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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

Middle/High School 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 and a review of civilizations. Students will then watch a TedEd Talk about the Silk Road, followed by a discussion about the ancient trading routes and the importance of global travelers like Ibn Battuta. After watching the video, students will then simulate traveling along the Silk Road by visiting stations that represent key cities. At each “city,” students will map the route and analyze artifacts that range from photographs to non-fiction accounts. To conclude the activity, students will discuss the importance of the cultural exchange that occurred along the Silk Road and how global exchange continues to occur in their communities today.

Grades 6th; World History
NCSCOS Essential Standards ·   6.H.2.2 Compare historical and contemporary events and issues to understand continuity and change.

·   6.H.2.3 Explain how innovation and/or technology transformed civilizations, societies and regions over time (e.g., agricultural technology, weaponry, transportation and communication).

·   6.G.1.2 Explain the factors that influenced the movement of people, goods and ideas and the effects of that movement on societies and regions over time (e.g., scarcity of resources, conquests, desire for wealth, disease and trade).

·   6.G.2.1 Use maps, charts, graphs, geographic data and available technology tools to draw conclusions about the emergence, expansion and decline of civilizations, societies and regions.

·   6.E.1 Understand how the physical environment and human interaction affected the economic activities of various civilizations, societies and regions.

·   6.E.1.1 Explain how conflict, compromise and negotiation over the availability of resources (i.e. natural, human and capital) impacted the economic development of various civilizations, societies and regions (e.g., competition for scarce resources, unequal distribution of wealth and the emergence of powerful trading networks).

·   6.E.1.2 Explain how quality of life is impacted by economic choices of civilizations, societies and regions.

·   6.C.1.1 Analyze how cultural expressions reflected the values of civilizations, societies and regions (e.g., oral traditions, art, dance, music, literature, and architecture).

·   WH.H.1. 2 Use Historical Comprehension to: 1. Reconstruct the literal meaning of a historical passage 2. Differentiate between historical facts and historical interpretations 3. Analyze data in historical maps 4. Analyze visual, literary and musical sources

·   WH.H.1. 4 Use Historical Research to: 1. Formulate historical questions 2. Obtain historical data from a variety of sources 3. Support interpretations with historical evidence 4. Construct analytical essays using historical evidence to support arguments.

·   WH.H.2.5 Analyze the development and growth of major Eastern and Western religions (e.g., Including but not limited to Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Shintoism, etc.).

·   WH.H.2.6 Analyze the interaction between the Islamic world and Europe and Asia in terms of increased trade, enhanced technology innovation, and an impact on scientific thought and the arts.

·   WH.H.2.7 Analyze the relationship between trade routes and the development and decline of major empires (e.g. Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Greece, Rome, China, Mughal, Mongol, Mesoamerica, Inca, etc.).

·   WH.H.2.9 Evaluate the achievements of ancient civilizations in terms of their enduring cultural impact.

WH.H.4.4 Analyze the effects of increased global trade on the interactions between nations in Europe, Southwest Asia, the Americas and Africa (e.g., exploration, mercantilism, inflation, rise of capitalism, etc.).

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 photographs and eye witness accounts.

·         Identify the influence of technological innovation and various empires during the time of the Silk Road trading routes.

·         Understand artistic expressions of different communities, as well as movement of goods, people and religious ideas.

·         Identify the lasting impact of the Silk Road civilizations today in the modern world.

Materials/Resources ·         TedEd Talk: :

·         Marco Polo:

·         Ibn Battuta:

·         Attached artifacts and station worksheets

Time Required For Lesson 120 minutes (recommended two class periods)


Opening Activity/Ted Talk

  1. Begin lesson with a daily question: Is there anything you shop for in the United States, but is made in another country? Name one way we are interconnected with another country in trade. What is a global exchange?
  2. Ask students to answer the daily question by writing the answer in their journals or on a piece of paper, then discuss out loud as a class.
  3. Emphasize that 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. Ask students to name people, goods and ideas throughout history that have moved from one place to another. Can they think of how this happened with a religion?
  4. Transition: Point out to students (using their examples) that global exchange has been happening for hundreds of years. Test students’ prior knowledge by asking if anyone knows what the Silk Road is.
  • Optional for AP students: Name a few of the empires along the Silk Road that you might have already studied (Mongols, Mughal, Ottoman, Ming, etc).
  1. Tell students that they will watch a 5-minute video about one of the first global exchanges.
  2. Watch the entire TedEd Talk. Ask students if they have any questions about what they watched.
  3. To ensure comprehension, ask students to summarize the main points of the video: 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?
    • How did nomads contribute to the growing networks of trading routes?
    • How was the quality of life in China changed as goods were traded?
    • How did conflict, compromise and negotiation over the availability of resources impact the economic development of civilizations (i.e. creation of powerful trading networks, transmission of weapons technology, etc.)?
    • 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.


Ibn Battuta Activity

  1. There was a famous Muslim in the 14th century who traveled the Silk Road. He is now known all around the world as the traveler who explored Asia, Africa, and Europe. Ask the class if anyone knows what his name was.
  2. Describe Ibn Battuta. Explain that Ibn Battuta was a Moroccan Muslim explorer who started his travels around 1325. He embarked on his travels in order to go on Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. He visited the equivalent of 44 modern countries and covered about 75,000 miles. During his adventures, he was attacked by bandits, nearly beheaded by a tyrant ruler, had a few marriages, almost drowned in a sinking ship, and more. He observed differences in customs, religions, and urban and nomadic life. The ruler of Morocco asked Ibn Battuta to dictate the story of his travels to a writer. Ibn Battuta dictated his story to a scribe, who wrote the account in a classical narrative style, published as The Rihla (Journey).
  • Optional: The Office of Resources for International Affairs and Area Studies at UC Berkeley has created a website/timeline of Ibn Battuta’s journey: Ask students to read through this Virtual Tour and answer comprehension questions such as those below.
    • What was Ibn Battuta’s reason for embarking on his travels?
    • What did he hope to accomplish? Did he accomplish it?
    • What are three things that he learned during his journey?
    • Where did he travel? Why?
    • Who did he meet along the journey?
    • Were there any challenges on the journey?
    • What are three facts that stand out to you about Ibn Battuta’s travels?
  1. Transition: Tell students that they are going to travel the Silk Road by visiting stations that represent cities along the Silk Road like Ibn Battuta did. They will be acting as travelers who are examining the global exchange of goods. Students will map the Silk Road while answering questions.


Mapping the Silk Road Activity

  1. Pass out the blank maps and divide students into 7 or so groups (3-4 people per group). Assign each group one city to begin with. They cities students will travel to are:
    • Samarkand    Bursa
    • Khotan    Aleppo
    • Dunhuang    Baghdad
    • Quanzhou    Isfahan
    • Nara    Alexandria
  2. Go over terms appropriate for your grade level. Ask students what would it look like if a society was expanding on a map? What would it look like if a civilization was in decline?
  3. Have each student group go to their first city station. Explain that this first station is their first stop along the Silk Road. First, they will find the city on the map and put a star on their map for the city’s location. Then, they will then look at the objects and pictures at the station and answer the corresponding questions on their worksheets for each city.
  4. Give students 8 minutes for each station; 2 minutes for transition time. Have students rotate cities in a clockwise fashion.
  5. After the students have completed all of the stations, discuss as a class:
    • How did the movement of goods, people, and ideas impact each city, specifically in terms of innovation, technology, religion and culture? What were the factors that influenced this movement?
    • How did it impact the entire Silk Road region?
    • How did the cultural expressions of each artifact reflect the values of each city and corresponding civilization?
    • How did Buddhism and other major religions develop during this time period? How did trade affect this?
    • What was the contribution of travelers, like Ibn Battuta to their communities? Ask what other travelers that they learned along the Silk Road were noteworthy and why. For example, what role did Marco Polo play when he went to these cities? What was he doing in the readings you read?

Emphasize: Cultural exchange led to a change in artistic expression in places like Samarkand. Samarkand was an example of a cultural exchange between Chinese, Turks and the Samarkand royalty. The Silk Road impacted the world by advancing civilizations and causing an age of exploration that led to the exploration of the Americas. People and countries around the world exchange goods to enhance their own civilization by sharing ideas, including religious beliefs. Travelers like Marco Polo caused increased curiosity in settlements within 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 ruler of Morocco.


Connecting global trade to North Carolina

  1. Ask your students the following:
    • Today, how have the achievements of the Silk Road ancient civilizations affected our modern world in terms of enduring cultural impact?
    • What are some examples of global exchange today? What are the effects of increased global trade on the interactions between nations? For example, think of the rise of capitalism.
    • Compare and contrast the continuation and change in trading in Constantinople and present-day Istanbul.

Emphasize: The spread of religion has dominated lifestyles in many of these modern-day countries (i.e. Buddhism in Japan). The tradition of advanced technology can still be seen today in both Asian and Middle Eastern countries (i.e. Aswan Dam in Egypt; India as the third most attractive investment destinations for technology transactions in the world). The cultural remains of the Silk Road have been a priority to preserve (i.e. architecture in Iran) as has been the trading routes (i.e. China’s new Silk Road initiative).

  1. Close the lesson by restating that global exchange is really important. The impacts of trade routes that started in ancient civilizations can still be felt all around us today.

Homework Assignment

  1. Students will research their own historical city along the Silk Road that was not covered in the mapping activity. Ask students to:
    • Map where this historical city is on a map (either the one they used in class or other).
    • Present one artifact that they “found” there during their travels and write 2-3 sentences on how it relates to the cultural exchange.
    • Research a modern city close to their historical city and write 2-3 sentences about it including its name, country, what countries it trades goods with or what materials it produces, and a fun fact.
  2. Give students examples of cities along the Silk Road to research such as: Xi’an, Pishan, Miran, Almaty, Kashgar, Bukhara, Yazd, Muscat, Zanzibar, Ephesus, Damascus, etc.


Lesson Plan with Artifacts and Maps