China From the Inside

Power and the People
Women of the Country
Shifting Nature
Freedom and Justice
Interactive Map
China-U.S. Quiz
About the Series
Behind the Scenes
For Educators
- Overview
- Globalization Lesson
- Environment Lesson
- Resources

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For Educators

Lesson Plan 2: Environment & Development

In the Media Literacy on Environment & Development classroom activity, students will view a film clip from China from the Inside, Episode 3: Shifting Nature focusing on the Three Gorges Dam controversy, the gigantic hydroelectric project which is under construction on the Upper Yangtze River.

Students will be addressing the following issues:

  • How is the controversy surrounding this gigantic hydroelectric project represented in the series?
  • What are the issues in terms of the impact on the ecology and environment in the region?
  • How are different voices and interest groups articulated in the segment?
  • How do the wide range of resources on this controversy support or contradict the arguments expressed in the episode?

Learning Objectives

Students will:
1). Develop media literacy skills by analyzing information from a variety of media sources
2). Strengthen critical thinking skills by identifying and evaluating differing viewpoints
3). Gain a deeper understanding of the complex issues of development and the environment

Class: (discipline, grade ranges): Biology and Environmental Science; World History, Grade 10; Economics, Grade 12; post-secondary economics, China studies, modern history, and political science classes.

Subject Matter:
This selection from China from the Inside may be used for enrichment lesson plans in understanding environmental challenges in modern world history and in cultural studies.

Time: Two class periods

Materials: (Handouts included, see below)

Episode 3: Shifting Nature film clip of the Three Gorges Dam (38:29-50:09)
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China is a crucial area of study for issues on the environment and development in the Twenty-first century. The tremendous changes taking place in China today will have an impact on the environmental future of the entire world -- not only through issues of global warming but through the development of possible models for ecologically sound economic enterprises. China from the Inside allows us to view the macro-economic issues, the policies that are driving Chinese development, and the micro-level, the impact on the villages and individual families. The challenges of economic development for the environment are complex and profound. It is clear that China will not be able to follow the same path of industrialization, with massive use of fossil fuels to power industry and transportation, as the west has done. Not only would this produce unbearable stress on the environment, it would be impossible because of limited oil and coal reserves for such a path to development.

By examining development in China as well as the impact of Chinese economic changes on the US (through trade, immigration, etc.), students will achieve a greater understanding of the challenges within environmental planning in the Twenty-first century.

Essential Questions:
What can we learn about the challenges of environmental planning for the Twenty-first century from the experience of China?
How do the developments in China reflect the rest of the developing world?
How do they impact US environment and society?

1. View the China from the Inside film clip on the Three Gorges Dam from Episode 3: Shifting Nature. (38:29-50:09) Play the film clip through twice.
NOTE: timing is approximate and based on the home video version.

2. Encourage students to visit the Water Issues Map on the website to research information on China's rivers.
  • Direct them to the map which illustrates the impact of the Three Gorges Dam in order to locate and begin to explore the environmental and social consequences of this huge development.

3. Divide students into small groups and assign each group a different issue or aspect to research on the Three Gorges Dam.
  • Have each group read the CNN Summary Article and Online Articles on Environment & Development (PDF).
  • Students should also visit the China from the Insidewebsite and identify further sources on the Internet where necessary. The intention is for students to get inside the issues at stake in this region of China.
  • Have students identify the arguments and issues of the Three Gorges Dam project.

Suggested lines of inquiry:

  • The history of the project
  • Ecological issues
  • Social concerns, such as resettlement
  • Human rights arguments
  • Economic benefits
  • Environmental issues
  • Political debates
Alternatively suggest each group approaches the research from the perspective of an interest group.

Suggested interest groups:

  • Project engineers
  • Local people/Farmers
  • Chinese media
  • Environmentalists
  • Government officials
  • Human rights groups
  • International critics

4. Invite each group to present their findings to the wider group, sharing factual data as well as key arguments and perspectives.

5. Discuss the representation of the controversy through the voices articulated in the film clip, focusing on the narrative voice in particular by asking:
  • Does the episode construct a viewpoint through these narrative devices?
  • Is the documentary balanced, pro-Chinese or evaluating the controversy through Western eyes? Is it trying to be even-handed?
  • Play the segment slowly and ask students to watch very carefully and respond to these questions, citing evidence to support their view.

6. To gain perspective on the representation of this controversy, invite students to compare the Three Gorges Dam project with other famous engineering projects.

7. To contrast the representation of engineering projects in developing countries with similar developments in the Western world, The Hoover Dam project of 1930s offers a useful counterpoint

8. Classroom Extensions:

  • Suggest that students produce either a short radio news report on the controversy or write a newspaper editorial, offering their assessment and summary of the issues. They should provide pros and cons in their piece, but may exercise editorial control when they conclude the analysis and argue a view.

  • Explore China's vast environment by visiting the interactive Sound Map featuring over 20 hot spots where students can see photos and listen to a variety of audio recordings from across China. Transport through village street soundscapes, monks chanting, schoolgirls singing, prayer flags snapping in the wind, boisterous construction on the Olympic stadium in Beijing and more.

  • Have students investigate China's Top Seven Water Issues by visiting the Water Issues Map. This interactive map illustrates the most pressing water-related problems in China including industrial pollution, depleted ground water, and the encroachment of desert.

Author credits:

Lesson Plan writer, Rick Ayers is a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley and adjunct professor of Curriculum and Instruction at University of San Francisco. A teacher for eleven years in English and History at Berkeley High School, Ayers is a co-founder of Communication Arts and Sciences small school. He is co-author of Great Books for High School Kids: A Teacher's Guide to Books That Can Change Teens' Lives (2004) and author of Studs Terkel's Working, a Teaching Guide (2000).

Media Literacy Project Supervisor and Curriculum Developer, Maxine Einhorn is a credentialed teacher and has worked as a tenured instructor and department manager in Colleges in London, UK, for over twenty years. She has a BA in History from the University of Sussex and an MA in Film and TV for Education from University of London, and has taught film studies, communications and media literacy. She has worked as a researcher on independent film productions in London and San Francisco and currently supervises the Media Literacy Project at KQED's Education Network.

Researcher, Nina Kung is a teacher of English Language Development (ELD) at Yerba Buena High School in San Jose, California. She has taught ELD, Mandarin, and English for five years in public high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her K-12 teaching credentials include the California Professional Clear Single Subject Teaching Credential in Mandarin with Subject Matter Authorization in English and a Bilingual, Cross-Cultural, Language and Academic Development Certificate. Her M.A. is in English with an emphasis in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. As a member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education, she works to facilitate global awareness, cross-cultural understanding, and equity. She is also interested in educational reforms.

Editor – Alison Lee Satake, Program Coordinator, Education Network, KQED San Francisco

Supervising Editor – Elaine Shen, Project Manager, Education Network, KQED San Francisco

PDF File Format
These China from the Inside lessons and other materials are available as printer-friendly PDFs (Portable Document Format). To download and view the lesson plans as a PDF, you may first have to get Adobe Acrobat Reader, available for free on Adobe's Web site. The Reader is available for most computer platforms, and once downloaded the lessons may be viewed on-screen as well as printed out. Get Acrobat Reader software (at

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