, and rhythmical skills).

Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: physical education
Uses a variety of basic and advanced movement forms.
Uses mature form in balance activities on a variety of apparatuses (e.g., balance board, large apparatus).

Grade level: 3-5
Subject area: physical education
Understands how to monitor and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical fitness.
Engages in activities that develop and maintain muscular strength (e.g., push-ups, pull-ups, curl-ups, isometric strength activities, jumprope).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: physical education
Uses movement concepts and principles in the development of motor skills.
Understands principles of training and conditioning for specific physical activities.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: physical education
Understands the social and personal responsibility associated with participation in physical activity.
Understands proper attitudes toward both winning and losing.

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Summer Productions, Inc.; Janet Arnowitz, teacher, Lanier Middle School, Fairfax, Virginia.

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