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Activity Overview

Ancient China Vocabulary

Starting a unit or lesson with the key vocabulary that students will see in their readings or presentations aids in overall comprehension and retention. Vocabulary is the foundation of language. Becoming acquainted with new terms, concepts and other unfamiliar ancient China vocabulary is crucial for students to have a thorough understanding of the unit. By studying, illustrating and using ancient Chinese words and their definitions students' will increase their understanding of Chinese culture, history, achievements, and geography. In this activity, students will create a storyboard that defines and illustrates vocabulary words related to the study of ancient China.

Students will preview the ancient China definitions and use whole class or small group discussion to demonstrate their understanding of each with this vocabulary builder activity on early China. Then, students will create a spider map of 3-5 terms (or more!) at the teacher's discretion. Each cell will contain a term related to ancient China, its definition, and an illustration that depicts the meaning. When students define and illustrate each term, they will master the application of it and retain it as part of their lexicon.

As an extension to this activity, teachers can have students create their own ancient China word search, crossword puzzle, or even ancient China interactive games! Additionally, check out our other ancient China lesson plans and ancient China activities, including an ancient China geography lesson. Teachers can create an ancient China vocabulary worksheets by copying one of our several worksheet templates.

The ancient China vocabulary words below are a sampling of important terms that students can use in their visual vocabulary spider maps. Students can define logograph and other vocabulary crucial to their understanding of ancient Chinese culture and achievements by creating a spider map that contains the term, its definition and an illustration. These can be printed out or displayed digitally and used as a helpful reference throughout the unit!

Ancient Chinese Words and their Definitions

  1. ancestor worship: honoring ancestors through rituals, such as offering food and wine to the dead

  2. anesthetic: something that takes away the feeling of pain

  3. bamboo: tall hollow stemmed grass that the Chinese used to make paper, buildings, furniture and musical instruments

  4. Buddhism: One of the three major religions in China, Buddhism originated in India, founded by Siddartha Gautama (Buddha) in northeastern India in the 5th century BC.

  5. calligraphy: the art of fine handwriting

  6. civil servant: a person who works for a government

  7. cocoon protective covering made by silkworms before they transform into moths the fibers of which are used to make silk

  8. compass: an instrument for determining direction

  9. Confucianism: based on the teachings of Kongfuxi (Confucius) a philosophy whose goal was to create a more just and peaceful society. Confucianism deeply influenced Chinese government and culture.

  10. dynasty: When the rule of a country is passed down to family members over a long period of time

  11. economy: system of managing the wealth of a country or region

  12. feudalism: a system of government based on landowners and tenants

  13. filial piety: a cornerstone of the ancient Chinese philosophies and religions of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, filial piety means the virtue of respect for one's parents, elders, and ancestors.

  14. Forbidden City: giant palace built in the center of Beijing city by the Yongle Emperor of the Ming Dynasty

  15. The Great Wall: 5,500 mile long wall built along the northern border of China to keep out invaders like the Mongols to the north

  16. Gunpowder: an invention by the ancient Chinese that was used in fireworks and weapons.

  17. immortal: able to live forever

  18. Legalism: founded by Hanfeizi (Han-fei-tzu), legalism was a philosophy that taught that people are naturally selfish and therefore need strict laws, rewards for good behavior and punishments for bad behavior to create a peaceful society

  19. lodestone: a type of iron ore that tends to align itself in a north-south direction because of Earth's magnetism

  20. logograph: a written character that represents a word

  21. maize: a type of corn

  22. Mandate of Heaven: a power or law believed to be granted by a god

  23. millet: a type of grain

  24. mutton: meat from sheep

  25. seismograph: an instrument for detecting earthquakes

  26. Silk Road: a trade route that ran from China to Europe and named after the Chinese export of silk.

  27. silt: fine particles of rock

  28. standardize: make the same

  29. Taoism or Daoism: philosophy founded by Laozi (Lao-tzu). The word Tao meaning "the Way", Taoism taught that people gained happiness and peace by living in harmony with nature

  30. The Three Perfections: the three most important art forms of ancient China: painting, poetry and calligraphy

  31. tributary: a stream that feeds into a larger river

  32. yang: one half of the Taoist concept of opposing forces of nature; the opposite of yin

  33. yin: one half of the Taoist concept of opposing forces of nature; the opposite of yang

Ancient China Vocabulary Activity

The vocabulary builder activity for early China below can be copied into your account and used with your students today! Remember every aspect of this activity can be customized to meet the needs of your students.

Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Activity", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)

Due Date:

Objective: To learn the meanings of words relating to our lesson you will preview the vocabulary and create a storyboard that demonstrates your understanding of different words.

Student Instructions:

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. In the title boxes, identify the key terms you have chosen.
  3. In the description boxes, write the definition of the term.
  4. Create an illustration for each term using appropriate scenes, characters, and items. To find images that relate to ancient China, type “China” into the search bar.
  5. Save and exit when you're done.

Requirements: Must have 3 terms, correct definitions and appropriate illustrations for each that demonstrate your understanding of the words.

Lesson Plan Reference


(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

Define and illustrate each of the key terms.
7 Points
4 Points
1 Points
The vocabulary words are correctly defined.
The meaning of the vocabulary words can be understood but it is somewhat unclear.
The vocabulary word is not clearly defined
The storyboard illustrations clearly depict the meaning of the vocabulary words.
The illustrations relate to the meaning of the vocabulary words but it they are difficult to understand.
The illustrations do not clearly relate to the meaning of the vocabulary words.
Evidence of Effort
Work is well written and carefully thought out.
Work shows some evidence of effort.
Work shows little evidence of any effort.

How to Differentiate Vocabulary Spider Maps


Give Students a List of Terms to Choose From

Before they begin their spider map, provide students with a list of vocabulary terms to choose from. This will save time when it comes to deciding which terminology to include.


Include the Terms in the Title Boxes

Some students will benefit from having the words already chosen for them. Teachers can include the words in the premade template, and the students will define and illustrate.


Include the Definitions in the Description Boxes

For students who struggle with reading, providing the definition and having them illustrate only is a great option. This allows them to show their understanding without in a visual manner.


Add More Cells

For those students who want or need an extra challenge, add a template with more cells! The more words they can define, the more they learn and retain.

Frequently Asked Questions about Ancient China Vocabulary

How does vocabulary affect comprehension?

When learning about new places, people and historical events in social studies, such as ancient China, students are bound to encounter many new and unfamiliar words. Learning new vocabulary is key to increasing reading comprehension. Students cannot understand what they are reading or learning about if they do not know what most of the words mean. Explicit instruction surrounding vocabulary is essential for developing a thorough understanding of new social studies concepts.

How can teachers help students with vocabulary acquisition?

Vocabulary development is a foundation for all subjects and especially important in social studies. Students acquire new vocabulary through exposure to the language from a range of reading materials, discussions and presentations. It is also beneficial to preview new terms and concepts that students will encounter and explicitly teach their definitions. Most students are visual learners and using visual vocabulary storyboards will help them retain the information for future applications.

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