North Korea

Teachers' Edition: Grades 9-12 (Lesson Plans)

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The United States, North Korea, and Northeast Asia (two 40-50 min. periods or one 90-min. block, plus approx. 10 min.)

This lesson could be used in a government/civics course, a U.S. history course, or a world history/ global studies course.  Grades 9-12 (the readings may pose greater challenges to the lower grades).

Standards correlation: Common Core Standards—Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12.  Grades 9-10:  1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8.  Grades 11-12:  1, 2, 3,4, 6, 7, 8, 9

Readings/resources:  Backgrounder on North Korea with reading guide; YouTube MSNBC interview (3:39) with Victor Cha regarding North Korean weapons test; video of North Korean grief over the death of Kim Jong-il (3 min., but 30-40 seconds are sufficient); 1-2 page perspectives on the U.S. (two), China, Japan, North Korea, and South Korea with reading guides; format sheet for presentations; note-taking guide for presentations


Knowledge of the history and nature of relations between the United States, North Korea, and other nations in northeast Asia

Understanding of the various and competing perspectives of nations regarding North Korea

Ability to recognize and evaluate competing national objectives and propose a realistic resolution

First Day:

For 10 minutes on day the backgrounder is assigned, survey students for prior knowledge. A map of Northeast Asia is essential for understanding the geographic factors.  Press individual students to explain where and how they developed their impressions and “knowledge” about North Korea. Alert them to an imminent deepening of their knowledge. Assign the backgrounder and reading guide for the next day.

Second Day:

Bell ringer:  YouTube video of North Koreans sobbing at news of the death of Kim Jong-il’s death followed by introductory questions:

  • How can you explain this outpouring of grief?
  • What might it tell us about North Korean society? (There are several    possible hypotheses.)
  • Show next video—MSNBC interview with Victor Cha.  Note to students that Cha served in the Bush administration a Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council beginning in December 2004.

  • How does Cha regard the development of nuclear weapons by North Korea?  What policy does he support?  How might his service in the Bush administration influence his position on North Korea?
  • What assumptions does he appear to entertain regarding North Korean national rights and the rights of action for the US?
  • Five-minute discussion of backgrounder questions


  • Explain to the class that they will be divided into six groups, corresponding to readings on the perspectives of the U.S. (two), China, Japan, North Korea, and South Korea. They will read these accounts and respond to reading guides specific to their groups. Introduce the essential questions that will inform their reading and responses.
  • Essential questions: What is the nature of the threat or threats generated by the conflicts involving the United States and the nations in northeast Asia? What policies flow from your answer?

  • Students will read their assigned perspectives, responding to the guides as they read, then move into their groups to compare responses. They may need to be reminded to include specific evidence from the reading.
  • When the groups have completed their reading guides, hand them the presentation format sheets. The groups should discuss and complete these sheets, which will serve as the basis for their presentations to the rest of the class. The aim is for each group to explain how its assigned nation’s perception of threats, as determined by history, geography, politics, economic, and other interests, have shaped its actions and reactions regarding the development of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula. Students should be encouraged to use maps during presentations. Attention will be allocated to the shaping forces according to each reading’s emphasis. Before the presentations begin, hand out the note-taking guides so the rest of the class can record the key points from each group’s presentation.
  • Third Day (break may occur sooner)

  • Following presentations, the groups should reconvene to discuss and evaluate the five perspectives they have just heard about.   
  • The teacher will guide a discussion in which students put forth and debate various policies.  Draw attention to conflicts between policies.
  • Summary/enrichment:  Write an essay explaining and justifying a policy aimed at reducing tensions in Northeast Asia.


    Take another day to organize six simulated United Nations commissions responsible for devising a fair resolution to the conflicts in Northeast Asia.  Each commission will be made up of representatives from each of the six perspectives. 

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