Learning to Look at Chinese Cities

Grades K-5 Geography, History, Science/Technology, Society Lesson or Unit Plan
  • Hutong, Beijing , China

In this lesson students will compare photos of different urban areas in China, paying special attention to architecture, transportation, public spaces, and historical development. Students will walk away from the lesson with a more nuanced concept of urban planning and will be able to recognize the fundamental similarities and differences Chinese and American cities.

Title: Learning to Look at Chinese Cities
Author: Helen Barry
Subject Area: Social Studies, History
Grade Level: 2-5
Time Required: Four 40-minute class sessions
Standards: Reading – Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.7: Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).

Speaking and Listening – Comprehension and Collaboration

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Keywords / Vocabulary: city, urban, building, architectureBeijing, Shanghai, Nanjing
Essential Question(s): 1. What are the most recognizable visual elements of city life in China?
2. How may things change over time?
3. What things do we notice that make up a city (urban environment)?
4. How is what we are seeing the same or different from where we live?
Learning Objectives/Goals/Aims: The objective is for students to gain an increased understanding that Chinese cities/urban environments are complex, and contain a variety of building types and public spaces with different functions, and construction periods.
Introduction: Students will be given sets of photos in pairs or groups. They will sort them and describe what they see, and how they grouped the photos.There are many different possibilities for images to include, but some sets that the teacher might create are images of:

The Forbidden City / hutongs
Modern Shanghai / historic Shanghai

Modern Chinese signage / Forbidden City or temple painted details

Bikes / Cars
Mopeds /Pedicabs
Gondolas / Shanghai river boats

Park in Beijing / Historic Summer Palace Setting
Tianamen Square / Enclosed Courtyard
Axial Streets or Paths / Curved, enclosed environments

Procedure/Pedagogical Technique/Instructional Strategy:  Inquiry/Discussion: Students will sort, discuss and look at the images at their tables. They answer questions verbally, or on paper.

English language learners can draw, label, or describe photos using simple vocabulary such as house, building, bike etc.

After the students look at the photographs and discuss, the teacher may follow up with a short lesson on one theme or set of photographs, describing what the students have looked at and providing them with specific information (date of construction, importance, etc.), elaborating on the ideas that the students have come up with during their inquiry and discussion.

Discussion Points/ GroupInteraction: 1. What do you notice in each image?
2. What do you notice is similar or different?
3. Why do you think things might be different?

Partnerships or groups will share their findings with the class or with other small groups in the class.

Assessment: Teacher will observe students as they work, and during the share to assess the students who may need further support.
Closure:  The teacher will question the students and have them share their findings for the lesson, and also have them share any further questions they may have for future sessions using the photo centers and their work on China.
Instructional Resources/ Materials: Photos for photograph study centers (may be laminated). A collection of photos for this lesson plan can be accessed on Pinterest via the following link:

Question cards or papers with suggested discussion points:

1. What do you notice in each image?
2. What do you notice is similar or different?
3. Why do you think things might be different?

Worksheet with table to jot notes about what is the “same” and what is “different” at the top.

Resource Type: Lesson Plan
Caterogy: Grades K-5 Geography, History, Science/Technology, Society Lesson or Unit Plan


Teach China Team

Teach China is a comprehensive professional development program offered by China Institute to provide a wealth of opportunities for K-12 educators to enhance their knowledge of China, past and present. We take an interdisciplinary approach consistent with national and state-mandated standards in order to help educators incorporate the teaching of China into all subjects and grade levels, including Mandarin language learning, the humanities, social studies, and the arts. Teach China promotes cross-cultural understanding through the use and creation of authentic materials, the presentation of balanced perspectives, and the fostering of enduring connections between educators around the world.