Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

Lesson 3: On the Road with Marco Polo: From Hormuz to Kashgar


The Lesson


A map of Marco Polo's route to and from China.

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.

Guiding Questions

  • What route did Marco Polo follow from Hormuz to Kashgar?
  • What sorts of natural environments did he travel through?


Learning Objectives

At the completion of this lesson plan, students will be familiar with

  • China, Central Asia, and the Silk Road in the time of Marco Polo

Preparation Instructions

Read through the entire lesson plan and become familiar with the content and resources. Bookmark relevant websites for later reference.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. From Hormuz to Kashgar

Marco Polo and his father and uncle had traveled all the way from Venice to Hormuz, a port on the Persian Gulf. From here they had hoped to travel by ship to China. But they were so concerned about the seaworthiness of the ships they found there that they changed their plans and decided instead to follow a series of trade routes across Asia to China. They set out, traveling northeast through Persia until they entered Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a very rugged country. Find out about its geography by accessing the following website

Since very early times, most Afghans have been nomadic herders of cattle and camels. However, there are some craftsmen and merchants among them.

Guiding Questions for Discussion:
  • What difficulties might the Polos have encountered in traveling across the harsh terrain of Afghanistan?
  • What might the living conditions in this region have been like?
  • How did most of the local people make a living?

The Polos were now traveling along one of the main routes of the Silk Road. This network of trade routes had been used for centuries by merchants carrying products between China and the West.

A thin strip of Afghanistan protrudes eastward into China. This is where the Polos encountered a major challenge: the towering Pamir Mountains.

  • Access Elevation map of Afghanistan available through Ask Asia. Using your cursor, point out the strip of Afghanistan that extends eastward into China. You might also wish to indicate this area on the large world map in the classroom.
  • Access Topography of western Asia available through Asia Source. This is a graphic representation of the mountains of Central Asia. Explain that the darker shades of brown indicate mountains with the highest elevations, while white indicates a snowcap. This region has some of the world's tallest mountains. (Mt. Everest is nearby.) Point out the Pamirs.
  • You can view an image of the rugged peaks of the Pamirs by accessing Weekly wallpaper available through Xpeditions. Click on Panorama of the Pamirs; then click your monitor size to download the image; maximize the image on the screen. Notice the horses grazing in the valley in the foreground. Since ancient times, the Pamir region (which extends to the Ferghana valley to the north) has been famous for beautiful, long-legged horses. The Chinese acquired thousands of them for their imperial armies.
Guiding Questions for Discussion:
  • What is the terrain like in Afghanistan?
  • What are some of the challenges in traveling across Afghanistan and into China?

Once they made it across the Pamirs, the Polos arrived in Kashgar, an important trading center. This is where merchant caravans could acquire fresh pack animals, water, and food supplies. This bustling town must have been a welcome sight after the rigorous trek through the deserts and mountains!

Carefully study the photographs of modern Kashgar, still a trading center, at the following websites (available through Asia Source):

Guiding Questions for Discussion:
  • Why was Kashgar an important stop along the Silk Road?
  • What sorts of products could be obtained there?
  • What are some of the products sold in Kashgar today?


Instruct the students, working in pairs, to fill out the chart Marco Polo: From Hormuz to Kashgar in .pdf format. Then explain that Marco Polo was a very observant young man, who most likely kept a detailed diary of his travels. Have each student assume the role of Marco Polo and write an entry (or more) in his diary, describing the highlights of the journey from Hormuz to Kashgar.

The Basics

Time Required

1-2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Anthropology
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Europe
  • History and Social Studies > World > The Medieval World (500 CE-1500 CE)
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Asia
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Cultural analysis
  • Discussion
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Internet skills
  • Interpretation
  • Journal writing
  • Logical reasoning
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Map Skills
  • Visual analysis
  • Suzanne Art (AL)