Lesson Three: East Asia to 1950

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


150 minutes over two classes

Learning Goals
Guiding Question

What was the political context in East Asia leading up to the Korean War?

Assessment Plan

Performance-based task.

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. 15 minutes)

Display Article 26.2 of the UDHR to students either by projecting it or writing it on the board. A reminder that the article reads:

Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Ask students to reflect on what this article means based on their engagement with it during the previous lesson. Encourage them to turn and talk to a neighbour or to use software like Padlet or Jamboard to brainstorm ideas. Ask students to draw connections between Article 26.2 and how we teach about events like the Korean War. What might this article help us think about single stories? About expanding our perspectives and perceptions? Is there anything the students don’ t know—but would like to know—about the Korean War?

Teacher Guided Learning (approx. 30 minutes)

Let the students know that today’s lesson will be about developing an understanding of the context of East Asia leading up to the Korean War.

Using an interactive map like GeaCron, the teacher can project East Asia on the board or allow students to browse the site themselves. Using the option to toggle between dates, show the students changes in boundaries and countries from the early 1900s to 2022, focusing on Korea (North and South), Russia (USSR), Japan, and China.

Ask students to take note of what they observe about changes in the region. This is also a good time to note that Russia spans both Europe and Asia.

Invite students to share some of their learnings from the encyclopedia articles from the previous class. A reminder that these were:

Korean Canadians | The Canadian Encyclopedia

Japanese Canadians | The Canadian Encyclopedia

Chinese Canadians | The Canadian Encyclopedia

Russian Canadians | The Canadian Encyclopedia

Is there anything that stands out to them that is central to their growing understanding of the region? If there are students from the region in class, they might also want an opportunity to share lived experiences with their peers—so long as these aren’t explicitly harmful to others.

Invite students to spend time exploring the following resources. Since they are comprehensive, a jigsaw approach might work well here, where small groups of students each become “experts” about one of the articles and share their knowledge with the class.

Alternatively, the teacher could excerpt material from each source and have students read through those excerpts instead of the entire texts. Or, students could be free to explore on their own and come back with some of their key takeaways.

The class should come back together to discuss key takeaways about East Asia leading up to 1950, and the teacher should ensure the takeaways bring forward the realities of the many countries in the region.

Student Practice (approx. 100 minutes)

Students will need to work in groups for this task. They can be divided into five (5) groups, with each responsible for one of the five countries the class is learning about—China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, and Russia (USSR)—or into 10 smaller groups, with each country represented twice.

The teacher can select groups or let students choose their own, and the teacher can assign countries or allow groups to choose their preference.

If the teacher is assigning the countries, they should be mindful not to make assumptions about assigning countries to specific students based on their ethnicity (e.g. assigning China to a group just because there is a Chinese student in that group—that student may indeed want to work on a project about China, but they also might not). We encourage teachers to support student agency.

Student groups will be given a research page (included below), which they will fill out for the country they’re researching. The teacher should explain the terms on the page to make sure everything is clear before student groups get to work. This presentation could take the form of a slide deck presentation, but the teacher is welcome to invite other forms as well.

To ensure that each group member has a task, they will each select a topic from the research page to present about. Each group member is therefore responsible for researching and preparing the information and associated slides (or other presentation form) for the class, though group members should review each other’s work before presenting. In small groups (e.g. groups of two (2) students), each group member can work on two of the topics on the sheet.

The group as a whole should also include an introduction and conclusion in their presentation.

Once groups start working, they should begin their research with the resources provided in this lesson and the previous one. They should also focus on reliable sources, and consider whose perspective the source is representing.

The teacher should circulate and ensure they have seen each group before the end of the first period of this work, confirming that each group member has a topic (or two) and that students have been assigned to work on either the introduction or the conclusion. Student groups must fill out the outline section on the research page before proceeding with making their slides.

Depending on the class dynamic, the teacher might also require that students submit or show their slides to them before presenting to the class.

Student groups present to the class. While they present, other students can take note of their key takeaways from each presentation.

Research Page
Closure (approx. 15 minutes)

Ask students to either complete a Google Form or write their answers to the following questions (a modified KWL chart):

Students could also be asked to talk about countries assigned to other groups, like:

Additional Resources

Korean War

« Korean War ». The Canadian Encyclopedia.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

Johnston, William, A War of Patrols: Canadian Army Operations in Korea (2003)

Human Rights

Morsink, Johannes.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting & Intent. Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania P., 1999.

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.