1. Unit Introduction And Film Lesson

Lesson Plan Includes:

Scaffolded Instructions
Extension Activities
Reading Enrichment Supplement
Reading Jigsaw Activity
State Standards Alignment

In this introductory lesson to the Silk Road unit, students will view the Emmy-nominated PBS film, “In the Footsteps of Marco Polo,” which documents expedition leader Denis Belliveau and fellow explorer Francis O’Donnell’s adventures over 2 years following the Silk Road in Marco’s steps.

Teachers can choose to screen the film in class or to assign it for homework. Students will be asked to record their questions for Denis as they watch.

Students will be placed in groups and assigned a number of ethical dilemmas in which they examine their own reactions to the obstacles faced by both Denis and Marco Polo. A group share-out and discussion will follow.

Class time required: 1-2 class periods+


The film “In the Footsteps of Marco Polo” will provide students with the images and critical context that will be needed for the rest of the lessons in this unit. They will be able to visualize the geography and peoples of the Silk Road regions and gain an understanding of the arduous journeys of both Denis and Marco Polo.


• Students will record their questions as they watch the film, encouraging critical thinking and curiosity.
• Students will consider ethical dilemmas and how they would react to obstacles faced by both Denis and Marco Polo on their journeys.

… Joseph Campbell would have applauded it as ‘The Hero’s Journey.’ Come take it yourself and you’ll never turn back.

– Bill Moyers, legendary journalist


Ethical Dilemmas: What would you do?

➤   Within their groups, students will choose and problem solve from over a dozen real-life situations.



You have vowed to retrace Marco Polo’s entire twenty-five thousand mile journey overland without flying. You are now the guests of an Afghan warlord who has just offered you a helicopter in order to fly over the most dangerous battlegrounds on your route. Do you take this one small flight for personal safety and never admit it to anyone– yet know deep in your heart you failed at your mission? Or do you take his counter-offer and cross the war zone with 25 heavily armed warriors expecting to see action?


You’re Marco Polo at home in Italy, writing a book about your travels. Your superstitious medieval readers believe certain myths and legends regarding the East that if you omit from your book, will surely disqualify you in their eyes for having ever been there. Giant Roc birds that can lift elephants, islands where people have no heads but whose faces are in their chests, and others where tiny ape-like men dwell in the forest. Do you add these into your otherwise accurate account to please your audience, or do you set the record straight?


Marco didn’t stay idle for long–within a few years he led a Venetian warship against Genoa, was captured during a battle and jailed for a year as a noble, where he called for his notes to be sent from Venice and wrote his book. What would you do if you were confined to a room for a year as a noble and allowed any materials you desired? Would you take on a project like Marco or spend your time in comfort and leisure? Can you relate to this? Describe the reasoning behind your choice.

One Of The Best Documentary Films This Year.

– About.com