Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
A Message of Ancient Days

Building the Great Wall of China

Objective: Students research the reasons and costs of building the Great Wall in the Qin Dynasty, then, taking on the role of the first Emperor's advisers, debate the merits of such a large and expensive building project.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
4 hours over 2-3 days

Building Background:
Talk with students about some of the changes brought to China by the Qin Dynasty: standardization of written language, money, and measurement, as well changes in land ownership, creation of bureaucracy, and that major building project, the Great Wall. Ask students what they know about the Great Wall. Tell students they will conduct research to learn about the Wall and why and how it was built. Once they know, they will take on the role of the first emperor's advisor and argue either for or against building the Wall.

What To Do:

1. Organize students into research teams. Assign them the task of learning as much as they can about the building of the Great Wall: Why was it built? Who built it? How many workers and how long did it take? What resources did it demand in terms of money, materials, manpower, the support of the people?

2. Before sending students to begin their research, tell them that once the research is completed, each group will be assigned either a pro or con position on the Great Wall. They will then have to develop and deliver a verbal argument presenting that view as though they were advising the Emperor. Remind them that they will not know the position they will have to argue until the research is completed, so they must collect information to support either view.

3. Send students to the library to do their research. Possible sources include encyclopedias and atlases of world or Chinese history. The First Emperor of China, by Arthur Cotterell and The Great Wall: The Wonders of the World Book by Elizabeth Mann are two other possible sources.

The Great Wall

This site offers a virtual tour of the Great Wall and a map showing both the Qin and Ming Dynasty portions of the building of the Wall.

4. Once each group has completed their research, assign to each one either a pro or con position on the building of the Great Wall. Tell each group to prepare their argument as though they were advisors to the Emperor. Remind each group to give clear reasons and to provide supporting facts and details for each of their points.

5. Combine each pro group with a con group and give them time to present their arguments and debate each other. Before starting, set out rules for the debate that cover how long each side has to make both their initial statement/argument, and how to make an answering point to the other side's initial statement. Assign one student the job of time-keeper. Continue pairing groups until each group has had an opportunity to debate.

Ask the class as a whole to vote on whether they would have supported or opposed the construction of the Great Wall. Discuss the results. Why did the majority vote they way they did? Why did the minority vote the way they did?


Social Studies Center | Houghton Mifflin Social Studies | Unit Activities and Resources
Education Place | Site Index

Copyright © 1999 Houghton Mifflin Company. All Rights Reserved.