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World History

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Caring for Cambodia: Children of the River

by Heather Feuerhelm
Jefferson High School
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

1st PRIZE in the MasterSearch Contest, Fall 1998!

Cameo Spotlight

SUMMARY: This lesson is designed as a pre-reading activity for the novel, Children of the River , by Linda Crew. Students become investigative reporters who must find out about the history, current events, culture, and lives of the Cambodian people. This includes discovering about the atrocities of war as well as the triumph of the human spirit to survive. Students explore the Internet, research topics, and create a newspaper about their discoveries that is posted on the Internet.

PEER REVIEW: Once you've used the lesson, please share your experience
by using this mail-in FORM .

PREREQUISITE SKILLS: Students need to have basic skills with the computer. They also need to be taught how to write various newspaper articles. Otherwise, no prior knowledge is necessary.

WEB SITES: The Lesson

USE OF WEB: This is the webquest I designed to tie to the lesson. It lists all the links and the assignments that students will complete. The students use the site whenever they need a starting place or a little guidance on what to do next. There are nine links currently on this site that help students research information. They compile information, discuss it, write news stories about what they've discovered, and edit what they have written. The final format will be posted on Jefferson High School's home page.


  • A style sheet for documentation
  • Information about newspaper articles and how to write them
  • Word processing for the final newspaper project

OBJECTIVES: This unit is designed for a sophomore language arts class. The focusing concepts center on three questions: what are our origins? How do we change? How do we get along? This lesson ties all three concepts together. Students will:

  • demonstrate a sensitivity to cultures
  • understand the background for the novel
  • use the Internet for research information
  • read and evaluate Internet sites
  • understand bias
  • demonstrate correct documentation from sources
  • explore a variety of writing styles, including writing news stories, feature stories, and supporting opinions.
  • demonstrate cooperative learning with the use of peer evaluation
  • read and respond to other group projects in the classroom
  • publish writing on the Internet



Anticipatory set/ Introduction activity: (Day one)

Students will go through these steps and write about their reactions to each stage of the questions. (The following paragraphs are directions for the students.)

You live in a safe place and in a time when you believe that the United States cannot be attacked by anyone. In Cedar Rapids, though, we are just a few minutes away from a nuclear power plant. If someone wanted to attack, it makes sense that this would be a great target. Because of today's technology, we assume that we would get advanced warning of anything happening to us. Imagine, though, that all of the electricity was off and phone lines were down. The radio stations suddenly go quiet, even on a portable or car radio. Suddenly you have no access to the rest of the world that you like to have at your fingertips. The last message you hear on the radio is some announcement about a new government, then a terse exchange, then nothing. What would you do?

Stop here and write for five minutes about whether you would stay or leave, where you would go, how you would get there. What would you do?

Now that you've written your ideas, imagine that people all around you are running past your house, yelling that you need to run for your life. Your parents are not with you, and you have no time to find them. You must leave with your aunt or your friend or alone, but you must leave if you wish to live. You get to the airport, where there is mass chaos. Everyone is trying to cram into the available planes. You are herded along, then get shoved into a plane and some of the people you are with can't get on the plane with you. You are scared. Where are you going? What will you do?

Stop here and write in your journal for five minutes about what you think might happen. Who are you with? Who did you leave behind? Would you choose to stay behind with your friends if not everyone could go? If you aren't given a choice, who would you leave behind? What if you end up some place you've never been or where they don't speak English? How would you feel?

So your plane lands and you have survived with a few people you knew before and with a bunch of strangers. You discover that you land in would your life change? Pretend you can't go back because the United States government has been overthrown and anyone supporting the former government is being killed. You don't know what happened to those you left behind--whether they are living or dead, in the U.S. or elsewhere. Think about what your life was like before and how you will have to change. What do you value that people in your new home don't understand? Think about food, clothing, religion, education, family living, careers, money, government, and daily living routines. In your journal, write what you think life would be like and what you would change versus what you would keep the same.

Write for ten minutes , then share your thoughts from each section with someone else in the class.

Activities: (Days 2-4)

You have just written about your own fictional experience that others deal with in reality. Think about how this scene is similar to what you just experienced vicariously:

Imagine a beautiful river flowing through jungles, wandering near rice fields, and weaving through the beautiful valleys. The temperature is warm, and the living is wonderful--except for constant wars. In the distance, perhaps you hear machine guns firing. Perhaps the guns are closer... living in a country constantly at war, engulfed in poverty, and filled with political upheaval is not easy, but it is beautiful and it is your home.

Cambodia has been dealing with these issues for a long time--but why? for how long? What happened to create the problems? Have you heard of the killing fields? Why would people want to stay there? Why would they leave? Find out more about Cambodia... as you go through this unit, keep these questions in mind. They will lead to a final activity.

You will be reading the novel, Children of the River , by Linda Crew. To help you enjoy this book even more, think about how you would feel in the situations you discover on the Internet. Get into groups of five. Divide the reading of information on the web sites between you and with the final activity in mind. You will look at real life stories and the ongoing struggles the Khmer people face. As you explore, write down the titles and URLs you are searching, any interesting information you find, and keep a list of questions you have as you read. Make sure your group answers the following questions as a minimum for completing this overview. To get maximum points, individuals need to answer at least four questions:

    1. What is Cambodia's history? Find a brief history or two of Cambodia. Write down five interesting comments about what you discover. Include one piece of information from before 1953, and at least four comments since 1953.

    2. What happened April 17, 1975? What was the result of this event? Read a survivors story to find out a more personal account of how this date changed lives.

    3. What are some of the cultural beliefs and lifestyles of the Khmer people? Look for items like attitudes about touching someone's head, stepping over someone who is lying down, marriage rites and rituals, medical practices, and other interesting cultural traits. Think about what it would be like to grow up in Cambodia.

    4. What were the "killing fields"? Discover as much as you can about the number of deaths, the reasons for these killing fields, and what the survivors have to say about the killing fields.

    5. What is happening in Cambodia today? What would you do if you had left Cambodia in 1975? What would it be like to live there today?

    6. What are living conditions like in America for Cambodians who have settled here?

To find answers to these questions and more, look at the following sites. Feel free to explore the links from each of these sites. Once you have answered a few questions, discuss with your group what you found. Decide who will be writing each of the articles.

To find answers to these questions and more, look at the following sites. Feel free to explore the links from each of these sites.

Resource Links

Cambodia's Troubled History Take a quick walk through Cambodia's history and see pictures of the leaders. This site has a timeline from Cambodia's independence and includes photos of the people on the timeline. A great brief overview! There are more links to explore from this page.

Beauty and Darkness: The Odyssey of the Khmer People Link up to the world of Cambodia! Links to Cambodian history, culture, and politics can be found on this site.

Current events information at CNN Interactive page A news release of events around the world is updated daily. Find out what's happening in the world as you read--and see if Cambodia is in the news today. Type in Cambodia in the search window and let CNN give you the latest news, listed by date and headline.

Resource Guide: Cambodia Want a quick overview and a map of the country? This list of information includes history-in-a-paragraph: the 13th Century through the 1990s, all covered in a few sentences.

This is an excellent explanation of the April 1998 coup and the results of that coup. What is a coup? Read and find out! (caution: look for documentation here and consider accuracy and bias as you read).

Cambodian Cultural Profile Want to learn about medical practices like rubbing and cupping? How about rules of family life and social greetings? Check out the customs of Cambodians and how those in America have adapted to the American culture.

Cambodian Information Center Homepage How about e-mailing someone to find out more? This homepage has dozens of links, including people to e-mail for more information.

Cambodian Auto-Genocide Page Use this index to find out more about Cambodia, the Killing Fields, Survivor Stories, and more--a great starting place to find out how you can help, too.

Cambodian Killing Fields This is one of the pages from the above index. What were the killing fields? Read this link and find out!

(Days 5, 6, 7) Final activity:

You have switched now into a team of reporters. Your task is to develop a newspaper about Cambodia. In your group, decide who would like to do each of the following. Each person should write one article, and no topic should be covered twice:

    1. A NEWS STORY about the history of Cambodia that shows what happened before Cambodia's independence in 1949, what happened between 1949 and 1976, and what happened after 1976.

    2. A FEATURE STORY about the cultural lifestyles and beliefs of Cambodians; this could be about those settled in America and how they have adapted their culture.

    3. A FEATURE ARTICLE telling about a survivor's story. Include quotations from those who survived.

    4. A CURRENT EVENTS NEWS STORY about what is happening in Cambodia today.

    5. AN OPINION PAGE about what has happened and what should happen. This can be in reference to the refugees or to Cambodia and what is happening today.

You've finished your research, so it's time to write your newspaper articles. You will all act as editors for your group members. Write your assigned article , then share it with your group members. Look for a catchy headline, an appropriate format for the article, accurate information, accurate documentation, and careful proofreading. (Remember that news stories begin with a lead that answers the questions, who? what? when? where? The body of the article contains the why and how, with the most important information at the beginning of the article and the least important information at the end. Feature stories begin with an attention-getter introduction, then draw the reader in with fascinating details. They may be in chronological order or tell a story).

When you read a group member's article, write back to the person using the Praise/Question/Polish format. You will be given forms for this.

As a final step, decide on a name for your newspaper, include the date, and post your articles on the Internet. You will be given instructions on how to do this after the teacher reads your work.

Hints/Suggestions for the teacher:

Assign groups so strong students and weaker students are in groups together so they can get help when needed. I will have an evaluation filled out so I know who is comfortable with Internet and who is new to the Internet so I can match the group members accordingly. I also use reading scores to include strong and weak readers together.

Show students the rubric before they begin.

Circulate while students are using the Internet. Guide students through searches, using Boolean operators, and noting documentation.

I will have introduced documentation as well as quotations, paraphrasing, and summarizing before the unit begins.

Some of these activities (the opening journal, for example) might work best if led by the teacher so everyone goes at the same pace and writes for the appropriate amount of time. I have done this opening activity in class and it gets students to think empathetically. They get pretty emotional and I like to lead the class discussion to help them keep perspective on the discussion.

Students will check in with me either daily or every two days. They will also write summaries of how their group worked together. I have a pie chart graph and I have students break the circle into parts according to who did what work (a small piece of the pie indicates little participation, a large piece of pie indicates the person who picked up the slack, etc.)

Depending on the class, I may adjust the number of questions students are expected to answer. The most significant aspect is the thinking the students are doing, so I emphasize the journal writing and questions developed.

Students will take approximately 3-4 days to research, then 3-4 days for writing and working in groups to develop a finished product. I may have them begin reading the novel after one day of writing time.

ASSESSMENT: (Student directions) Your grade will be based on the following rubric and expectations for each section:

Anticipatory set/Journal:

4--Answered all the questions thoughtfully, demonstrated an understanding of how life would change

3--Answered all the questions, had some insight into how life would change

2--Answered at least two of the questions, demonstrated some insight

1--Did not answer the questions, wrote briefly without thinking or showing insight

0--Did not do the journal

Answering the questions (points will be doubled):

4--Clearly answered the questions, showed visiting at least four web sites, strong knowledge revealed with research knowledge, included a list of sites visited, wrote down questions while reading, and answered the questions when information was found.

3--Answered at least 3 questions clearly, showed visiting at least three web sites, included a list of sites visited, some knowledge revealed from the research, wrote down a few questions and attempted to answer them.

2--Answered 2 questions adequately, showed visiting at least two web sites, wrote at least one question while researching.

1--Answered at least 1 question, but answers wer incomplete or lacked research or insight, included a list of web sites visited, did not write down questions while reading.

0--Did not complete any of the questions, did not include a list of web sites visited, did not write down questions.

Group work:

4--worked well with the group, helped edit all of the articles, gave excellent feedback, helped others with finding good web sites for the information they were seeking, kept a list of questions and discussed them with the group, wrote own article and had others act as editors.

3--worked well with the group, helped edit all of the articles, gave good feedback, kept a brief list of questions and discussed some with the group, wrote own article, and had others act as editors.

2--worked okay with the group but occasionally got distracted or did not participate, helped edit 1-2 other articles, gave some feedback, wrote own article and let at least one other group member act as editor.

1--did not like to participate with the group, helped edit 1 other article, wrote own article but did not have other members edit.

0--did not participate, did not edit any articles, did not do own article

Newspaper articles (points will be doubled):

4--Followed correct format, showed thorough understanding of the topic, documented sources as the article was written, organized well, voice and language appropriate, proofread carefully and errors corrected.

3--Followed correct format or tried to follow the format, showed a good understanding of the topic, documented sources, organization adequate, voice and language mostly appropriate, proofread carefully and most errors corrected.

2--Format is weak, some information not clear or underdeveloped, sources are documented, organization weak, voice and language adequate, proofread but not all errors corrected.

1--Format is weak, information inaccurate or unclear, attempted to document sources, errors not proofread or not corrected.

0--Article is incomplete, information inaccurate or unclear, no attempt at documentation, errors not proofread or not corrected.

AUTHOR'S COMMENTS: My students are currently working on this assignment. They are involved in research, and they are learning about and finding importance in something outside of their own ethnocentricity. The results include getting outstanding work from generally average students. They are actively involved in learning about the real stories that people have faced and continue to face. They are gaining sensitivity to the world around them.

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