An Introduction to Southeast Asia Today

By Linda G. Levister

Overarching goal:

To introduce students to the effects of natural and man made environments on some of the people of Southeast Asia that they will develop a greater understanding of Diaspora and in turn become more empathic citizens of the world.

A thematic approach will allow the students to investigate and differentiate the history and geography of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam although some teachers may find a sequential approach more to their style. Discovery of multiple points of view through the examination of primary and secondary source materials will allow students to critically evaluate the roles of globalization, transnationalism, and diaspora. The situational relativity of unintended consequences of human behavior will provide a focus for the critical analysis, organized research, and the verbal and written presentations will also demonstrate an authentic assessment of student skills and knowledge.


  1. Students will research the history, geography, and ethnography of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
  2. Students will analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and apply information obtained from primary and secondary sources.
  3. Students will illustrate. Draw, describe, and present specific information on the culture, history, and legacies of indigenous peoples of Southeast Asia.
  4. Students will utilize maps, globes, almanacs and other resources to cite relative and specific geographic locations in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vitnam.
  5. Students will recognize barriers to human access and movement within major geographic ares.
  6. Students will use Data Based Questions (DBQ’s) as a method of inquiry and discussion.

Learning Activities:

The learning activities are designed so students will discover the traditions and ideas of other cultures and in so doing they learn about themselves and their communities. Activities should integrate as many disciplines as possible to reinforce skills, knowledge, and concepts the students may have previously acquired, that is, scaffold information and build on success.

For the Student – Questions To Think About

  1. What do you know about the ancient, modern, and recent History of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam?
  2. How do geography and the environment affect different groups of people in these areas? Are there any effects of unintended consequences of human interaction obvious to you? (Hint, think about WAR – hot and cold and everything in between).
  3. What are the cultures of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam and how do they compare and contrast? Who ARE these people?
  4. How has globalization (what’s THAT?) affected the political and economic foundations of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam?
  5. Current events – what’s hot in the news?
  6. What’s the difference between an immigrant and a refugee? Is that status only a one-way proposition?

How are you going to convince me that you KNOW what you SAY you know? (Credible and reliable sources and documentation of information)

Assessment Methods & Procedures:

Authentic presentations of student work will provide evaluation as assessment of core knowledge and skill mastery. Research papers, essays, tests, vocabulary and map quizzes are some of the techniques used to evaluate student progress. Working efficiently and cooperatively and staying on task to produce quality work is integral to student growth and is observable and assessable.

Resources & Materials:

Textbooks, artifacts, primary and secondary sources, maps, charts, globes, Internet/electronic sources, encyclopedias, videos, pamphlets, first person interviews, photographs.

Massachusetts Social Studies Strands and Standards

    • History: 1. Chronology and Cause, 2. Historical Understanding, 3. Research, Evidence, Point of View, 4. Society, Diversity, Commonality, the Individual, 5. Interdisciplinary Learning: Religion, Ethics, Philosophy, and Literature
    • Geography; Places, Regions of the World, 9. The Effects of Geography, 10. Human alterations of Environments
    • Economics: Economic Reasoning, 14. Today’s Economy, 15. Theories of Economy
    • Civics & Government: Authority, Responsibility, Power, 19. Citizenship, 20. Forms of Government

Warm Up Activity – Introductory Lesson:
Game Show “So What Do You Really Know?”

Have the students as a group, make a list of facts and information they think they know about Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam in categories that could be found on a game show such as People, Places, Food, Religion, History, Language, Music, Money. One category is Where Do We Look for THAT? The students will problem solve/brain storm ways to get information to answer that question. This activity is designed to allow the students to learn from each other and to find a topic or area that interests them too. When I did this activity one student was disgusted and disappointed with me because I had not gone to see a Thai kickboxing match while I was in Bangkok. He pursed his lips and shook his head all the while he was saying ‘it’s the absolute best form, I can’t believe you missed that opportunity.’ The class erupted with questions directed at him about Thai kickboxing. Needless to say when the students formed research teams that young man found himself to be much in demand and was seen as a resource for everyone. By allowing the students to become animated and excited at the onset they invest in the teaching and learning process. The teaching and learning process, a couple of verbs and a noun that changes all of us forever … hopefully.

Lesson One: Part One

Some Indigenous People of Southeast Asia

(Thailand)   (Cambodia)   (Vietnam)


  1. Students will choose, as groups, teams, or individuals, a selection of maps, photographs, and documents to evaluate for a few minutes until all the resources have been examined.
  2. Using a map of Southeast Asia students will highlight areas where the Indigenous people are found today.
  3. Introduce and define the term Diaspora and each group or team will present information they have found that applies that term to a specific group of indigenous people.
  4. Students will answer the following questions as they work:

Questions to Answer:

  • Who are the Indigenous people of South East Asia and where did they come from?
  • How do they survive?
  • What is their cultural heritage and uniqueness?
  • Where do they live now?
  • What do you think could have caused such change for these people?

5. Students/teams can share information and ideas they work


Involvement, Class participation and completed answers to question.


Complete the following essay (five paragraphs minimum):

From what you have read or viewed, how are some ethnic minorities treated?
Have you ever seen that kind of treatment of people before? Use specific facts to support your essay.

Lesson Two: Part Two

Some Indigenous People of Southeast Asia

(Thailand)   (Cambodia)   (Vietnam)


  1. Students will work in three groups, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam each group will enlarge a country map to 24” X 36” (for example) on posterpaper.
  2. Students will add relative and specific geographic locations to their map.
  3. Students will highlight areas of the map where indigenous people/ethnic minorities are found.
  4. Individually, in teams or groups students will create a model, draw a picture, use statues to represent indigenous peoples and place them on the correct location on their map.
  5. Use the maps, charts, globes to show migration, travel, escape routes from Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia to the Philippines, Australia, Canada, and the United States (specifically to their own region and city).


Students will arrange their map on a flat surface with miniature models, statues, drawings placed in the correct relative/specific geographic locations for the indigenous peoples/ethnic minorities of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. They will present a brief presentation in both oral and written form about the people, their environment, their history, and their culture using correct terminology, vocabulary and proper usage of English Language Arts and format.


Read article on the Karen of Thailand or the Hmong Story Cloth and write a brief reflection paper explaining your response.

Lesson Three

Angkor Wat

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Swakum (Welcome) Chum Reap Suor!


  1. Introduce a photograph of Angkor Wat and ask students describe what they see and explain what they think the meaning is. (Example why are there only the five towers and what do they represent?)
  2. Ask students what purpose the complex has, has the purpose changed over time? If so, why do you think that happened?
  3. Provide access to students for photos, travel brochures, artifacts, encyclopedia, textbooks etc to gather information.
  4. Students answer the following questions.


  • How is this temple like a cathedral in Europe? A pyramid in Egypt?
  • Why do we need to preserve the temples for the future?
  • Why do you think they chose Siem Reap as a location?
  • What materials were used and why?


Assessment is based on individual research and class participation.


Create a timeline of the construction of Angkor Wat along with other important historic sites/temples any where in the world. Prepare a brief statement on each site chosen.

Lesson Four  (minimum 1 week)

The Dark Side

The Killing Fields


  1. Students are asked to compile a timeline of conflict in Southeast Asia and especially Cambodia, focusing on the a twenty-five year span of 1965 through 1990 using textbook, resource materials, and Internet sources.
  2. Students will gather information to define and describe the following key terms and vocabulary words:


Pol Pot

Killing Fields Year Zero Lon Nol
Kampuchea Norodom Sihannouk SL-21 Khmer
Genocide Power Vacuum Coalition


3. Students will explore the modern holocaust of Cambodia and discuss the world’s reaction/lack of action to the plight of the Cambodian people during the Revolution.
4. Students use primary and secondary sources to gather information about the killing fields at Angkor Wart, Siem Reap and about Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh.
5. Students will define “Crimes against humanity.”
6. Students will research other atrocities and worldwide responses (if any). Germany, Poland, Rwanda and Burundi, Albania, Bosnia, Argentina, Nicaraugua
7. Students read excerpts from Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields. Students also read handout Killing Fields by David Chandler
8. Students will contact embassies and consulates for “official” information.
9. Students listen to presentation by guest speakers from the community or perform an interview on community member willing to share their own experiences


Students produce written work and oral presentations. The true assessment is the growth, empathy, and awareness of each individual.


On going research, reading and compilation of data.

Lesson Five: (1-2 weeks)

War and Its Aftermath


  1. Students will research the history and usage of land mines and anti personnel devices used during war especially in Southeast Asia.
  2. Students will contact demining organizations especially in Cambodia for information and  statistics..
  3. Students will answer the following questions:
  • What makes landmines so important and why won’t people stop using them?
  • What are some of the problems with unexploded ordinance and landmines? How does it affect the people who live those areas? How long are people affected?
  • What do you think about Pol Pot laying landmines at Angkor Wat?
  • Who is responsible for the damage created by landmines ?


  1. Students will role play a debate on the value of using landmines. The class will be divided evenly with half the class representing the military and the other half representing the victims maimed and killed by landmines each side taking turns at point/counterpoint. Students will chose from among them three members to represent the United Nations, the World Court, and the World’s Religions to moderate the debate.
  2. Students will write letters of their concerns and opinions to politicians regarding their positions on landmine usage.


Research and readings on landmines along with an opinion poll amongst family and friends to be analyzed and discussed in class.

Useful and Resources                                          Cambodian Information Center                                                   Asia for Kids                                    Cambodian Info Site                                  Embassy of Vietnam                                                       Vietnamese Culture                                         National Tourism Site Vietnam    Washington Post  CIA Factbooks                                    Lonely Planet Guides                          American Embassy Phnom Penh                            Khmer Music traditional arts                           Cambodian Embassy- Washington                                          Centers for Disease Control U.S. Dept. of State Human Rights Report on Human Rights for countries of Southeast Asia                                 Tourism Authority of Thailand