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The Rise of State Level Society in Ancient China  

by Ellen Marshall, Boston Public Schools
Last Updated: Jul 18, 2009 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Introduction Print Page


The Rise of State Level Society in Ancient China is a unit of study designed for students in grades four through seven.  Several of the lessons in the unit have separate reading assignments and slightly different activities for students in grades four and five than for students in grades six and seven.  The lessons are interactive and multi-modal.  Rubrics have been provided for individual assignments, small group presentations and larger group activities.  An authentic assessment and an end of the unit test are also included.  The lessons, as they have been designed, take roughly twenty-four sixty-minute class periods. 

This unit of study corresponds to the Massachusetts History and Curriculum Frameworks for grades four: "Optional Standards for China, C 3000-200 BC/BCE" 4.1 through 4.4.  It also corresponds to the Massachusetts History and Curriculum Frameworks for grade seven: "Human Origins in Africa through the Neolithic Age," 7.1 through 7.6. 


Unit Bibliography


Background Narrative

I like to begin the study of ancient state level societies with a cohesive, unifying system that applies to all people wherever they settled and prospered.  I want my students to be able to see similarities between developing state level societies.  I want my students to be able to see the differences that make each state level society unique.  I like to put the rise of state level society in context with the beginnings of life on this planet and the achievements of earlier Paleolithic man.  State level societies took a very long time to develop.  To ignore all the achievements that came before is “putting the cart before the horse”-- it just doesn’t make sense.  This unit reflects my desire to introduce state level societies in context and in a cohesive, unifying way. 

The unit is divided into four sections.  The first section describes the origins of life on earth through the Neolithic Age.  There is also a lesson on the “Six Characteristics of a State Level Society.”  This first section can function as a stand-alone unit or it may be used as an introduction to the rise of state level society in any culture.  The remaining three sections focus on the rise of state level society in China specifically.

The first section called In the Beginning, takes students on a journey back to the beginning of time.  It asks students to imagine how big a million is and then helps them see to that it took many millions of years for the world that we live in today to develop. Students become classroom archaeologists, experiencing the difficulties archaeologists encounter when they try to piece together the lives of ancient people from bits and pieces of ancient artifacts. Students also become the ancient people, working clay into a pinch pot shape that has been around for thousands of years.  Students read about early humans to learn what they looked like, how they lived, and how they progressed over time, first as nomadic hunter/gatherers and later as settled pastoralists and farmers.  They answer comprehension questions, lead class discussions, and paint prehistoric cave art on stones.  Students then take an in-depth look at what it means to be a civilized or a state level society.  Using a read aloud format, students start to identify six characteristics that mark the transition to a civilized state level society.  The students make posters of the six characteristics and they read about a brother and sister who lived as nomadic hunter/gatherers and a brother and sister who lived a more settled life as pastoralists and early farmers.

Section II called Maps of China, introduces students to the “Big Map” process and the geography of China.  Students also examine Chinese agriculture and livestock during the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods.

Section III called Chronological History of China, traces the history of China from the Neolithic cultures and the Xia to the Shang Dynasty.  Students build a replica of the village of Ban Po.  They listen to Chinese creation myths and read about the earliest Chinese people we know about.  They answer comprehension questions from their reading selections and do independent research on a Chinese myth.  Students see the video, “Ancient Civilization for Children: Ancient China.”  They hear a Chinese dragon story, see pictures of Chinese dragons, and make a Chinese Dragon Fan.  Students then learn about the Shang.  They see the beginning of the video, “Time Life’s Lost Civilization’s China, Dynasties of Power.”  They compare pictures of the houses, villages/cities, pottery/bronzes, and burial practices of the Shang and the people who lived in Ban Po.  Students then decide through the class discussion process if the Shang had achieved state level society.  Students engage in an authentic assessment activity that allows them to demonstrate their understanding of what it takes to be a state level society. 

Section IV called Culminating Activities, gives students an introduction to Chinese writing and has them translate an Oracle Bone text.  Students see examples of how the ancient Chinese wrote on silk and wooden slip books, they learn how to write numbers in Chinese, then they make their own “Chinese scrolls.”  Students make their own Chinese seals and use the seals to label their scrolls.  This section also includes an end of the unit multiple choice and short answer test.

 A unit of study should be fun to teach.  It should cover a topic that is important enough to spend precious class time on.  It should be clear in its goals, work toward achieving those goals, and hang together in a logical, sequential fashion.  A unit of study should also be user friendly. I have tried to meet these criteria while writing this unit.


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