Filter +

Treasures Along the Silk Roads

Old tomb painting showing a merchant with horses and camels along the Silk Roads. Luotoucheng, Gansu Province, China; circa 221-317 C.E. Courtesy Gaotai County Museum.

Old tomb painting showing a merchant with horses and camels along the Silk Roads. Luotoucheng, Gansu Province, China; circa 221-317 C.E. Courtesy Gaotai County Museum.

Using slides of objects from the exhibition Monks and Merchants: Silk Road Treasures from Northwest China, Gansu and Ningxia, 4th to 7th Century, students will generate word maps that act as creative writing prompts.  The archaeological finds from western China act as entry points to introduce students to the rich cultural and artistic exchanges on the Silk Roads.  The students first encounter the artifacts through brainstorming through the teacher’s oral prompts.  The prompts are designed to encourage students to reflect on the cultures and history of the past through their own experiences and knowledge.  The resulting words or phrases are used to generate original writing samples.  The activity concludes with a discussion of these impressions, then returns to the artifacts’ historical, cultural, and artistic contexts.


•    Students will analyze slides of artifacts as cultural and social representations of the Silk Road civilizations
•    Students will utilize the writing process to create a word map and creative writing sample using standard written language conventions
•    Students will appreciate the creativity and craftsmanship of artifacts from ancient history as represented by the Monks and Merchants exhibition

Grade level:
Middle or high school students

Time required:

1 - 2 class periods


•    Monks and Merchants website with art images
•    pencils
•    unlined paper
•    Silk Roads map overhead


Students will generate a word map and creative writing sample from the images in the Monks and Merchants slide packet


1.  Introduce students to the Gansu and Ningxia (pronounced Gan-soo, Ning-shah) regions of China, showing them on a map where this area is located.  Explain that the slides depict artifacts found along the Silk Roads from a time span dating between the 2nd and 7th century CE.  Many of the items were excavated in tombs around the region.  The artifacts offer a view of life along the Silk Roads in these ancient times through pictures, models and sculptures.  Some pieces represent a confluence of cultures, religions, and artistic styles.  Consider the pieces as a collection of the treasure trove of artwork celebrating the exchanges across the Silk Roads.

2.  Hand out unlined paper and pencil to each student.  Explain to them that you will be showing a series of slides.  For each slide, you will ask them to jot down responses to a phrase or question.  The responses should not be made in a list -- spread them around the paper as a collage of words that can act as a story starter later.  Slides could be shown from a few seconds to a minute, it is important for students to write the first ideas that come to mind.  Impress on students that there are no “wrong” responses.  The word map will act as a writing tool for a story or poem later.  

3.   Show slides one by one.  For each slide read the prompts, allowing at least five seconds for each response.  Have students generate word maps as you read the prompts.  Do NOT read the descriptions of the artifacts to the students at this time.

4.  Ask students to use their word maps to generate a poem or short story based on one or more of the word prompts and the slides that were shown.  

5.  When students have completed writing, have them share the products with the class.

6.  Show students the slides one more time.  This time, read the descriptions of the artifacts to the students as they are presented.  You may choose to generate more imaginative responses from the students by using both the writing samples and the descriptions of the objects.  Highlight the importance of art as representations of life and culture, and how the diversity of artifacts indicate the movement of people and the exchange of goods and ideas on the Silk Roads.

Go to the next page for image descriptions, links, and extension exercises.