A map of Marco Polo's route to and from China.
In the 13th century, a young Venetian named Marco Polo set out with his father and uncle on a great adventure. Following a series of trade routes, they traveled across the vast continent of Asia and became the first Europeans to visit the Chinese capital (modern Beijing). Marco so impressed the reigning emperor of China, Kublai Khan, that he was appointed to the imperial court. For the next 17 years, Marco was sent on missions to many parts of Kublai's sprawling empire. The Polos finally returned to Venice via the sea route. Marco later wrote a book about his experiences, which inspired new generations of explorers to travel to the exotic lands of the East.
After completing this lesson, students will have
Read through the entire lesson plan and become familiar with the content and resources. Bookmark relevant websites for later reference.
This activity can serve as the culminating review lesson for the entire EDSITEment Marco Polo Curriculum Unit, or you may use it to complete your own series of lessons for 3rd through 5th graders that focus on Marco Polo's journey to China and back.
You might want to review with your students the highlights of Marco Polo's famous journey. You can visit an online slideshow of his travels by accessing sights and sounds available through Xpeditions. (note: this takes about 8 minutes to load and 9 minutes to run.)
Tell students that after Marco Polo returned to Italy, he found himself involved in a war fought between Venice and Genoa.
For more details about the long history of war between Venice and Genoa, visit The Four Genoa Wars, a website available via the EDSITEment-approved resource Labyrinth.
Marco Polo ended up in prison, and while there he described his many adventures abroad to a fellow-prisoner, novelist Rusticello. His vivid descriptions resulted in a book, commonly known as The Travels of Marco Polo, which became a bestseller and had a great impact upon the development and expansion of trade between Europe and the Far East. There were plenty of people who thought that Marco Polo's book was complete fantasy and devoid of fact. Marco Polo, however, swore on his deathbed that he did not even tell half of what he saw.
A century later, even Christopher Columbus was possibly inspired by Marco's book. His copy (with his notes written in the margin) can be seen today in a museum in Spain. You can read the details about Columbus' version (as well as questions regarding whether he read it before or after his first journey to the new world) by visiting Marco Polo's Voyage Home available through Xpeditions. Scroll down to the Did You Know? section for more detail.
Tell students that you are Rusticello and that they are the voice of Marco Polo. You are sharing a jail cell and are very, very bored. Tell them to pretend that they are telling you the story of their travels in order to relieve the boredom of imprisonment. Call upon students to:
If you have internet access for this class session, you can use EDSITEment's interactive Marco Polo's Journey to guide this discussion, supplementing each regional question with more of your own to be answered out loud by students. Or, you can have each student visit Marco Polo's Journey individually after completing the group activity as detailed above. Students can each test their knowledge of Marco Polo's journey by answering the questions. At the end, they will be confirmed as great explorers of Marco Polo's world!
Have students write an “entry” of Marco Polo's journey. They should pick one specific aspect of his journey to write about—examples could include details about the crossing of the Pamirs, the great help camels provided in crossing the deserts, or even the glory of Kublai Khan's palace. They should use the resources explored during the curriculum unit, as well as library and other reliable internet resources, to write their book “entry.” Essentially, the students are writing a report on a specific topic under the conceit of helping Marco finish his book. If possible, you could help them read the relevant section of Marco Polo's journey.
If your students completed all of the lessons in this curriculum unit, have them combine all of their assessments and written activities into an On the Road with Marco Polo portfolio to turn in for final evaluation. If they want, they can include their notes with this booklet as well so that they have a complete journal of their "journey" (although you will want to be clear about which parts are for assessment).
An interesting topic for student research would be to explore how trade between Europe and eastern Asia developed in the years following Marco Polo's famous trip. A good starting point can be found at Marco Polo's Voyage Home available through Xpeditions. Scroll down to Did You Know?
To read translated selections from Marco Polo's book, access the following links available through Labyrinth:
1-2 class periods