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The UNC Carolina Asia Center and Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies Outreach Programs

Along the Silk Road: A Journey of Global Exchange

Elementary Version

pdf version

Overview: In this lesson, students will learn about the Silk Road and compare it with global exchanges that are occurring today. Students will begin with an introduction to the meaning of a global exchange. Students will then watch a Ted Talk about the Silk Road, followed by a discussion about the ancient trading routes and the importance of Marco Polo. Students will simulate traveling along the Silk Road by going on a visual tour of key cities. For each “city,” students will map the trade routes and analyze artifacts as a class that range from ceramics to textiles. Students will discuss the importance of the cultural exchange that occurred along the Silk Road and how it is global exchange occurs in their community today.

Grades 2-3
NCSCOS Essential Standards 2.H.1.2 Identify contributions of historical figures (community, state, nation and world) through various genres.

2.H.1.3 Compare various interpretations of the same time period using evidence such as photographs and interviews.

2.E.1.4 Explain why people and countries around the world trade for goods and services

2.C.2.1 Explain how artistic expressions of diverse cultures contribute to the community (stories, art, music, food, etc.).

2.C.2.2 Recognize the key historical figures and events that are associated with various cultural traditions.

2.G.1.2 Interpret the meaning of symbols and the location of physical and human features on a map (cities, railroads, highways, countries, continents, oceans, etc.).

3.H.1.1 Explain key historical events that occurred in the local community and regions over time.

3.H.1.2 Analyze the impact of contributions made by diverse historical figures in local communities and regions over time.

3.H.1.3 Exemplify the ideas that were significant in the development of local communities and regions

3.H.2.1 Explain change over time through historical narratives (events, people and places).

3.G.1.1 Find absolute and relative locations of places within the local community and region.

3.G.1.4 Explain how the movement of goods, people and ideas impact the community

3.C.1.3 Use non-fiction texts to explore how cultures borrow and share from each other (foods, languages, rules, traditions and behaviors).

Learning Outcomes Students will be able to:

·         Locate key cities from along the Silk Road trading routes

·         Analyze artifacts from the Silk Road such as ceramics and drawings

·         Understand the movement of goods, people, and religious ideas

·         Identify diverse methods of cultural exchange in the modern world

Materials/Resources ·         Projector

·         Ted talk: :

·         Blank Map for students and teacher Map Key

·         City artifacts and descriptions

·         Marco Polo:

·         Ibn Battuta:

Time Required For Lesson 120 minutes


Opening Activity/Ted Talk

  1. Begin Lesson with a daily question: What can you do if you want to talk to someone in another country? What is a global exchange?
  2. Discuss this in circle (mat) time or have students write (or draw) the answer in their journals or piece of paper and then discuss out loud as a class.
  3. Emphasize how the global exchange occurs in multiple ways, usually due to technological advances. Give the example of skyping with a classroom in China or buying clothing items from Indonesia. We can fly to Egypt from the airport or use oil from Saudi Arabia to fuel our cars. Break the word global exchange down into explaining the meaning of global and exchange. Draw a picture to help students understand this concept (world + arrows).
  4. Explain the elements of culture. Culture is the sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another. Culture is transmitted, through language, material objects, ritual, institutions, and art, from one generation to the next. Then, ask students what happens when one culture meets with another culture. Do they mix together? Do they fight each another? Can your students give an example?
  5. Emphasize that cultures borrow from each other when they come in contact with one another. They can produce something new or help each other advance. Give the example of Bhangra dance, an Indian dance that combining Indian folk traditions with Western pop music.
  6. Transition: Tell students that global exchange has been happening for hundreds of years. Test students’ prior knowledge by asking if anyone know what the Silk Road is. Tell them they will watch a quick video about one of the first global exchanges.
  7. This Ted Talk may be a little advanced, but is a really great introduction to the Silk Road. Rather than watching the entire thing (some hard vocabulary), you can have them watch the following snips, and paus to summarize each clip in between (0.00-0.45, 2:33-3:12, 4:20-end). Ask them if they have any questions about what they watched.
  8. Ask students: What was the Silk Road? Emphasize that it was not just one road, but a network of roads and expanded trade that occurred in the region over time. Other questions you can ask include:
    • Where did the Silk Road begin? Where did it end?
    • What was one thing that was traded?
    • Why do people trade goods and services?

Emphasize: Eastern and Western routes gradually combined to span across Eurasia. People trade goods and services because it helps advance their own civilization. There were many famous travelers along this road that helped map the route.


Marco Polo Activity

  1. There was one famous European who traveled the Silk Road. He is now known all around the world as the traveler who went across Eurasia. Ask if anyone knows what his name was?
  2. Describe Marco Polo. Explain that Marco Polo was a man from Venice who traveled along the Silk Road, working for a Mongolian nomad called Kublai Khan. He traveled from present-day Israel all the way to present-day Beijing, China on missions for Kublai Khan. When he later came back to Venice, Marco wrote a book called “The Travels of Marco Polo” that was widely popular in Europe. Even though a lot of people did not believe him (they called it the “One Million Lies”), it increased Europe’s curiosity about other cultures, which led to exploration to find other routes to China.
  3. Optional: Read a book from your local library about Marco Polo.
  4. Transition: Tell them that today they are going to travel the Silk Road through visiting stations that represent cities along the silk road like Marco Polo did. They will be acting as travelers who are examining the global exchange of goods. Students will be mapping the Silk Road while answering questions.


Mapping the Silk Road Activity

  1. Pass out the blank maps to your students. They cities students will travel to are:
    • Samarkand    Bursa
    • Khotan    Aleppo
    • Dunhuang    Isfahan
    • Quanzhou    Mosul
    • Nara    Jeddah and Mecca (combined into one station)

Note: if it is too challenging to cover this number of cities, choose a handful.

  1. Go over terms appropriate for your grade level (reading a map, absolute location, relative location, symbols, etc.)
  2. The teacher will serve as the “tour guide” in this activity. Visit each city together as a class by projecting the objects for everyone to see. One by one, project the city artifacts, read the descriptions to your students, and discuss the questions out loud as a class. Explain that the first city is their first stop along the Silk Road. Help students find each city (designated with a star) and note it on their map. Ask students to connect the various cities with lines to illustrate the trading routes. Port cities can be connected by sea.

If it is possible you might set up stations that students can “travel” to in groups around the room. At each station, they can look at the objects and read the description themselves.

  1. Aim to have 8 minutes for each city; 2 minutes for transition time
  2. Choose an artifact for students to draw on a separate sheet of paper, or ask students to come up with their own artifact to draw. Ask them to write what city their artifact is from.
  3. After you have visited all of the cities, discussion as a class:
    • How did the movement of goods, people, and ideas impact each city?
    • How did it impact the world?
    • Why do people and countries around the world exchange goods?
    • What was the contribution of travelers, like Marco Polo, on his community?

Emphasize: Cultural exchange led to a change in artistic expression in the cities along the trade routes. The Silk Road impacted the world by advancing civilizations and causing an age of exploration that led to the exploration of the Americas. Religions and ideas spread along the trading routes. People and countries around the world exchange goods to enhance their own civilization by sharing ideas. Travelers like Marco Polo caused increased curiosity in settlements for other cultures and cultural items. Ibn Battuta, a Moroccan traveler, visited places along the Middle East, China and India. He was ordered to write down his travels by the Sultan of Morocco.


Connecting global trade to North Carolina

  1. Ask your students the following:
    • Today, how do the exchange of goods, people and ideas affect North Carolina?
    • What are some examples of global exchange today?

Emphasize: North Carolina exports and imports goods from all around the world. The first textile mill was in Lincoln County and one of the primary export destinations for NC textiles is Honduras. North Carolina exports furniture to Saudi Arabia and agricultural products to China.

  1. Close the lesson by sharing that global exchange is really important. The impact of trade routes that started in ancient times is still all around us today


Lesson Plan with Artifacts