Lesson One: Introduction to the Korean War

By: Brett Conway

Brett Conway

Education Collaborator

Brett Conway is currently a pre-service teacher at Concordia University of Edmonton. He has a M.A.s in English Literature and Asian Studies from the University of Ottawa and Sejong University, South Korea. He has taught at post-secondary schools in South Korea, Ontario, and Albera. He has published on a variety of topics including trauma, gender identity, and post-modernism.

Suggested Subject Areas

Social Studies

Grade Level

Grades 11-12


75 minutes

Learning Goals
Guiding Question

What is the story Canada tells itself of its role in the Korean War?

Assessment Plan

Performance-based task with exit slip.

Anticipated Challenges

Depending on the pre-existing narratives that students are bringing into the classroom, they might struggle to look at the Korean War from multiple perspectives, outside the lens of a single story.  They may need prompting to talk about the standpoints of the USA, Japan, North Korea, Russia (USSR), and China as well as South Korea.  As the unit develops— with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a scaffold for much of the material—the importance of hearing these voices from beyond simply a Canadian context will be clear.

Cognitive processes from Bloom’s Taxonomy are referred to throughout the lesson (remember, understand, apply) in order to help keep the end of the lesson in mind, thereby ensuring learning takes place and not just performance of learning. This unit is adaptable to elementary and secondary students with different processes for each (know, understand, apply for elementary; evaluate, analyze for secondary).  Please refer to Anderson et al. (cited below in the Additional Resources section), pages 12-23 for a deeper explanation.

Suggestions for what the teacher might say throughout the lesson are included below. Teachers are welcome to adapt these for their particular context and to enhance their specific students’ experience.

Student Supports

Students are welcome to use the written word as well as images, pictures, etc., to show their reactions to the Korean War and their understanding of single stories.  Some students may have family who experienced the Korean War either through family members living in Korea or as Canadian, American, Chinese, Korean, etc., combatants.  Those students may recount details and perspectives specific to the family experience in question. The teacher should support students in engaging thoughtfully with these histories and experiences, and ensure that emotional support is provided for students who may be especially impacted by these conversations.

Lesson Outline 

Introduction (approx. 5 minutes)

Write each of the 5W categories—who, what, when, where, why—on the board or on pieces of chart paper with space around them to add information from students.

Asks the students to reflect independently on what already know about the Korean War. If it would be helpful in your classroom setting, students can also turn and talk with a neighbour as well.

Have students share their pre-existing knowledge aloud, and categorize—potentially with their help, depending on the group—with of the 5Ws it would fall under. This will create a map of their existing knowledge as a starting point.

If there are many different perspectives about the Korean War that begin to be shared, the teacher should be prepared for managing a conversation about how many narratives exist about the same events.

If the classroom environment is one where it would potentially be culturally unsafe to do this exercise out loud due to students sharing inappropriate or harmful answers, students could independently fill out 5W graphic organizers for the teacher to pick up and review. Then the teacher could share out accurate information aloud or via the same map type of 5W map on the board.

Teacher Guided Learning (approx. 30 minutes)

Show students the following video (2:17 minutes) about the Korean War.

Facilitate a class discussion about the content of the video. What did students learn from it about the Korean War? What information and perspectives did it share? What information and perspectives are missing? What do they still not know or understand? The teacher can use the 5Ws (+ the question of “how” as well) in prompting students.

Independently or in small groups, students can explore the “Heroes Remember: Korean War” video gallery from Veterans Affairs Canada. They can either look at many videos, or can select or be assigned to one in particular—whatever works best for the classroom. Please note some of these videos discuss difficult or violent elements of being at war.

While students watch, they should takes notes to fill in the gaps in their knowledge about the Korean War (again, using the 5Ws + How might be a helpful framework here).

Student Practice

Ask students to briefly summarize to the rest of the class what key learnings they took from the videos.

As a group, discuss whose perspectives are most represented in these videos and whose perspectives are missing.

Ask students if they’ve previously watched the video “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Some may have before, and that’s okay—this will be a reminder for those students. Ask students to think about what a “single story” is while they watch, and to consider how this might complicate our narratives of how we understand not just the present but also the past—like the Korean War.

Watch “The Danger of a Single Story”:

Either in small groups they’ve had earlier in the lesson or as a whole class, discuss what a “single story” is. What does it mean to hold a single story? The teacher can write answers on the board.

Ask students to return to their notes—or even the videos, if they have time—about the Korean War. Whose stories are missing from the narratives here? What other stories and perspectives might be important to include in a more thorough understanding of the Korean War? What stories do they need to interact with to make sure their knowledge of the Korean War is not limited?

If there’s time and if the conversation flows in this direction, the teacher can also ask about why single stories or more narrow perspectives of events might dominate how we teach history. Why might this happen? How can we resist it?

Exit Slip (approx. 5 minutes)

Either on paper or via Google Form, ask students to write one perspective or story they feel is still missing from their knowledge about the Korean War, or from Canada’s telling of the story of the Korean War more broadly. What questions do they still have, based on that missing perspective? What do they want to know more about?

Additional Resources

Korean War

Cumings, Bruce. The Korean War: A History.  New York: Modern Library, 2011.

Cumings, Bruce. Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History. New York: Norton, 2005.

Martin, Bradley K. Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2006.

Lankov, Andrei. The Dawn of Modern Korea: The Transformation in Life and Cityscape. Seoul: Eunhaeng NaMu, 2007.

Brazinsky, Gregg. Nation Building in South Korea: Koreans, Americans, and the Making of a Democracy. Chapel Hill: U. of North Carolina P., 2007.

Ch’oe, Youngcho, et. al. Sources of Korean Tradition. Volume Two: From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries. New York: Columbia U.P., 2000.

Kirk, Donald, and Choe Sang Hun. Korea Witness: 135 Years of War, Crisis and News in the Land of the Morning Calm. Seoul: Eunhaeng Namu, 2006.

Myers, B. R., The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters.  New York: Melville Press, 2010.

Trauma Informed Practice

Herman, Judith.  Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror.  New York: Basic Books, 1992.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Anderson, Lorin W. and David R. Krathwohl, editors. A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.  New York: Longman, 2001.