My sophomores had to learn, and quickly, about Chinese history. The year’s winding down, and they need to know at least the basics for our next unit, on Tibetan protest and the 2008 Olympics.

I didn’t have the time or inclination to put together representative jigsaws, or make copies. What we did have: textbooks and index cards.

There was also a leftover transparency of that photo of a guy standing in front of the tanks at Tiananmen Square from an earlier period’s presentation. I used it as a set induction, and I asked my students to, without talking, write about all that they saw in the picture.

When we were done, we talked for a time about how this photo came to symbolize, in the minds of the West, how the PRC responds to protest, and how that’s different from American responses. Now that they were riled up and more-or-less interested, it was time to look at China’s side of the case.

On each of about 20 index cards, I wrote a page number in the upper right corner.

Each of these page numbers correlated with a page in their textbook that talks about the history of China. With a partner, they were required to write on their card what happened on their page, how Chinese people lived, how China viewed the West and how Chinese people viewed their government. Not all pages were able to answer all questions.

After 20 mins., they presented. In both classes, we didn’t finish, but we would have had more than enough time to do so had we cut down on the Tiananmen Square discussion.

Quick and dirty. More importantly, effective.


  1. Kathryn

    The index cards are a great technique. I use it with my adult classes also.

    Coincidentally, I’ve been recalling the pro-democracy demonstrations since the earth quake last week. The hunger strikers in Tiananmen Square were feeble after just three days, yet disaster victims survived much longer under worse conditions. I have to think nutrition for the general population is greatly improved since state control of the economy was relaxed.

  2. There are probably dozens of index card techniques, and I love them all.

    I inherited a whole stockpile of index cards from the office in preparation for summer school. Last time I estimated how many they were, I found I had enough to last until the Rapture.

  3. Janet27

    Super. It took almost a day to find this info. Thanks, great job. 🙂

  4. Thanks; I’m glad I could help.

    Be sure to talk about the Opium Wars — it’s key to understanding the PRC’s justification for West hate.

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