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The Art Of WarThe-Art-Of-War

  • Subject: Literature
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
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  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Sun Tzu's Art of War has become required reading not only in military curricula but in business, economics, and political science classes as well.
2. Many cultures rely on ancient texts and ideas for advice and guidance in today's world.


For this lesson, you will need:
The book Art of War by Sun Tzu or an electronic version of the text (see list in Related Links)


1. After you have worked with the class to analyze the text of or the video about Sun Tzu's Art of War, or both (see Materials and Related Links), or have given the students a lecture about Art of War, have students gather firsthand research through interviews to see if today's executives conduct business as if it were war. First, teach students the general guidelines for conducting an effective and courteous interview:
  1. The interviewer must accommodate the interviewee's schedule, inconveniencing the interviewee as little as possible. Once the interviewee agrees to be interviewed, the interviewer should make a specific appointment and then confirm the appointment as the date approaches. During the interview, the interviewer must watch the clock and not exceed the agreed-upon duration for the interview.
  2. The interviewer must find the right balance between showing genuine respect for the interviewee and not letting the interviewee duck critical questions.
  3. The interviewer must do his or her homework and completely avoid asking questions of fact (such as interviewee's date and place of birth) that are answered in records available to the interviewer. Such questions waste time. The interviewer should go into the interview with four or five substantive questions thought out in advance. Then the interviewer must listen carefully to the interviewee's response so that he or she can ask a follow-up question or two based on the response instead of slavishly following the list of questions he or she brought to the interview.
  4. As much as possible, the questions should be built around who? what? where? when? why? and how? so that answers provide substantive information rather than simply yes or no.
  5. The interviewer must take careful notes or, with permission, tape-record the interview.
  6. As soon after the interview as possible, the interviewer should write up the interview, contacting the interviewee if necessary to clarify or verify facts.
  7. Without being obsequious, the interviewer should thank the interviewee for agreeing to the interview and for responsiveness during the interview. The interviewer should offer to show the interviewee the write-up of the interview before publishing or otherwise using the interview.
2. Have students conduct practice interviews with each other so that you and classmates can offer constructive criticism on interview content and style.
3. Brainstorm with the class a list of businesspeople whom students would like to interview about business techniques and strategies, business successes and failures. List only businesspeople in the community who you have reason to think will agree to visit the class and submit to an interview by students.
4. With class input, decide on a few businesspeople whom students will ask to grant them an interview. For each subject, put together five students who will work as a committee to conduct a successful interview. Allow the committee to choose the spokesperson who will request the appointment for the interview and who will lead off the in-person interview and draw it to a conclusion later on. That student may make the request for the interview by phone or in writing. (The request should acknowledge that several students will conduct the interview together.) Make sure the other students on the committee understand they must contribute to the preinterview research, help to generate the prepared questions, ask follow-up questions during the interview, and collaborate on the final, written interview.
5. Help each committee bring to the interview what the class has learned about Sun Tzu's principles. That is, help students generate questions that will elicit the interviewee's thoughts about battling to win customers, running a disciplined campaign, beating the competition, coming in first, winning at all costs, playing fair, playing tricks, and prioritizing goals.
6. Give each committee a two-part written assignment: (1) prepare a written report of the interview, and (2) end the report with one or more paragraphs on how the businessperson practices or does not practice Sun Tzu's guidelines about war.
7. Ask students who have not taken part on the interview committees to act as peer editors of the committees' written work, calling for revisions as appropriate.

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Adaptations for Older Students:
Older students may conduct their interviews at sites other than your classroom. Since you will not be observing them during the interview, they should rate themselves on the quality of the interview session. That is, they will have to tell you how the interview session transpired—very smoothly, mostly smoothly, or not smoothly (see Evaluation).

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Discussion Questions

1. Sun Tzu's The Art of War was written 2,500 years ago in ancient China. However, its principles are still valid and useful today. What other ancient texts or ideas do we rely on for advice and guidance in today's world? How do they compare with Sun Tzu's work?
2. Discuss how improvements in technology changed The Art of War since ancient China. Do these new weapons invalidate Sun Tzu's principles of The Art of War?
3. Discuss ways in which the American and Chinese views of life differ. How are these reflected in art and ways of life?
4. How have Sun Tzu's strategies in The Art of War been adopted by American business? Identify which particular strategies would benefit business practices.
5. Discuss Sun Tzu's principles: "the essence of war is dislocating the enemy psychologically, then dominating him;" "he whose ranks are united in purpose will be victorious;" and "agitate your enemy and ascertain the pattern of his movement, determine his position and so ascertain the field of battle, probe him and learn where his strength is abundant and where it is deficient." Explain how these ideas help in a war and in other aspects of life.
6. Discuss the barriers that prevent Westerners from truly understanding the Asian culture. Why do you think people need to bridge the gap of cultural understanding now more than ever? What are some ways each culture can come to better understand the other?

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You can evaluate the committees using the following rubric:
Only those committees whom you expect to grade with a 3 or 2 should proceed with meeting the interviewee; committees who are doing a below-average job of preparing for the interview should not proceed with the interview and will earn a grade of 1.
  • Three points: more than three sources used for research about interviewee; first draft of interview questions in very good shape; very smooth and respectful interview; complete and well-written report on the interview and on the influence of Sun Tzu on the interviewee
  • Two points: three sources used for research about interviewee; first draft of interview questions needing substantive revision; mostly smooth and respectful interview; adequate report on the interview and on the influence of Sun Tzu on the interviewee
  • One point: See note above
You can elicit from students why you will not let an inadequately prepared committee proceed with an interview of a businessperson.

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Military Briefing
Near the end of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, then Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara released the now infamous Pentagon Papers, detailing top-secret U.S. actions in Indochina from the end of World War II through 1968. Among the nearly 2.5 million words in these documents were accounts of sabotage and terror warfare against the North Vietnamese. Have your students use the Pentagon Papers and several other resources to research the specific strategies of the United States and the North Vietnamese in their campaigns to establish leadership in South Vietnam. Then have the students write a briefing to military advisers from the perspective of an American general in 1969. They should incorporate quotations from Sun Tzu's Art of War as appropriate in their report.

Discuss with students how business and tourism among nations has changed since, say, 1980. What evidence do they have that one country now influences other countries much more and much faster than in the past? As nations become more like one another in products, services, and social trends, will leaders apply Sun Tzu's philosophy more or less?

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Suggested Readings

A History of Warfare
John Keegan. Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.
Do all civilizations owe their origins to making war? Read about the role of violence and war in all cultures from the Stone Age to the present day, and the need to end our capacity for violence and war.

The Lost Art of War
Sun Tzu II. Harper San Francisco, 1996.
Sun Tzu II, a military strategist also known as Sun Bin, was a descendent of Sun Tzu, whose book on war was discovered in a Chinese tomb in 1972. He wrote about military tactics and strategies that can be applied to government, business, and social action.

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The Art of War by Project Gutenberg
A public domain copy of the e-textof the Art of War is available for downloading.

The Art of Diplomacy in The Art of War
Article based on Sun Tzu dealing with diplomacy in war.

Chinese History
An extensive index of Chinese history to use with the study of Sun Tzu.

Sun Tzu
Easier-to-read print version of Sun Tzu's biography. Includes comments on sections of The Art of War.

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

speaker    diplomacy
Definition: The art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations.
Context: The conflict Sun Tzu is talking about in his book differs from the Western definition, because it includes areas of politics and diplomacy, such as trade and international relations.

speaker    espionage
Definition: The practice of spying or using spies to obtain information about the plans and activities especially of a foreign government or a competing company.
Context: In a war, espionage is the most effective way to get information about the enemy.

speaker    holistic
Definition: Concerned with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts.
Context: While the Westerner seals the world into watertight compartments, the Easterner takes a more holistic view.

speaker    philosophy
Definition: The body of knowledge and values held by a culture; ethics.
Context: Chinese philosophy comes from watching nature.

speaker    totality
Definition: Sum; whole.
Context: What perhaps distinguishes Sun Tzu is the way that he views conflict as a totality.

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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: 9-12
Subject area: literature
Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading a variety of literary texts.
Knows the defining characteristics of a variety of literary forms and genres.

Benchmark: Understands historical and cultural influences on literary works.

Benchmark: Understands the effects of complex literary devices and techniques on the overall quality of a work.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: civics
Understands the impact of significant political and nonpolitical developments on the Unites States and other nations.
Understands the principal effects that economic conditions, technological developments, and cultural developments in other nations have had on American society and the lives of American citizens.

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Beth Lemberger, social studies teacher, Owen Brown Middle School, Columbia, Maryland.

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